Sep 22, 2009, 5:00 PM EDT
This is part four 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.
50. Noel Arguelles (20) – Prev. NR – With fellow Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman getting all of the attention, Arguelles could fly under the radar and prove to be a bargain. The southpaw reportedly throws in the low-90s consistently, and while he’s going to need at least one year and probably two in the minors, he’s probably more polished than Chapman.
49. Brandon Lyon (30) – Prev. #89 – Signed with the idea that he’d close over Fernando Rodney, Lyon was a big disappointment this spring and for the first two months of the season. Fortunately, he’s bounced back to post a 1.48 ERA and a 43/12 K/BB ratio in 48 2/3 innings since the beginning of June. While he’s far from an ideal option as a closer, his durability and his ability to go multiple innings make him particularly valuable. He should command at least a two-year deal and a three-year, $15 million pact isn’t beyond the realm of possibility.
48. Brad Penny (32) – Prev. #54 – The results haven’t been there, but Penny has demonstrated that he’s healthy by staying off the disabled list and averaging 94 mph with his fastball. If he rediscovers his curve, he’s still capable of being one of the league’s best starters, for three months at a time anyway. While it’s obvious now that he needs to stay in the NL, he’ll be a fine investment on another one-year contract.
47. Jack Wilson* (32) – Prev. #47 – Speculation at the time of the deal was that the Mariners insisted on getting some cash back from the Pirates in the Wilson deal so that they’d be able to pick up the shortstop’s $8.4 million option for 2010. It seemed like an unnecessary step, though, particularly since there’s just a $600,000 buyout attached to the option. A two-year deal worth around $10 million would work for the Mariners and should be pretty appealing to Wilson after season in which he’s battled injuries and hasn’t hit. He’s currently batting .255/.292/.362, giving him an OPS in the 650s for the second straight year.
46. Marlon Byrd (32) – Prev. #70 – The numbers from his three-year Texas tenure make Byrd look like a consistent and competent starting outfielder, even if this is the first year he’s truly played regularly. He was, however, essentially worthless in his age 26-28 season before joining the Rangers, and it needs to be noted that he hasn’t been much more than a 760-OPS guy away from Arlington. Also, while his OPS has stayed relatively steady, his OBP has been bouncing all over the place, from .355 in 2006 to an exceptional .380 in 2008 to a subpar .325 this year. It’s very possible that Byrd will get a multiyear deal to start for some team, but he’ll probably disappoint.
45. Troy Glaus (33) – Prev. #43 – Glaus managed to play in 151 games and hit .270/.372/.483 in 2008, but his 2009 has been a complete loss following shoulder surgery and the steroid reports that arose in April certainly won’t help his hunt for work this winter. If Glaus can still play third base adequately, then he’s a $10 million player. As a first baseman or DH, he wouldn’t necessarily be much better of a bet than Russell Branyan or Hank Blalock. The one advantage he would have there is that he’s right-handed, setting him apart from almost all of the rest of the first base/DH options.
44. Rick Ankiel (30) – Prev. #9 – Ankiel finished with an 863 OPS in 172 at-bats in 2007 and an 843 mark in 413 at-bats last year, but he got off to a slow start this season and not long after it appeared that he had turned it around, he injured his shoulder in a collision with the wall. He returned after just three weeks, but it doesn’t seem like he’s been 100 percent at any time since and he’s currently sitting at .234/.286/.390 in 351 at-bats. The perception is that Ankiel should still have some upside left after so recently making the full-time switch to the outfield, but he does have holes in his swing and durability is an obvious issue. He’ll probably need to take a one-year deal in order to rebuild his value.
43. Trevor Hoffman (42) – Prev. #71 – Even though his WHIP and strikeout rate were strong, Hoffman’s inflated 3.77 ERA in his final year in San Diego made finding work somewhat difficult after last season. He ended up getting $6 million from the Brewers in January, and he’s gone on to pick up 34 saves in 37 chances. He’s currently on track to finish with a sub-2.00 ERA for just the second time in his illustrious career. The Brewers want him back and have no one to replace him, so they’ll probably offer him another one-year deal with a modest raise.
42. Hank Blalock (29) – Prev. #29 – Blalock is such an incredibly frustrating player, but he’s still young and even in such a lousy season, he was on pace for 30 homers before the Rangers finally got fed up with his low OBP and benched him. Part of the reason he’s always been tantalizing as a fantasy property is because he’s excelled at his home park, but this year he’s somehow managed to post a 687 OPS in Arlington and a solid 818 mark elsewhere. Blalock hasn’t been both healthy and productive since his age-23 season in 2004, so the Rangers are almost surely through with him. He’ll probably end up with a one-year contract, but a high roller could offer him three years and hope for the best. How many other free agents here have the potential to be worth $45 million over the life of a $20 million deal?
41. Fernando Rodney (33) – Prev. #79 – With just one blown save in 34 chances, Rodney has done his job about as well as any closer this year. Still, his ERA stands at 3.82, his strikeout rate is down slightly and he’s continued to walk a batter every other inning. It’s going to make him a very interesting case this winter. Rodney isn’t young and he has a career ERA of a 4.16, but he’s always had very good stuff and it’s quite reasonable to believe he’ll be better in his 30s than he was in his 20s. It’ll probably take a three-year deal to sign him, and the Tigers figure to make a strong bid to keep him around.
40. Carlos Delgado (37) – Prev. #21 – Delgado followed up an exceptional second half of 2008 by hitting .298/.393/.521 in 26 games to begin this season, but he was hobbled by a sore hip all along and he opted for surgery in mid-May. He was originally expected to return in July, but the timetable kept getting pushed back and now it appears that his season is over. Because of the injury, he can’t expect more than a one-year contract this winter, which makes him a much better investment than he would have been coming off another 30-HR, 100-RBI season. The Mets figure to look into re-signing him for one year.
39. Felipe Lopez (29) – Prev. #36 – The Giants could have picked up a better performer at a less expensive price had they gone after Lopez instead of holding back and eventually landing Freddy Sanchez. Lopez was hitting a solid .301/.364/.412 before leaving Arizona, and he’s come in at .329/.411/.468 in 216 at-bats as a Brewer. His teams would be better off if he never attempted another steal — he’s 14-for-28 the last three years — but even though he’s lost a step, he remains an above average defender at second base. He’s in line for a multiyear deal, but it won’t come from the Brewers, since they’re expecting Rickie Weeks back next year.
38. Billy Wagner (38) – Prev. #50 – Wagner pulled off a return to the majors just 11 months following Tommy John surgery, and he’s gone on to fan 19 batters in 11 1/3 innings. His status as a Type A free agent could hurt him this winter, since the Red Sox are nearly certain to offer him arbitration, but he may very well be the best one-year closing option on the market.
37. Jon Garland* (30) – Prev. #51 – The Diamondbacks didn’t want to fuss with Garland’s $10 million mutual option, so they passed it on to the Dodgers. L.A. will have the option for buying him out at $2.5 million. If they opt to pick it up, then Garland can void it, collect a $1 million payment and then become a free agent. If he can just continue his current run for two more weeks, then the latter scenario should be fulfilled. Garland is 3-0 with a 2.33 ERA for the Dodgers and 11-11 with a 4.02 ERA for the season. He’s not a top-of-the-rotation starter by any means, but he’s still young and he’s proven exceptionally durable. This will be the eighth straight season in which he’s made 32 starts.
36. Hideki Matsui (35) – Prev. #42 – Speculation has had Matsui returning home to Japan after the season, but his exceptional campaign in the DH role guarantees that he’ll have options. He’s currently hitting .279/.371/.523 with 27 homers in 426 at-bats, and Yankee Stadium has had nothing to do with it, as he’s batted .293/.389/.576 in road games. It’d be for the best if he never sees the outfield again, but he’ll probably be viewed as the best pure DH available this winter.
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