Wednesday January 27th, 2010

Ranking Top 10 Remaining Free Agents
After Tuesday's flurry of signings, just 10 members of the Reiter 50 -- SI.com's ranking of the top 50 free agents on this winter's market -- remain available. On Tuesday clubs snapped up four players on the list: Ben Sheets (who got a one-year, $10 million deal from the A's); Jon Garland (one year, $5.3 million from the Padres); Xavier Nady (one year, $3.3 million from the Cubs); and Ronnie Belliard (who re-signed with the Dodgers for one year and $835,000).

The 10 players left have a good deal in common. They are, generally, somewhat advanced in years (average opening day age: 34). Several of them are coming off years in which they suffered injuries, or are perceived to be injury risks. And all of them will likely end up disappointed by the result of their experience as free agents.

There are not that many starting gigs left, and none of these players is likely to earn anything better than a one-year deal at discounted rate. With every team scheduled to hold its first full spring training workout in a month or less, this is the time of year when most (if not all) of the negotiating power rests in the hands of the clubs. Bobby Abreu, for instance, last season did not sign with the Angels until Feb. 11, and he could only extract $5 million from them, which proved to be a bargain indeed.

There are, in other words, impactful players to be had among the top 10 free agents who remain on the market. Those players are:
 
1
Felipe Lopez (original rank: 7)
Age: 29
Position: 2B
2009 Stats: .310/.383/.427, 9 HR, 57 RBI, 6 SB
Perhaps the greatest mystery of this year's market is why Lopez has not drawn much interest. He's one of the younger players out there, so clubs' fears of being saddled with a declining player don't seem to apply. He's a strong defender -- the fifth-best among second baseman last season, as measured by Ultimate Zone Rating -- so his case should, if anything, have been helped by the new obsession with fielding. And he ranked third at his position in batting average and 10th in OPS (.810), in a year he split between Arizona and Milwaukee. For whatever reason, he should at this point be available at a price that might be attractive to a team that a few weeks ago might have thought they could never afford him. The Cubs remain a possibility, but another is the Cardinals, for whom Lopez could play third (he has started 85 games there during his career), and for whom he would represent a significant upgrade over current projected starter David Freese.

OLD TEAM: BREWERS
OLD BEST FIT: CUBS
NEW BEST FIT: CARDINALS
 
2
Erik Bedard (11)
Age: 31
Position: SP
2009 Stats: 5-3, 2.82 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 9.8 K/9
Bedard is now far and away the leader in "upside" among available starting pitchers. His ceiling is as high as anyone's in the game -- much higher than, say, that of 42-year-old John Smoltz. His downside, though, is significant, as indicated by the fact that he pitched 81 and 83 innings in his two injury-plagued seasons as a Mariner, and that he hasn't reached 200 innings in any of his six big league seasons. A return to Baltimore, which is looking like a high-ceiling club even in the AL East and which could use a cheap, and potentially dominant, veteran starter, makes sense.

OLD TEAM: MARINERS
OLD BEST FIT: DODGERS
OLD BEST FIT: ORIOLES
 
3
Johnny Damon (13)
Age: 36
Position: OF
2009 Stats: .282/.365/.489, 24 HR, 82 RBI, 12 SB
I extensively examined the reasons behind Damon's ongoing availability on Monday, and not much has changed since then. The A's, though, have emerged as a favorite for his services, and even though they seem to have a full cache of outfielders (Rajai Davis, Coco Crisp and Ryan Sweeney), Damon would make a nice veteran addition, one who could split his time between left field and DH. And then if they're out of it at the trading deadline -- which, in the suddenly loaded AL West, they might well be -- the A's could deal him for a prospect or two.

OLD TEAM: YANKEES
OLD BEST FIT: YANKEES
OLD BEST FIT: A's
 
4
Orlando Hudson (14)
Age: 32
Position: 2B
2009 Stats: .283/.357/.417, 9 HR, 62 RBI, 8 SB
Poor O-Dog; free agency has never been kind to him. Not last year, when he was searching for a multi-year deal but was forced to settle for a one-year, $3.4 million offer from the Dodgers, and not this year, when he the same exact thing appears as if it's about to happen. The Mets would love to have him, but they're still hamstrung by the absurd 4-year, $25 million contract GM Omar Minaya gave to Luis Castillo in Nov. '07, rendering him completely untradeable. The beneficiaries of Hudson's ongoing predicament will likely be the Nationals.

OLD TEAM: DODGERS
OLD BEST FIT: MARINERS
NEW BEST FIT: NATIONALS
 
5
Orlando Cabrera (21)
Age: 35
Position: SS
2009 Stats: .284/.316/.389, 9 HR, 77 RBI, 13 SB
Cabrera's situation, in some ways, mirrors that of the slightly more highly rated Orlando. All he wants is a long-term home, but he's played for six different teams since 2004. He's played in the post-season, though, in five of those six seasons -- mostly due to luck, of course, but he's had something to do with it, hasn't he? The Reds just dumped a truckload of money on Aroldis Chapman, but Cabrera's price might be just low enough for them to bring him aboard too, as a nice veteran influence on a young club on the rise, and as an improvement on incumbent Paul Janish (.601 OPS in '09).

OLD TEAM:TWINS
OLD BEST FIT: REDS
NEW BEST FIT: REDS
 
6
Carlos Delgado (30)
Age: 37
Position: 1B
2009 Stats: .298/.393/.521, 4 HR, 23 RBI, 0 SB
I originally thought that the Braves might want to pick-up Delgado as a placeholder for Freddie Freeman, but they opted to sign a player who is perhaps an even bigger injury risk, Troy Glaus. It was just a year and a half ago that Mets fans were chanting "M-V-P!" every time Delgado strode to the plate, and a return engagement might work well for both parties. So he reportedly limps when he plays first base, a lingering effect of his hip surgery. So what? That will just make him a few million dollars cheaper, and even a one-legged Delgado is probably a better hitter than Daniel Murphy.

OLD TEAM: METS
OLD BEST FIT: BRAVES
NEW BEST FIT: METS
 
7
Jermaine Dye (31)
Age: 36
Position: 2B
2009 Stats: .250/.340/.453, 27 HR, 81 RBI, 0 SB
If Damon does not re-sign with the Yankees -- and that looks extremely likely -- GM Brian Cashman will need to find an everyday left fielder, and he'd prefer him to be a right-handed hitter. Dye could nicely fit that bill, and would probably be a bargain for a player whose OPS ranked him between David Ortiz and Adam Jones last year. He's declining defensively -- his UZR as a right fielder with the White Sox in '09 was a terrible -20.0 -- but would constitute less of a liability in left than in right, and he could be spelled late in games by the defensively outstanding Brett Gardner.

OLD TEAM: WHITE SOX
OLD BEST FIT:RANGERS
NEW BEST FIT:YANKEES
 
8
Russell Branyan (46)
Age: 34
Position: 1B
2009 Stats: .251/.347/.520, 31 HR, 76 RBI, 2 SB
Count Branyan as another player on this list who was looking for a multi-year deal -- the first of his career -- but hasn't gotten one, and won't. The Mariners tried to re-sign him for a single year in November, but he turned them down, and GM Jack Zduriencik subsequently continued his quest to assemble a team that allows no batted ball to fall to the earth by trading for Casey Kotchman in January. The White Sox, who once seemed to be composed entirely of first baseman/DH-types, could actually now use a first baseman/DH-type, and they might represent one of the last options for one of 2009's breakout players.

OLD TEAM: MARINERS
OLD BEST FIT: MARINERS
NEW BEST FIT: WHITE SOX
 
9
Jarrod Washburn (47)
Age: 35
Position: SP
2009 Stats: 9-9, 3.78 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 5.1 K/9
Despite their terrific co-aces (Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee), the rest of the Mariners' rotation -- Ryan Rowland-Smith, Ian Snell, whoever -- doesn't look like that of the genuine contender that they (and many others) believe they are. Washburn's numbers don't look that good because of his miserable second-half stint in Detroit, but before that he was fantastic (8-6, 2.64 ERA) in the Mariners' big yard and pitching in front of their speedy fielders, and he wants to return.

OLD TEAM: TIGERS
OLD BEST FIT: MARINERS
NEW BEST FIT: MARINERS
 
10
Yorvit Torrealba (50)
Age: 31
Position: C
2009 Stats: .291/.351/.380 2 HR, 31 RBI, 1 SB
Now that the Mets' rather inexplicable pursuit of Bengie Molina has borne no fruit (Molina re-signed with the Giants), they might turn to Torrealba, a player whom I (for one) considered to be a better option all along. Torrealba filed a grievance against the club after they backed out of a deal with him in '07, but we're now in the late-January free agent market, in which strange bedfellows often abound.

OLD TEAM: ROCKIES
OLD BEST FIT: METS
NEW BEST FIT: METS
 
 
 

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