Sep 21, 2009, 5:32 PM EDT
This is part three in a series of columns looking at this winter’s free agent class. I’m listing each player along with his age, as of next April 1, and his place in the previous edition of these rankings from May.
70. Jason Varitek* (37) – Prev. #66 – He’s struggled mightily as a part-timer, but before the Victor Martinez acquisition resulted in a reduced role, Varitek was hitting .236/.345/.453 through four months, making him one of the game’s top 10 catchers. The bigger issue than his offense is his poor arm. Still, there’s so much respect for his game-calling abilities that he’ll likely be pursued as a starter if he opts to depart. The Red Sox figure to decline their $5 million, leaving Varitek with a $3 million player option to return as a part-timer.
69. LaTroy Hawkins (37) – Prev. #67 – There doesn’t figure to be any demand from AL teams, but several NL teams will see about bringing in Hawkins as a setup man. He has a 2.31 ERA in 58 1/3 innings for Houston, and while he’s failed miserably as a closer before, he was surprisingly effective while filling in for Jose Valverde earlier this season.
68. Pedro Feliz* (34) – Prev. #68 – By month, Feliz has posted OPSs of 872, 745, 712, 663, 631 and now 549. His $5 million option looked rather reasonable at the All-Star break, but the Phillies may want to look elsewhere if he turns in another poor postseason.
67. Andruw Jones (32) – Prev. #84 – It’s anyone’s guess what kind of season Jones would have had if he found a team willing to play him regularly. He had a 1304 OPS in 32 at-bats during April and he slammed eight homers in 67 at-bats during July, but he was never an everyday player at any point and, possibly as a result, he’s been terribly inconsistent. Of course, with the way his body has let him down, he might not have managed more than one or two good months as a regular anyway. If Jones can still play an adequate center field or an above average left or right, then he might have another two or three years left as a solid regular. He figures to come rather cheap, so it should be worth finding out.
66. Justin Duchscherer (32) – Prev. #37 – Working as a starter for the first time, Duchscherer went 10-8 with a 2.54 ERA in two-thirds of a season in 2008. This year, he got shut down with elbow woes in spring training, underwent surgery and then halted his comeback in August because of depression. He’s likely in line for an incentive-laden one-year deal.
65. Orlando Cabrera (35) – Prev. #39 – Cabrera’s stock seemed to be on the way back up thanks to his performance in his last weeks with Oakland, but he’s hit just .244/.277/.369 in 45 games for the Twins, leaving him at .269/.306/.366 for the year. His defensive numbers are also well off this year. He’ll get a modest one-year deal and a starting job initially, but he can’t expect his new team to be as patient with him as a the A’s were this year.
64. John Smoltz (42) – Prev. #74 – Too many weren’t willing to overlook the numbers, but it should have been clear that Smoltz had something left even while stinking up the joint for the Red Sox. He’s posted a 3.21 ERA and a 32/4 K/BB ratio in five starts since joining the Cardinals, though it is worth noting that he did miss a turn because of his troublesome shoulder. The current guess is that Smoltz will return for another year in 2010, and if that happens, it will almost certainly be with an NL team. The Cards figure to invite him back.
63. Octavio Dotel (36) – Prev. #59 – Dotel hasn’t been a dominant setup man in Chicago, but he has been a healthy one while striking out 165 batters in 126 2/3 innings over the last two years. That will make him a candidate for another multiyear deal this winter.
62. Braden Looper* (35) – Prev. #57 – Looper has given the Brewers their money’s worth while going 13-6 this year, but he does have a 4.89 ERA that makes him quite a question mark at $6.5 million for 2010. Then again, he was never likely to play under the option anyway. If the Brewers exercise it, he’d sill be able to void the deal and become a free agent.
61. Jim Thome (39) – Prev. #46 – Thome hit .249/.372/.493 with 23 homers in 345 at-bats as a DH for the White Sox to match his 2008 production nearly exactly. Now he’s serving as a pinch-hitter for the Dodgers, but that’s strictly a short-term role. If Thome wants to play in 2010, he should be able to land another DH gig.
60. Kevin Gregg (31) – Prev. #53 – Gregg’s WHIP is right at his career norm and his strikeout rate is a bit better than usual this year, but yielding 13 homers has pushed his ERA up to 4.72 and cost him his job as the Cubs’ closer. He always made more sense as a setup man anyway, and since he’s proven quite durable, he might be a nice investment after the off year.
59. Xavier Nady (31) – Prev. #41 – Could the elbow injury have been best for both the team and the player? If Nady didn’t get hurt, it might have taken a couple of months for Joe Girardi to see that Nick Swisher was clearly the Yankees’ best option in right field. And because Nady did get hurt, he’ll head into free agency still largely being judged on his career-best 2008 season, rather than as a player who almost surely would have lost his job to Swisher. Nady should be ready to go in 2010 after Tommy John surgery. He’s in line for a one-year deal, but he’ll be looked at as a starter.
58. Akinori Iwamura* (31) – Prev. NR – Iwamura wasn’t included in this list the first time around because his $4.25 million option seemed like a lock to be picked up. Of course, that was before he blew out his knee and watched as Ben Zobrist excelled in his place. Iwamura went on to pull off a surprisingly quick return, and he’s back playing frequently now with Zobrist patrolling the outfield. He’s hitting .295/.358/.391, putting him right at his career line. The Rays, though, are pinching pennies, so they still might trade or release him this winter.
57. John Grabow (32) – Prev. #62 – Besides Billy Wagner and Mike Gonzalez — both of whom could be pursued as closers — Grabow will be the top lefty reliever available. He’s gone most of his career without much of a platoon split, but he’s limited left-handed hitters to a .216 average and one homer this season. His ERA stands at 2.29 since the Cubs picked him up and 3.09 overall. The Cubs figure to make a strong bid to retain him.
56. Aubrey Huff (33) – Prev. #18 – Huff’s usual pattern is to start slow and heat up — April and May are easily his worst months — but the opposite has happened this year. He hit .189 in July and .191 in August, collecting just three homers between the two months, and he’s currently sitting at .245/.309/.393 for the year. Another three-year contract worth in excess of $20 million seemed reasonable when these rankings were originally compiled in May. Now he seems like a lock for a one-year deal.
55. Randy Winn (35) – Prev. #33 – Winn is going to regret not working out a contract extension with the Giants last winter. He’s an elite defender in an outfield corner and an excellent baserunner, but he’s hitting just .263/.320/.358 line in 509 at-bats and now that he’s squarely in his mid-30s, he can’t be counted on to bounce back. Ideally, he’d settle into a role as one of the game’s best fourth outfielders for a couple of years. However, it’s likely that someone out there will see him as a starter.
54. Pedro Martinez (38) – Prev. NR – There are a lot of teams looking foolish for not giving Martinez the $5 million or so that he demanded last winter. If he wants to come back in 2010, there should be much greater demand for his services. He could always choose to exit on a high note if the Phillies win another World Series.
53. Russell Branyan (34) – Prev. #86 – Branyan finally found a team that believed him, and he rewarded the Mariners in a big way by hitting .303/.400/.606 for three months. Unfortunately, he’s come in at .193/.274/.414 since the All-Star break and back problems forced him to the DL at the end of August. In a way, he might have done the Mariners another favor. Now, he should be re-signable for something like $5 million-$6 million for a year. If he had carried on, Seattle still would have finished out of contention and probably would have had to offer up a multiyear deal to bring him back.
52. Freddy Sanchez* (32) – Prev. #40 – When the Giants picked him up from the Pirates at the trade deadline, expectations were that Sanchez’s $8.5 million option for 2010 would vest based on plate appearances. However, he’ll come up well short now after missing three weeks. The Giants figure to use the opportunity to negotiate to bring him back at a lesser price. Sanchez is a fine second baseman when healthy, but given his injury history and skill set, he probably doesn’t have many quality years left.
51. Vicente Padilla (32) – Prev. #55 – Padilla’s $12 million option is no longer in play since the Rangers released him. Now back in the NL, he’s gone 3-0 with a 2.96 ERA in five starts for the Dodgers. Given his performance and age, Padilla deserves to be ranked at least 10 spots higher here. However, teams will be wary of offering him a multiyear deal because of his attitude and his, well, let’s just call them conditioning issues.
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