Tuesday November 17th, 2009

Beyond the Reiter 50: Best of the Rest
If only the National League allowed its teams to use designated hitters. Then the scores of aging sluggers who will soon become available on the free agent market -- players who are still capable of producing on-base-plus-slugging percentages in excess of .800, even though their tendons and ligaments seem liable to snap like guitar strings at the mere sight of a fielder's mitt -- would all easily be able to find extended and well-compensated employment this winter.

As it stands, however, only fourteen clubs are permitted to regularly play designated hitters, and most of those clubs already have the position filled. That means that some very big men with very big bats (Jim Thome, Troy Glaus, Jason Giambi) will have to compete this offseason for short deals that will pay them far less than they used to make, as they watch slightly more attractive options (Hideki Matsui, Vladimir Guerrero, perhaps Carlos Delgado and Jermaine Dye) snap up the few open jobs.

As SI.com's list of the Top 50 free agents made clear (and 168 players had filed for free agency as of Monday), this year's class has few, if any, superstars, but it is fairly deep. It includes plenty of options who might not lift clubs to the World Series, but will allow them to fill a few holes. Included among them are all those designated hitters, as well as a number of players who, due to injuries or poor contract years, will not command the free agent deals that they once anticipated they'd receive. There will, in other words, be bargains to be had, boom-or-bust types who will probably be forced to settle for incentive-heavy contracts, at little risk to the clubs that sign them.

Nothing, really, has changed vis-à-vis the Reiter 50 since we posted it last Tuesday, and nothing is likely to change until 12:01 a.m. on Friday, when teams will be permitted to begin negotiating with free agents other than their own. As you wait for that moment with baited breath, here are 20 free agents outside the Top 50 -- listed alphabetically, and not necessarily numbers 51 to 70 -- who are, at the least, intriguing.
 
Garret Anderson
Age: 37
Position: OF
2009 Stats: .268/.303/.401, 13 HR, 61 RBI, 1 SB
Anderson, quite simply, will have to hit better than he did in '09 in order to hold onto a job next season. His consistently high batting averages used to make up for his lack of walks (he has never drawn more than 38 bases on balls in a season), but his career-low BA in his first year away from Anaheim last season made him one of the worst offensive outfielders in the game: his .705 OPS was better than that of only three other regular outfielders -- Randy Winn, B.J. Upton and Alex Rios. He might get one more shot to recapture his stroke, possibly with an outfielder-needy club like the Cubs.

CURRENT TEAM: BRAVES
BEST FIT: CUBS
 
Brad Ausmus
Age: 40
Position: C
2009 Stats: .295/.343/.368, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 1 SB
Ausmus produced his best OPS (.712) since 2000 in his first year with the Dodgers, but they didn't pay him a million dollars last winter for his bat. They paid for everything else he brings to a team, as I explained last month. I imagine they'll do so one more time.

CURRENT TEAM: DODGERS
BEST FIT: DODGERS
 
Rafael Betancourt
Age: 34
Position: RP
2009 Stats: 4-3, 2.73 ERA, 1.107 WHIP, 9.8 K/9, 2 SV
The Rockies last week declined his $5 million option, but GM Dan O'Dowd said he'd still like to bring Betancourt back. No wonder: Betancourt had a 1.78 ERA in 25.1 innings after coming over from Cleveland and played a major role in Colorado's late-season surge. Other clubs could use him, certainly, but might be scared off by the fact that he's a Type-A free agent, meaning that they'd have to yield to the Rockies two high draft picks if they signed him -- a serious price for a middle reliever, in this day and age.

CURRENT TEAM: ROCKIES
BEST FIT: ROCKIES
 
Hank Blalock
Age: 29
Position: 1B
2009 Stats: .234/.277/.459, 25 HR, 66 RBI, 2 SB
Finished 18th in the AL MVP voting as a 23-year-old in 2004 and seemed to be a rising star, but he never again reached the heights of that campaign (.276, 32 HR, 110 RBI). Still, he's one of the youngest free agents on the market (just one player in the Reiter 50, Rich Harden, is younger), and could represent a smart gamble for a power-starved team like the Diamondbacks.

CURRENT TEAM: RANGERS
BEST FIT: DIAMONDBACKS
 
Craig Counsell
Age: 39
Position: INF
2009 Stats: .285/.357/.408, 4 HR, 39 RBI, 3 SB
A dozen teams are reportedly interested in the services of the versatile veteran, ESPN.com's Buster Olney recently reported. The Yankees usually emerge as the winners in that sort of situation, and Counsell could put an end to the Ransom-Hairston-Pena-whomever carousel they've used recently to back up Cano, Jeter and A-Rod.

CURRENT TEAM: BREWERS
BEST FIT: YANKEES
 
Joe Crede
Age: 31
Position: 3B
2009 Stats: .225/.289/.414, 15 HR, 48 RBI, 0 SB
When he plays, he remains an elite defensive third baseman with above-average power. Of course, his extensive health issues, including a chronic back injury, prevent him from playing very much: in '09 he failed to reach 100 games played for the third straight season. That didn't stop the Twins from signing him to an incentive-laden one-year deal last February, and might not stop them from doing the same this winter.

CURRENT TEAM: TWINS
BEST FIT: TWINS
 
Coco Crisp
Age: 30
Position: OF
2009 Stats: .228/.336/.378, 3 HR, 14 RBI, 13 SB
His '09 season ended in June, after which he had surgery on both shoulders. If he's healthy, though, he possesses excellent range in center field and speed on the base paths. The moribund Padres could use his skills, and he won't cost much.

CURRENT TEAM: ROYALS
BEST FIT: PADRES
 
Doug Davis
Age: 34
Position: SP
2009 Stats: 9-14, 4.12 ERA, 1.505 WHIP, 6.5 K/9
Milwaukee claimed Davis off of waivers last August, but was unable to work out a deal with the D-backs. They still very much need a back-end starter, and Davis is that. Davis had three consecutive .500 seasons for the Brewers from 2004 to 2006 (12-12, 11-11, 11-11), and they'd welcome the return of that sort of consistency.

CURRENT TEAM: DIAMONDBACKS
BEST FIT: BREWERS
 
Troy Glaus
Age: 33
Position: 3B
2009 Stats: .172/.250/.241, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 0 SB
Glaus only played in 14 games for St. Louis in '09 due to an unexpectedly extended recovery from right shoulder surgery, but he still possesses enough power to merit a one-year deal. The Angels could use a slugger and might have a hole at DH should Vladimir Guerrero depart, and Glaus is beloved in Anaheim, for whom he hit 182 homers between 1998 and 2004.

CURRENT TEAM: CARDINALS
BEST FIT: ANGELS
 
Jason Giambi
Age: 39
Position: 1B
2009 Stats: .201/.343/.382, 13 HR, 51 RBI, 0 SB
After floundering in a return engagement in Oakland to start the year, Giambi showed signs of life with the Rockies: he had an OBP of .452, with two home runs and 11 RBIs, in only 24 at-bats. The Blue Jays could use a DH-slash-first baseman type. Done.

CURRENT TEAM: ROCKIES
BEST FIT: BLUE JAYS
 
Kevin Gregg
Age: 31
Position: RP
2009 Stats: 5-6, 4.72 ERA, 1.311 WHIP, 9.3 K/9, 23 SV
This much is clear: This man should not be closing. He's blown an MLB-high 16 saves over the past two seasons, with the Marlins and Cubs. Some of his peripheral stats were fairly strong in '09 -- particularly his strikeout rate -- and he could work as an effective setup man for the Nationals. And if they need him to close? That's OK -- they are the Nats, after all.

CURRENT TEAM: CUBS
BEST FIT: NATIONALS
 
LaTroy Hawkins
Age: 37
Position: RP
2009 Stats: 1-4, 2.13 ERA, 1.200 WHIP, 6.4 K/9, 11 SV
Hawkins was brilliant in a setup role for the Astros, and stepped in nicely for injured closer Jose Valverde as well. He would represent a nice piece in the bullpen of a contender, such as the Cardinals.

CURRENT TEAM: ASTROS
BEST FIT: CARDINALS
 
Randy Johnson
Age: 46
Position: SP
2009 Stats: 8-6, 4.88 ERA, 1.333 WHIP, 8.1 K/9
He reached his 300th win with the Giants last season, and may retire. Even though his ERA was on the high side in his 22 starts with San Francisco, he still pitched pretty well, and could contribute if he's healthy. A third go-round with the Diamondbacks shouldn't be out of the question.

CURRENT TEAM: GIANTS
BEST FIT: DIAMONDBACKS
 
Pedro Martinez
Age: 38
Position: SP
2009 Stats: 5-1, 3.63 ERA, 1.254 WHIP, 7.5 K/9
We learned late in the season that the Old Goat can still bring it -- in spots. He might be most effective in a "super-reliever" role -- i.e., pitching a few innings here and there, maybe making some limited pitch count spot starts. The Dodgers could use something like that, and a return to L.A. would bring his career full circle.

CURRENT TEAM: PHILLIES
BEST FIT: DODGERS
 
Vicente Padilla
Age: 32
Position: SP
2009 Stats: 12-6, 4.46 ERA, 1.425 WHIP, 5.9 K/9
Yes, he was shot -- accidentally, in the leg -- a couple of weeks ago. Yes, he's not very well liked. But Padilla was terrific down the stretch for the Dodgers -- 4-0 with a 3.20 ERA -- despite his nightmarish NLCS Game 5, and that should earn him a couple of years from an NL team that needs a solid starter, like the Diamondbacks.

CURRENT TEAM: DODGERS
BEST FIT: DIAMONDBACKS
 
J.J. Putz
Age: 33
Position: RP
2009 Stats: 1-4, 5.22 ERA, 1.636 WHIP, 5.8 K/9, 2 SV
It was only three seasons ago that Putz produced one of the most dominant years ever by a closer: 40 saves with a 1.38 ERA and 0.698 WHIP. Omar Minaya's acquisition of him during last year's Winter Meetings blew up in his face, as have most of Minaya's moves over the past year or so. But if Putz can return from elbow surgery to only a fraction of his '07 form, he'd amount to an very good setup man indeed. Just the sort of gamble that Theo Epstein loves to take.

CURRENT TEAM: METS
BEST FIT: RED SOX
 
John Smoltz
Age: 42
Position: SP
2009 Stats: 3-8, 6.35 ERA, 1.449 WHIP, 8.4 K/9
Speaking of Epstein's gambles: Smoltz didn't work out for the Red Sox in '09 (as his 2-5 record and 8.32 ERA with Boston indicate), but he was much better after the Cards picked him up. He only won one game with St. Louis, but had a 40:9 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and allowed three runs or fewer in five of his seven starts. By opening day, he'll be nearly two years removed from the surgery he underwent to repair a torn labrum in June 2008, and the Cardinals will probably give the future Hall of Famer one last chance.

CURRENT TEAM: CARDINALS
BEST FIT: CARDINALS
 
Gary Sheffield
Age: 41
Position: OF
2009 Stats: .276/.372/.451, 10 HR, 43 RBI, 2 SB
He's surly, he's annoying, but he definitely can still hit. The A's have tried the bring-an-aging-slugger-in-to-play-DH thing a number of times recently, and Sheffield should benefit from no longer being asked to stagger around the outfield, as he was last season with the Mets.

CURRENT TEAM: METS
BEST FIT: A'S
 
Jim Thome
Age: 39
Position: DH
2009 Stats: .249/.366/.481, 23 HR, 77 RBI, 0 SB
That weird trade to the Dodgers last August 31 didn't work out at all -- he got only 17 plate appearances in L.A., and mustered four singles and nothing else. But he can still mash in a DH role, as his .864 OPS in 107 games with the White Sox attests. The Peoria native would love to hit his 600th career homer -- he's at 564 -- in Chicago.

CURRENT TEAM: DODGERS
BEST FIT: WHITE SOX
 
Gregg Zaun
Age: 38
Position: C
2009 Stats: .260/.345/.416, 8 HR, 27 RBI, 2 SB
It only seems as if Zaun has been around since before catchers wore face masks. I'm probably in the minority on this, but I think he represents a better free agent option that most other backstops on the market, including Bengie Molina and Rod Barajas. He's just as solid behind the plate, he gets on base far more frequently than they do, and he played quite well for the Rays down the stretch, in the place of young Dioner Navarro, who was an All-Star in '08 but horrid (.218 BA) in '09. They'd do well to bring him back, in the hope that he can help Navarro rebound, and as insurance if Navarro doesn't.

CURRENT TEAM: RAYS
BEST FIT: RAYS
 
 

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