Sep 23, 2009, 5:19 PM EDT
This is part five 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.
35. Miguel Tejada (35) – Prev. #49 – Tejada is still racking up plenty of singles and doubles, but they’re coming with very few walks and a mediocre on-base percentage. In the second half, he’s hit .265/.294/.391, leaving him at .303/.332/.440 overall. With his range on the decline, many believe he belongs at third base these days, yet he probably doesn’t have the bat to be a quality regular at the position. The team that gives him a multiyear deal this winter figures to regret it.
34. Erik Bedard (31) – Prev. #2 – Coming back from shoulder surgery, Bedard defied expectations by opening the year in the Seattle rotation and immediately reemerging as one of the league’s elite starters. Unfortunately, it lasted just two months. Bedard went down again in each June, returned to make four starts in July and then had to shut it down again. Labrum surgery followed, and Bedard figures to miss the first month of 2010. Odds are that his next contract will include one guaranteed season and an expensive option for 2011.
33. Bengie Molina (35) – Prev. #16 – Molina’s great start didn’t last long, and he currently has a .281 OBP and a 708 OPS that world rank as his worst since 2002. He’s contributed 18 homers and 75 RBI anyway, as the Giants have kept him in the cleanup spot through thick and, mostly, thin. That’s not going to fool a lot of outside suitors, though. Perhaps his market will even diminish to the point at which the Giants could re-sign him to a one-year deal. They’re not going to want to block Buster Posey beyond 2010, but Molina seemed to be in line to get a two- or three-year contract elsewhere.
32. Brett Myers (29) – Prev. #15 – It looks like Myers may well have hurt his cause by rushing back from hip surgery in a bid to help the Phillies this month and in October. He returned with diminished velocity, and now he’s sidelined again with a strained lat. Teams will surely appreciate his competitiveness, but even before the hip problems, Myers wasn’t showing the same stuff that helped him fan 397 batters in 413 1/3 innings between 2005 and ’06. He made it known in 2007 that he preferred relieving to starting, and it’s entirely possible that he will shop himself as a closer this winter. He might opt to take a one-year deal and go back on the market next year.
31. Doug Davis (34) – Prev. #38 – Davis is a hard guy to trust because of his tendency to work outside of the strike zone and rack up big pitch counts in the early innings, but he’s a durable left-hander who knows exactly what works for him on the mound. He’s never had a significant arm problem as a major leaguer, and he’s on his way to posting an ERA in the low-4.00s for the third straight season. That probably won’t excite the large-market teams at all, but several mid-market teams could use an average lefty they know they can count on to make 33 starts.
30. Placido Polanco (34) – Prev. #31 – Polanco, who is currently hitting .283/.329/.404, figures to finish the season his worst average and OBP since 2002, if not 1999, but he has reached double figures in homers for the first time since 2004 and driven in a career-high 68 runs. While he’s typically missed 20-30 games a season throughout his career, he should play in 150 games this year for the time. It’s a rather surprising turn of events, given that Polanco has reached the age at which second basemen tend to break down. His defense remains above average, so it looks like he can be counted on as a starter for at least a two more years.
29. Nick Johnson (31) – Prev. #34 – His power hasn’t come back after last year’s torn wrist tendon, but Johnson has been a very good first baseman while hitting .291/.420/.407. He’s also suffered just one injury, that being a strained hamstring which sidelined him for 2 1/2 weeks last month. Time will tell if it’s good enough to get him a three-year deal this winter. He still might regain some power, and even if he doesn’t, his outstanding on-base skills aren’t likely to go away anytime soon. Unfortunately for him, the teams that most appreciate OBP probably won’t be looking for first basemen this winter.
28. Mike Gonzalez (31) – Prev. #35 – Gonzalez didn’t lose his closer’s gig in Atlanta so much as he was simply overtaken by Rafael Soriano. He has a 2.60 ERA, he’s struck out 84 and he’s blown away his previous career high in innings of 54. He’s currently at 69 1/3. He has been charged with seven blown saves, but four of those came in his current setup role and since he was usually charged with just a run in those games, the Braves went on to win five of them. No, it’s durability far more than performance that will count against Gonzalez this winter. He’ll probably get a nice three-year deal anyway, but it won’t be at Jose Valverde money.
27. Jermaine Dye* (36) – Prev. #23 – Dye’s season turned sour in a big hurry. After hitting .302/.375/.567 with 20 homers in the first half, he’s batted just .168/.276/.260 with five homers in 196 at-bats since the break. His $12 million option seemed very reasonable a couple of months ago, but the White Sox are all set to buy him out for $1 million now. While Dye isn’t finished as a regular, he’s at an age now at which he’s no longer a very good investment on multiyear deals. Someone will probably give him a two-year contract anyway.
26. Jason Marquis (31) – Prev. #52 – Even though Marquis was five games over .500 in 61 starts with the team, the Cubs wanted nothing more to do with him as he entered the final season of his three-year deal with the team. They paid the Rockies to take him, and Marquis has proceeded to go 15-11 with a 3.84 ERA, boosting his stock higher than it’s been in five years. It’d be foolish to count on him being so effective again next year, but he’s still rather young and very durable. He’s in line for another three-year contract, likely at more than the $21 million he’s making now.
25. Brandon Webb* (30) – Prev. #22 – The scenario that led to him being ranked here back in May has come to pass exactly: obviously, if Webb finished the season healthy, his $8.5 million option was a no-brainer. But if he did end up needing shoulder surgery he could be in play, not as an elite free agent, but still as a pretty desirable property. Since Webb’s surgery turned up no rotator cuff or labrum tears, the Diamondbacks would be foolish to buy him out for $2 million. However, that’s exactly what some have suggested they’ll do. I think they’ll relent and pick up the option, because if they don’t, the Yankees, Red Sox and others in position to offer complicated-but-lucrative incentive-laden deals will do so.
24. Marco Scutaro (34) – Prev. #61 – Scutaro’s big breakthrough came at age 33, and while he’s been a fine defensive shortstop this year, there’s just no telling how long he’ll last as solid option at the position. There is reason to believe that he’ll be a useful leadoff man for a couple of more years, even if his current .379 OBP is 50 points higher than his previous career mark. His inflated power numbers seem less likely to carry over to 2010. Since he’s undeniably the best 2010 option at shortstop available in free agency, he’s going to land a nice contract. He may, however, fade back into a utility role before his next contract comes to an end.
23. Rafael Soriano (30) – Prev. #58 – Wearing down from a heavier workload than he’s ever experienced before, Soriano has seen his ERA jump from 1.48 before the break to 5.74 afterwards. It’s still good to see the injury-prone right-hander up to 69 1/3 innings for the season, but he’d likely have been even more valuable to the Braves if kept on a 65-inning pace. One of the game’s most dominant pitchers, Soriano has fanned 92 batters. His .202 average against is right at his career mark, and his 1.08 WHIP is only slightly above. Because he’s had so many injury issues, it’d be smarter to overpay Soriano for two years than to go to three or four years to get him. The Braves might be able to keep either he or Gonzalez, but probably not both.
22. Mark DeRosa (35) – Prev. #26 – Incredibly, DeRosa’s torn wrist tendon sheath hasn’t done anything to his power stroke. He’s set a new career high with 23 homers, surpassing his 2008 total of 21. Before that, he had just 48 career homers in 2,145 at-bats. Especially because of his versatility, DeRosa will be an extremely interesting case this winter. He’s no longer much of a second baseman, but not everyone sees it that way. Other teams will look at him as a third baseman or a corner outfielder. He turns 35 next spring, but he’s a far better player now than he was five years ago. He could be in line for about $24 million over three years.
21. Mike Cameron (37) – Prev. #28 – Still going remarkably strong at age 36, Cameron likely ranks as the game’s most underrated player of the last 10 years. He’s played the vast majority of his career in poor ballparks for hitters, yet he’s always finishing with OPSs around 800 and playing excellent defense. Maybe he’s no longer one of the game’s five best defensive center fielders, but he still comfortably ranks in the top half of the league. He’ll probably get about $20 million for two years and be worth every penny.
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