Sep 24, 2009, 4:18 PM EDT
This is part six 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.
20. Orlando Hudson (32) – Prev. #14 – Hudson rode a strong April on a first-place team to an All-Star appearance, but he’s been an average regular at best since the beginning of June. His current 768 OPS is about 50 points under his marks from 2007 and ’08. Hudson has often dealt with injuries, though he’s still played in 130 games six times in his seven full seasons, and he’s now reached an age at which second basemen can lose it in a hurry. The four-year, $40 millionish deal he thought he’d receive after 2008 never came close to materializing, and it’s not going to happen this winter, either. Still, he should land a multiyear deal, perhaps something like $18 million for two years.
19. Andy Pettitte (37) – Prev. #27 – We already know how this is going to work: Pettitte will talk about retirement after the postseason, sit around for a month thinking about things and then sign another one-year contract with the Yankees. The Bombers will certainly want him back after another season of around 15 wins and 200 innings pitched, and he shouldn’t have to settle for a deal as incentive laden as the one he took last winter.
18. Jarrod Washburn (35) – Prev. #44 – Thanks to a superb outfield defense and a pitcher’s park helping him along, Washburn was a very hot property at the trade deadline. However, his ERA has jumped from 2.64 as a Mariner to 7.33 with the Tigers, in large part because of a knee injury that currently has him shut down. Washburn posted ERAs of 4.67, 4.32 and 4.69 in his first three seasons in Seattle, so he’s far from a lock to be an above average pitcher going forward. In truth, he’ll likely prove to be a bust unless he lands in another great situation. He makes more sense in Seattle than just about anywhere else.
17. Vladimir Guerrero (35) – Prev. #10 – Guerrero certainly hasn’t helped himself this year by missing significant chunks of time with a torn pectoral muscle and a strained knee or by being limited to DH duties while in the lineup, but the ability is still there. Since the All-Star break, he’s hit .309/.359/.528 in 178 at-bats. He’d seem to be worthy of one more multiyear deal, whether it’s for two or three years. Guerrero doesn’t say much, but it’s certain he prefers the outfield to DHing and he likely will want to sign with a team that intends to use him in right. He’ll also probably want to stay on the West Coast. San Francisco would seem to be an obvious fit if the Angels decline to bring him back.
16. Bobby Abreu (36) – Prev. #20 – A disappointing final third of the season, at least to date, has Abreu threatening to post a new career-low OPS. Still, he’s helped his value this year by playing better defense and, incredibly enough, functioning as a leader in Anaheim, if not vocally, then by example with his patience at the plate. He’s currently hitting .293/.393/.424, and he’s swiped 29 bases in 37 attempts. Even if he continues to slump, he’ll do a lot better than $5 million for one year this winter, and a strong postseason could put him in line for something like $28 million for two years. Odds are that the Angels will keep either he or Vladdy, but not both.
15. Joel Pineiro (31) – Prev. #69 – It’s his first year as a quality starter since 2003, but what a year it’s been for Pineiro. Having reinvented himself as a sinkerballer, he’s given up just seven homers and 25 walks in 203 innings. His peripherals suggest his ERA should be even better than his current 3.24 mark. Really, there’s no good reason to think he can’t keep this up for a few years. However, any team that outbids the Cardinals for him will be taking him away from Dave Duncan’s tutelage. That’s a definite cause for concern.
14. Adam LaRoche (30) – Prev. #13 – Youth and durability are LaRoche’s main advantages over all of the other first basemen available. It still looked like he might end up with a one-year deal back when the Pirates and Red Sox were passing him around in July, but now that he’s hit .355/.426/.622 in 172 at-bats for Atlanta, pushing his season line up to .283/.360/.505, he again appears to be in line for a nice three-year deal worth $8 million-$9 million per year. LaRoche may be streaky, but his career OPS is 838, he’s never had a bad year and he’s a solid defender at first base.
13. Johnny Damon (36) – Prev. #12 – Yankee Stadium has played a big role in inflating his numbers, but Damon is currently on track to post the second-best OPS of his career. He’s tied his career high with 24 homers. Playing in a new stadium that’s even more kind to his swing than the last one was, Damon has hit .290/.385/.556 with 17 homers at home. Elsewhere, he’s come in at .281/.348/.441, which is still plenty respectable. Damon is through as a center fielder now, and he’d likely be better off if he found a team able to DH him at least once a week. The Yankees figure to try to re-sign him, but they may offer just one year and that shouldn’t be good enough to keep him.
12. Randy Wolf (33) – Prev. NR – No one met Wolf’s three-year, $30 million asking price last year, and he ended up taking $5 million from the Dodgers, with a chance to earn $3 million more in incentives. Obviously, he’s been quite a bargain for the team, but the big difference between Wolf this year and Wolf most years is just his batting average against. He’s always had a nice strikeout rate and his walk rate is lower than usual, but it’s the unusually low number of singles and doubles that is mostly responsible for his current 3.24 ERA. The three- or four-year deal he gets this winter figures to see him overpaid.
11. Rich Harden (28) – Prev. #11 – Not offering Harden arbitration just might be the Cubs’ dumbest move yet, but while that has been the subject of speculation, I have a very difficult time believing that they’ll let him go that easily. As terribly risky as Harden would be on a long-term deal, he’d have plenty of value on a one-year, $10 million contract and he probably wouldn’t even get that much. With all of his upside, he’d receive two- and maybe three-year offers from large-market teams this winter. After all, he has managed to make 51 starts the last two years and strike out 352 batters in 289 innings.
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