Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Remaining Free Agents

Reading Tim Dierkes post yesterday about MLB transactions at this time last year; I decided to examine a few of the remaining free agents and speculate on where they may end up.  Although I don't expect much action to occur from now till Opening Day, but as more pitchers experience soreness and other injuries and platoon possibilities seem likely, it's expected a few teams may be in need of their service.

Hank Blalock: He is listed at 1B but DH may become his true position.  Last season he posted .234/.277/.459 in 462 AB's (which were the most he has seen since the 2006 season).  Besides hitting 25 HR's, Blalock saw career lows in his BB% (5.3) and a major increase in his K% (23.4).  Below I have listed a few other reasons as to why he is still available as well as a few likely scenarios for Blalock as the preseason develops.

His struggles vs. LHP (.229/.279/.378) does limit his value along with his history of injuries: 215 days lost between the 2007 and 2008 seasons.

He has earned the reputation of having an anemic bat outside of Arlington: Home: .293/.358/.516 with 90 homers in 1,735 at-bats vs. Away: .245/.300/.414 with 62 homers in 1,769 at-bats.

And, finally, his second-half numbers do suggest a likely fade which calls his stamina into question: First Half: .288/.348/.497 vs. Second Half: .246/.306/.424.

According to his UZR rating, Blalock did post adequate defense at 1B in 567 innings last season and could spell as a likely 1B/DH platoon next season.  It's surprising after his age 23 season (.276/.355/.500 in 624 MLB at bats in 2004) that he would be struggling to find work as a free agent before his age 29 season but the reality is Blalock has seen his value as an everyday MLB player drop since 2005 and with Russell Branyan's recent one year deal signed by the Indians at $2 million, one would have to expect a one year deal worth much less.

Likely scenario: it's tough to honestly speculate which MLB team will be contacting Blalock for his services as there are too many cons outweighing any semblance of value he may still have.  It's possible the White Sox look him up as a part-time DH but that would make left-handed hitter Mark Kotsay irrelevant.  Florida is still a possibility as is Houston (today Lance Berkman was complaining about his left knee swelling up after taking part in running drills), if Blalock agrees to a minor league deal he could become an attractive option but both these NL parks certainly won't be doing him any favors in the power department.

Carlos Delgado: According to his agent, Carlos Delgado has received a few offers but the aging 1B doesn't seem to be in a rush to sign.  Last season was nearly missed due to a serious injury to his right hip (he eventually required two surgeries to remove a bone spur and mend a torn labrum) and straining his oblique in August.  Delgado will be 38 mid-season and his offensive abilities are still attractive if he can be healthy.  He hit .271/.353/.518 in his last full season in '08.

His best option may be to DH but Delgado is reportedly holding out due to a lack of commitment in playing time from other teams. 

Likely scenario: It's possible the Red Sox take a flier out on him if he remains unsigned (he is a notorious Yankee-killer hitting .277/.379/.532 in 523 lifetime AB's against them), but for him to be an everyday player seems unlikely unless some club suffers a major injury.  The ideal situation for Delgado would be to sign with an AL club and be their primary DH and part-time 1B and right now it's a stretch to find that perfect fit.

Joe Crede: He'll be 32 next season and despite ISO scores of .189 and .212 the past few seasons, Crede hasn't been able to put together a full season since 2006.  Chronic back problems have sapped much of his power as well as keep him on the bench.  His current situation will make him quite affordable and his ability to play above average defense at 3B does give him more options.

Crede doesn't get on base much (although in his limited at bats in '08 and '09 his BB% did jump from his usual 4.5% to 8% and 7.9%.  He does hit a high number of flyballs (over 50% on average) but his low line drive rate and high frequency of swings outside the strike zone does suggest he may susceptible to the high fastball. 

Crede's glove is where his real value is at but his ability to hit for power will be his main advertising point.  Last season, he made $5.1 million and rumors state that he is seeking somewhere around $7 million next season.  That's obviously a bit steep and if Crede wants to play somewhere next season he'll probably have to cut that price in half.

Likely scenario: If Crede brings his price down I could see the Padres looking into his services (although $3.5 million for a possible part-time player may be too much), Florida could also be an option.

Wily Mo Pena: one has to question his age (27 next season) as he seemed to have peaked during his age 22 and 23 seasons.  Now out of shape (last weight check had him at 270 lbs) and struggling with his usual high K% and low BB% in AAA, his value has also taken a hit as his defense has steadily gotten worse.

Likely scenario: one more team may take a shot and sign him to a minor league contract much less than the $2 million dollars per he received in 2008.  Expect the results to be the same, eventually the book on this longtime project will be finally closed.

Garrett Anderson: his first full season in the NL last year was a disaster defensively.  Offensively he has been on a steady decline for the past three seasons (ISO, BB/K, speed) and at 38 next season one has to wonder what he has left.

Likely scenario: It will best serve Anderson to return to the AL as alternate DH against the occasional RHP.  It can be argued that the Rays could use another left-handed bat at the DH spot but I don't see Anderson as the answer.

Ryan Freel: believe it or not but in his younger days Freel was quite the budding on base machine (his first full season in 2004 saw Freel post an 11% BB rate and only swing at pitches outside the strikezone 8.8%!) since then he has been more of a free swinger and it hasn't helped his career. 

Now entering his age 34 season, his defense still seems serviceable but if his legs are still in good shape the best he can hope for is defensive replacement and pinch running.

Likely scenario: the Twins seem a bit light in outfielders while they wait for their high-profile prospects to develop. 

Jermaine Dye: after putting together an MVP type season four years ago, Dye has now become a typical aging 35 year old struggling with the fact that his power isn't what it once was and his defense has become near laughable.  Last season he hit .250/.340/.453, obviously his power hasn't completely vanished but his days of slugging .500 are probably behind him.

Dye believes he is still an everyday player and compared to others I've looked at on this list it would be unfair to call him crazy.  He currently has no plans to retire and seems intent on waiting for the right offer.  His career would best served as a DH and his contact rate does suggest he can play for a few more seasons.

Likely scenario: He would be an upgrade over Jose Guillen in Kansas City but the $12 million dollars owed to the once great Jose nullifies that.  Dave Cameron at Fangraphs makes a simple case that Dye being right-handed is causing him to lose appeal

Paul Byrd: At his age and limited ability he will probably flirt with the idea of retirement (again) but if he can keep his BB/9 below 2 and pitch in a park favorable to flyball pitchers - he could be serviceable.

Likely scenario: Any NL team in need of a #5 starter and a veteran presence in their rotation could do worse; if the Giants choose not to bring up Madison Bumgardner, Bryd wouldn't be a bad temporary option.

Eric Milton: Before experiencing chronic tightness in his back, Milton pitched well for the Dodgers despite only appearing for 20 innings.  He received season ending back surgery but his stanima will be questioned since he hasn't put together a full season since 2006.

Milton is an extreme flyball pitcher so his choice of home parks should be limited in order to prevent him from giving up 40+ HR's per season (his years in Philadelphia and Cincinnati should tell him that).  If Milton can sustain decent control and have decent defense in the outfield, he could be somewhat useful as a spot starter/bullpen fixture.

Likely scenario: Last offseason he signed a minor league deal worth 500K, the Mariners are a team that could pull some value out of him at that price.  Kansas City Royals could be an option, although their new look OF defense is only supposed to project as being average next season.

Noah Lowry: Hasn't pitched since 2007 due to a number of injuries, Lowry has been seen as promising since 2005 showcased his plus changeup and being a LHP helps in keeping a few teams intrigued.

Likely scenario: it all depends on health, recently he had an audition in front of 15 MLB teams but so far no teams have made a solid offer.  Although the Mets, Phillies, and Astros are said to among those interested.

Cha Seung Baek: a contact pitcher that has shown a capable slider and decent control but multiple arm injuries kept him on the shelf for most of the 2009 season.  Baek will be 30 this May and it has been reported late last season that he may need to have his elbow re-examined.

Likely scenario: if healthy, Baek would be a capable back-end starter but passing a physical will be a major priority. 

Jarrod Washburn: I'm sure he and agent Scott Boras thought the offseason would develop much differently than this.  After pitching above his head for 3/4 of last season with the Seattle Mariners he was smartly sold high and dealt to the Detroit Tigers for a couple of young mid-range arms.  Washburn, without the benefit of a strong outfield defense behind him, reverted back to his old ways.

Washburn underwent knee surgery over the offseason and is good to go but his HR prone offerings will keep many GM's away from his services.

Likely scenario: Washburn made it known he wanted a multi-year deal with either the Minnesota Twins or the Milwaukee Brewers, both clubs are near his home in Wisconsin but it seems neither of them are in a rush to sign him (although it was reported that Washburn turned down a one year deal worth $5 million from Minnesota in early January).

Kiko Calero: after battling shoulder injuries in previous seasons, Calero pitched reasonable well during his stint with the Oakland A's before control issues sent him down to the minors.  Last season Calero signed a minor league deal with the Florida Marlins and posted an excellent K rate (10.35) to sidestep his high BB/9 (4.50) in 60 IP.  He did get a bit lucky due to a low BABIP (.259) and high strand rate (82.3%).

Another aspect of Calero's game that has people nervous is his unsustainable HR rate.  Being a bullpen pitcher, Calero can benefit from fluky stats due to his limited number of appearances from season to season but as a high FB pitcher only allowing 1.4% of all FB's to become HR's is a miracle.

Likely scenario: despite his occasional control problems, Calero has the overpowering stuff to be a capable right-hander out of most bullpens.  Offering him a minor league option makes him affordable to most teams, the only question is who needs a capable RHP as an effective bridge to their closer.  The Astros and White Sox always seem to covet high K relievers but with the Astros bullpen spending seemingly done.  I'm expecting the Cubs bullpen to regress this season so adding another high-end arm wouldn't hurt.

Russ Springer: in a world full of right-handed bullpen arms, it's easy to find some get lost in the shuffle.  Springer will be 41 next season and his ability to strike out 9.16 per 9 innings and only walk 2.68 was accomplished by this spry 40 year old last season in 57 IP. 

Springer does allow a high number of FB's and last season he threw primarily a fastball and cutter.  He is able to get a lot of batters to chase outside the strikezone and his low contact rate is encouraging.

Likely scenario: any team equipped with a FB friendly home park should look into his services.  Seattle and San Diego are the usual suspects and if either of them feel the need to bolster their bullpen depth, he should be worth a minor league deal.

Jorge Julio: has been relegated to mop up duty last season in 17 lousy innings before the Brewers decided to cut out on him.  Julio spent the rest of the season with the Rays and Pirates AAA organizations.

Once upon a time, Jorge Julio was the main closer for the Baltimore Orioles during his mid-20s before his control and home run tendencies got the best of him.  Another problem plaguing him is that he doesn't compel a lot of hitters to swing outside the strikezone (his career high was 27% in 30 IP in '08 but last season it fell below average to 23%).

Julio will be 31 next season and his recengt high ground ball tendencies and ability to throw in the mid 90's with a capable slider must be attractive to someone and his career stats in low to medium leverage situations are serviceable.  He still is a work in progress but at his age most teams are looking for consistency and his high BB rate seems like his only consistent quality.

Likely scenario: I'm sure some team will take a flier out on him for bullpen depth.  At this stage the best offer he can receive will probably be a minor league deal around $850K.

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