The Reiter 50: Three top starting pitchers lead free-agent rankings
At 12:01 a.m. ET on Tuesday, five days after the Giants and Royals concluded the World Series, a different sort of high stakes game will begin. That is when Major League Baseball's clubs can begin making offers to free agents.
This year's class is, in one way, unique. Many winters feature no available pitchers who can be considered legitimate No. 1 starters, leading teams to talk themselves into the likes of John Lackey (the Red Sox, in 2009), Carlos Silva (the Mariners, in '07) and Kevin Millwood (the Rangers, in '05). This offseason has three, two of them genuine aces. Clubs long ago began pondering whether to make a run at what is likely the best class of free-agent starting pitchers ever. Each of its members has the potential not only to remake a rotation instantly, but also to become a financial albatross for years to come if an elbow starts to ache or performance sours.
Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields, then, occupy the top three spots in the seventh annual Reiter 50, SI.com's ranking of the game's top 50 free agents. With spending limits on draft picks and international signings, free agency remains one of the few ways teams can splash around their ever-increasing cash reserves — and they will. While clubs in search of a rotation-topper are in luck, most of those in need of a catcher, a centerfielder or a middle infielder will have to look elsewhere, as the market is extremely shallow at those positions.
A few guidelines: As always, potential free agents with options that have already been picked up or are likely to be (including potential top 10 options Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist) are not included. The list does include two international players who are not technically free agents, but are available on the market. And each player's listed age represents his official MLB age for next season, which equates to how old he will be as of July 1. Now: the Reiter 50, as well as the identity of the club that might make for the best fit for each of its members.
Scherzer bet on his health and his performance by turning down the Tigers' reported offer of a six-year, $144 extension last March. We've got a winner. He exceeded 30 starts for the sixth straight year, and he even surpassed the standard he set during his Cy Young-winning 2013 in a few ways, including strikeout rate and innings pitched. Now he's in line for a richer deal and can play where he chooses. Rather than list the reasons why he'll end up in New York, it might be easier to ask: Why wouldn't he end up in New York?
Even though his midseason trade from Boston to Oakland didn't preclude another early playoff exit for the A's, he had one of the best runs of his career with them (6-4, 2.35 ERA in 11 starts) and put the finishing touches on a year in which he set personal bests for ERA (2.46), innings pitched (219 2/3) and WHIP (1.10). For all of their young power bats, the Cubs will still need a legitimate staff ace for the next five or six years or so, and Lester has a successful history with team president Theo Epstein, formerly the general manager in Boston.
Perhaps his "Big Game" nickname is unwarranted, but despite a few October hiccups, Shields remains a very valuable asset. He never gets hurt (since 2007, he has thrown more innings than any other big league pitcher); he has a lifetime ERA of 3.72 (3.17 since '10); and he's known as the type who can be a positive influence on a generally young staff, such as the Royals'. The Red Sox's system is loaded with starting pitching prospects (Matt Barnes, Rubby De La Rosa, Henry Owens, Anthony Ranaudo and Eduardo Rodriguez, to name a few), and Shields will be attractive to them as an instant leader who can take more than his share of innings. He'll also likely command fewer years than Scherzer and Lester and will be off the books by the time the youngsters are peaking.
Ramirez is the scariest type of free agent. He is a player whose superior talent will earn him lots of money for a long time, but who has at various points had issues with attitude, effort and injury (he's missed at least 34 games in three of the past four years), and who is no longer exactly young. Still: the talent. You might have heard that the Yankees need a shortstop, and while Ramirez should really be playing third at this point in his career, the shortstop market is thin, especially after the Orioles resigned free-agent-to-be J.J. Hardy in September. They could turn to Ramirez, with the idea that he'd move fifty feet to his right after a few years.
Two years removed from a major knee injury, the former catcher had a simply astounding year at the plate in 2014. Not only did he lead baseball in OPS, but in a whiff-heavy age, he also almost never struck out; his 15.26 K/PA was also the league's best. That unique combination of power and contact hitting will be hotly pursued, but the White Sox have long coveted him, and the idea of pairing him with Jose Abreu in the middle of the lineup might be worth a slight overpay for a 36-year-old.
Each Cuban player who has recently entered the league almost immediately proved himself to have been underpaid, so while Tomas reportedly does not have quite the talent of, say, Jose Abreu or Yasiel Puig, he should easily top the six years and $68 million Abreu got from the White Sox last offseason. He's got two things working for him: extreme raw power and youth. The Phillies were the first club to host Tomas for a private workout, and their aging organization could certainly use an infusion of youthful power.
Martin picked a great year to post an OPS that was topped among everyday catchers by only Buster Posey and Jonathan Lucroy, as the catcher market almost begins and ends with him. In fairness, he's been one of the league's best all-around backstops for years, trailing only Posey, Lucroy and Yadier Molina in WAR since 2011. The Dodgers have been getting by with A.J. Ellis behind the plate for a few seasons, but that will change in 2015. New team president Andrew Friedman's first major expenditure will likely be to bring Martin back to the club for which he played between 2006 and '10.
Sandoval's physical conditioning will always be a concern and might cause him to start to play older than he is. For now, though, he is young, and a solid fielder with an obviously pressure-tested, switch-hitting bat. The Red Sox might want a new third baseman to replace the disappointing Will Middlebrooks. They also need some lefthanded power (Sandoval is superior batting lefty), which is currently provided by David Ortiz, and David Ortiz alone.
With his PED suspension (2012), his benign spinal tumor (2013) and his fractured finger (2014) behind him, Cabrera enters his fourth free agency go-round — at the age of 30! — as one of the league's best pure hitters. Despite all his troubles, he's got a .309 batting average and an .809 OPS since 2011. The Blue Jays want him back, but they'll have competition, perhaps from the Rangers, who were the league's worst team in 2014 due to a calamitous string of injuries but are only a few pieces away from returning to the postseason. Cabrera would slot in nicely in left next to Leonys Martin and Shin-Soo Choo.
Cruz blew the free-agency game last time around. Coming off his 50-game Biogenesis suspension in 2013, he turned down the Rangers' $14.1 million qualifying offer and ultimately had to settle for one year and $8 million from the Orioles. Then he led all of baseball in homers. Cruz isn't higher on this list because of his limited skillset — poor defense, few walks — but his power is significant, and that will land him the multiyear deal he's been seeking. The Mariners aren't far away from contention and are in need of a power-hitting rightfielder — especially a righthanded one, as lefties predominate in their lineup. Seattle is a good match.
Maeda is the best Japanese talent available this off-season. As with Yasmani Tomas, his skills might not be on a level of those of his recently-arrived countrymen, but his predecessors' success will help make him a hotly-pursued commodity, assuming he is made available. Scouts say that Maeda does not possess the pure stuff of Yu Darvish or Masahiro Tanaka, but that he has excellent command. The world champion Giants will have several open rotation spots after Madison Bumgarner and a presumably healthy Matt Cain, and could make a run at him.
Headley has not been able to repeat his breakout 2012, in which he slugged 31 homers and drove in an NL-best 115 runs for the Padres, but he showed signs of life after San Diego traded him to the Yankees last July, thereby freeing him from cavernous Petco Park. In 58 games with New York, he hit six home runs and posted a .768 OPS, and he is among the league's very best defensive third basemen. That is one of the few positions at which the Angels will be looking to upgrade — the other is starting pitching — and Headley would present a superior option to incumbent David Freese, who is no better that average as both a hitter and a fielder.
Santana, like Nelson Cruz, was disappointed by last winter's market. The former Angel and Royal had to settle for a one-year, $14.1 million deal with Atlanta. The good news is that he pitched well again in '14 — he posted the second-best strikeout rate of his career — and this time he's set to find a long-term home. It could be in Minnesota, where the Twins hit on Phil Hughes last year but still need more pitching, and where spacious Target Field could be well suited to Santana's fly ball tendencies.
Markakis enters free agency for the first time in his career, as the Orioles bought out his $17.5 million option for $2 million. That option was a little steep for a player with a strong all-around skill set. Markakis is a solid outfielder, and he's proficient enough at getting on base to have become perhaps the league's most unlikely leadoff hitter. But he has never, among other things, made an All-Star Game. Markakis, though, is a good fit for Baltimore, and as Nelson Cruz is likely to depart, the sides will try to come to an agreement.
Cabrera received a few MVP votes in 2011, when he hit 25 home runs with 92 RBI and 17 steals, but his RBI totals and OPS have dropped every year since. Even so, he's an above-average middle infielder in a winter in which there aren't many available, and he produced strong work for the Nationals after his midseason trade there from the Indians. The Nats likely won't be particularly active this winter, as most of their positions appear to be set, but second base is a spot they could address by bringing back Cabrera.
A July change of scenery really helped McCarthy reestablish his value, and at the right time. Through July 6, as a member of the Diamondbacks, he was 3-10 with a 5.01 ERA. Then he was traded to the Yankees and went 7-5 with a 2.89 ERA. That his overall numbers were as strong as they were despite a high BABIP of .328 suggests he was unlucky, and that even better things could be ahead. They might happen in Detroit, which due to Max Scherzer's likely departure will need one more quality starter to join David Price, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello.
Aoki was exactly what the Royals hoped he would be when they acquired him from the Brewers last December. He gave them good contact skills (just 49 strikeouts), good speed and strong outfield defense. The Tigers' outfielders, as a group, were among the league's worst fielding units, and they could generally stand to get a bit more athletic and, for lack of a better word, pesky. Aoki would amount to a peskiness infusion.
Rasmus is a problematic player. He's one of the youngest players available, and he probably presents the best combination of outfield speed and power on the market. But he rarely meets a pitch he can't miss (he's struck out 408 times in 373 games over the past three years) and has a reputation for clashing with management. Those factors will drive his price down, despite his natural skills — perhaps so low that the A's, who have a knack for turning around the careers of players who have scuffled elsewhere, will be able to afford him.
The 2013 NL batting champion has hit .331 with a .929 OPS over the past two years, situating him between Andrew McCutchen and David Ortiz in the latter category. There are three causes for concern: his advancing age; his recent injury history (he only played in 49 games last year due to a fractured shoulder and a couple of hamstring strains); and that he unsurprisingly hit much better at Coors Field than from away from it. But he is a skilled hitter and a strong clubhouse presence, and a club with a young offense in need of production and leadership will look to bring him aboard for a couple of years. That sounds a lot like the Mets.
The former Twin continued his resurrection in Pittsburgh, following a year in which he finished in the top 10 in the NL Cy Young voting (he went 16-8 with a 3.02 ERA in '13) with one in which he improved his strikeout rate and allowed fewer hits per nine. Durability will always be a concern (he's only once worked more than this season's 161 2/3 innings), as will control, as his 4.5 walks per nine innings was the worst rate among qualified starters. Those issues will drive his price down, despite strong results. The Royals will need to replace James Shields, and because top prospects Kyle Zimmer and Sean Maenea don't seem ready, they could look for a bridge option like Liriano.
Morse didn't shake his reputation for fragility in his year in San Francisco. He missed 15 crucial September games with a strained oblique, and his 131 games played was only the second highest total of his career. But when he’s available, he provides major righthanded power, an increasingly scarce (and therefore ever more valuable) resource. The Padres are in desperate need of it, as their team OPS of .634 was the league's second lowest in nearly three decades, and Morse might end up falling into their modest price range.
Lowrie couldn't sustain his breakout 2013, when he led all shortstops with 62 extra-base hits and trailed only Troy Tulowitzki in OPS (.791). Even so, he's a steadying force both at the plate and in the field, and the lack of available shortstops will benefit him. The Mets got very little production from their shortstops last year — Wilmer Flores, Omar Quintanilla and Ruben Tejada combined to bat .236 — and Lowrie could solidify the position.
The lefthanded Miller was extraordinary as a member of the Red Sox, and got even better once he was traded to Baltimore, for whom he posted a 1.35 ERA in 20 innings. Overall, his K-rate led the league, and a fastball that touched 97 and a wipeout slider helped him be even more effective against righties (.145 batting average against) than lefties (.163). He has just one career save, but he has closer potential. Make no mistake: Miller is the best relief pitcher available this offseason, and the perennially relief-needy Tigers won't miss the chance to get him.
LaRoche has long been one of the league's most quietly dependable run producers. Not counting a 2011 in which he unsuccessfully attempted to play through a torn labrum in his shoulder, he's hit at least 20 homers in every year of the last decade, averaging 86 RBI in his healthy seasons. The Nationals, though, will likely want to install Ryan Zimmerman at first base, so LaRoche will be moving on. If the Tigers can't re-sign Victor Martinez, he'd represent an excellent replacement, and one who'd be able to rotate with Miguel Cabrera between DH and first base.
Robertson ably replaced the retired Mariano Rivera at the back of the Yankees' bullpen, posting the league's seventh-best strikeout rate among pitchers who worked more than 60 innings and converting 39 of his 44 chances. But New York already has an even more dominant, and soon to be much cheaper, fireballer waiting in the wings to replace Robertson in Dellin Betances (1.40 ERA, 0.78 WHIP). Robertson will likely move on, and Texas — which has little reason to trust incumbent closer Neftali Feliz, and last year had the league's seventh-worst bullpen ERA (4.02) — would be a logical landing spot for the Alabama native.
Kuroda's situation is always the same this time of year. He says he's undecided as to whether he'll pitch again or head back to Japan, and retirement, then signs a one-year deal and pitches very effectively. As he approached 40, his performance started to fall just a bit last season (his ERAs had been 3.32 and 3.31 in 2012 and '13, respectively, his first two seasons in New York), but he certainly still has something left. This year's difference might be in where he pitches. The Angels are in need of rotational depth, and a move back to the West Coast — where Kuroda first pitched in the majors, with the Dodgers — could prove attractive.
Hunter has continued to be productive at the plate as he's aged, but he's had to give up his Spiderman leotard; the man who won nine straight Gold Gloves while playing centerfield is now a genuine liability defensively. Fangraphs rated him as easily the worst rightfielder in the league in 2014. But his bat still plays, and he's a beloved teammate. A return to Minnesota — where he played until he was 31, and where he could split time between right and DH — would make for a nice final chapter in his terrific career.
Hammel's few months in Oakland did not go quite as well as Jon Lester's. He started the season by going 8-5 with a 2.98 ERA in 17 starts with the Cubs, but after getting traded in early July, he went 2-6 with a 4.26 ERA in 13 outings with the A's. Still, on balance, two of his last three seasons have been strong, and he's got a genuine out pitch in a slider that ranks among the league's most effective. He'd be a smart signing for the Dodgers and could make for a very effective No. 4 starter behind Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu.
Volquez was this year's version of Francisco Liriano, a pitcher with good stuff who was able to put it together with the help of Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage, who is one of the league's best. Volquez's ERA dropped by more than a run, to a career low 3.04, and he did it by learning to pitch to contact: His strikeout rate declined by nearly two batters per nine, but mechanical changes suggested by Searage helped him improve his walk rate to a career low 3.3 per game. His new team will hope that he can bring those beneficial adjustments with him; the Indians are among several who could use one more mid-rotation arm.
The Rangers' virulent injury bug did not spare Rios, as he was hampered by a mid-July sprained ankle that lingered until an infected thumb ended his season in early September. The Rangers declined to pick up his $14 million option, in part because of a precipitous dropoff in his power and speed numbers (he hit 18 home runs with 42 steals in 2013). But Rios seemed to be on track for a season of nearly his usual standards before that ankle tweak (he hit all of his home runs and stole all but one of his bases before the All-Star break, when he was hitting .305). A healthy Rios would represent an upgrade in rightfield for the Indians, a position from which they got 10 homers and a .636 OPS in 2014.
Along with Alex Gordon, Butler was one of the building blocks of the Royals' World Series run. Even as they ascended, though, he faltered. He hit 29 home runs with 107 RBI just two years ago but has seen his OPS tumble by 180 points since then. It made no sense for the Royals to pick up a $12.5 million option on a DH who hit nine home runs, but he's young enough to be able to rediscover his bat elsewhere. Butler has a .931 OPS at Camden Yards, where a lot of people like to hit, and he would represent a good bet to replace the likely loss of Nelson Cruz in the league's most powerful lineup.
Drew had an absolutely miserable season, as his numbers indicate, but he will argue that his year was so disjointed that he could never get into a groove. He couldn't find a long-term deal to his liking last winter, eventually signed a prorated $14.1 million deal to return to the Red Sox in May, and then was traded to the Yankees at the deadline. Drew can also argue that he was terribly unlucky, as his .194 BABIP was the league's lowest among players who accumulated at least 300 plate appearances. Much of his value rests with his slick glove, anyway, and this year, he'll find a home earlier than two months into the season. The Marlins' incumbent shortstop, Adeiny Hechavarria, is improving but still a mediocre hitter and fielder, and Drew would constitute a savvy addition.
The single-season record holder in saves proved a terrific bargain for Milwaukee. Working on a one-year, $3.25 million deal, he saved more than 40 games (while blowing just five chances) for the first time in six years, boasting excellent peripherals that included a career-low WHIP and walk rate (2.4 per nine innings). The Blue Jays will be looking for a closer, as Casey Janssen is a free agent, and K-Rod would be a cheap replacement — although not as cheap as this year.
Peavy's average fastball dipped below 90 mph this season for the first time. He's no longer the hard-throwing Cy Young winner he used to be, but Peavy can still battle, particularly when he's in the NL. After a July trade to the Giants, he went 6-4 with a 2.17 ERA in 12 starts. With Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen recovering from Tommy John surgeries, and Ervin Santana likely gone in free agency, the Braves will need a starter. Peavy, an Alabama native, could be the second coming of Tim Hudson, who gave Atlanta quality innings throughout his mid-30s.
At this time last year, Masterson seemed as if he were in position to be one of this market's most coveted pitchers, perhaps just behind the big three. He went 14-10 with a 3.45 ERA for the Indians in 2013, and struck out more than one batter per inning. A disastrous start to '14 only got worse after Cleveland traded him to the Cardinals in July, as he went 3-3 with a ghastly 7.04 ERA in St. Louis. But the 6-6 righty retains excellent raw tools — a good sinker and a knee-buckling slider — and he has the chance to be the Phil Hughes of this year's free-agent class, a player whose production comes to match his stuff all at once. The Pirates have had great success turning other skilled castoffs into viable rotation pieces; might Ray Searage now work his magic with Masterson?
Anderson has been excellent when he has pitched, with a career ERA of 3.73. The problem is that he hasn't pitched very often. His rookie year of 2009, when he was 21, is still the only time he's reached 20 starts in a season, and he has spent a remarkable 630 days on the disabled list. He is, however, the youngest domestic player on this list, and a gamble on his health will be one of the low-risk, high-reward variety. The Diamondbacks, the organization that drafted him in the second round in 2006, could stand to hit on a few of those.
Neshek's sidearm delivery had long made him a specialist to be deployed against righthanded hitters, but in 2014, the first-time All-Star got everyone out. Righties batted .176 against him, and lefties .196, in part because of an uptick in velocity that saw his average fastball top 90 mph for the first time in his career. Neshek emerged as Trevor Rosenthal's primary setup man in 2014, and it seems probable that neither he nor the Cardinals will want to mess with a good thing.
Morales joined Stephen Drew as a free-agency orphan this year. Like Drew, he didn't sign with a team — the Twins — until several months into the season. Like Drew, he was traded not long after, to the Mariners. And, like Drew, he ended up having the worst offensive season of his career. Before his pursuit of an ill-advised hold-out plan, Morales was a consistent slugger — he put up nearly identical numbers in '12 and '13, hitting 22 and 23 homers, respectively, and posting an OPS of .785 and .787 — and he could replace Billy Butler as the all-but-immobile DH in an otherwise ultra-athletic lineup in Kansas City.
Gregerson is not the closer that the Padres and A's sometimes asked him to be, with his 19 career saves against 32 blown opportunities, in part because he doesn't have closer stuff, as he rarely throws harder than 90 mph. But Gregerson does have excellent fastball command, and that has made him a consistently good setup man, one with a 2.75 ERA in his six seasons. The White Sox, whose 4.38 bullpen ERA was baseball's third-worst, need relief help, and Gregerson — an Illinois native, for what that's worth — could provide it.
The elfin Romo closed out the 2012 World Series for the Giants, but lost his gig to Santiago Casilla in late June this year after his ERA ballooned to over 5.00. He recovered nicely as a setup man, allowing runs in just four of his 30 subsequent appearances, and that is the role in which pursuers will likely envision him. The Diamondbacks' bullpen was the NL's third worst in 2014 (3.92 ERA), and Romo would help to fortify it, and he would also provide insurance behind young closer Addison Reed.
The 6-10 Young was quietly one of 2014's better comeback stories. He put a string of injury-ruined years behind him to make 29 starts and reach double-digit wins for the first time in eight seasons, and Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon deemed him "a godsend." Young is an unusual pitcher: He strikes out very few batters, but his 58.7 percent fly-ball rate was the league's highest by 10 percentage points. He could prove an intelligent signing for the continually rebuilding Astros, whose callow rotation would benefit from having wise veteran.
Can you imagine how filthy the Royals' bullpen would have been had Hochevar not undergone Tommy John surgery in March? The top pick of the 2006 draft never caught on as a starter, but he had a 1.92 ERA as a setup man in 2013, as he was freed to run his fastball up to 98 mph. Hochevar told me during the World Series that he had been throwing comfortably since September, and would welcome a return to Kansas City. If that happens, manager Ned Yost might need no more than four innings out of his starter on any given night.
Soto played in just 14 regular-season games for the A's after being traded from Texas in August, but his importance to them was put into stark relief by what happened in his final appearance in an Oakland uniform. A thumb injury forced him from the Wild-Card Game against the Royals in the third inning; Kansas City proceeded to swipe six bases against his replacement, Derek Norris, and stole the game in 12 innings. Soto no longer hits as he did when he was the Rookie of the Year for the Cubs in '08 (when he posted 23 homers and 86 RBIs), but he's strong defensively, and the A's might not want to be without him again.
Soriano's numbers look great, and he has more saves over the past three seasons than anyone but Craig Kimbrel and Fernando Rodney, but there are a few reasons to be wary. One is that he's blown more save chances since '12 than anyone except for John Axford and Addison Reed. A second is that his fastball, which once sat at 95 mph, now averages around 91. A third is that he had a poor second half last season, pitching to a 6.48 ERA and eventually losing his job. Still, upside remains, and the Astros' generally young bullpen — which had an AL-worst 4.80 ERA — could use his veteran presence. The club could also see him as a piece to be flipped at the trade deadline as it continues to rebuild.
Despite his lack of power, Fangraphs calculated Bonifacio's Wins Above Replacement at a strong 2.1 for 2014, due largely to his speed and his excellent defense. While he mostly played centerfield and second base with the Cubs and Braves, he also saw time at third base, shortstop and the other two outfield positions as well. A full-time starting job might be beyond him, but Bonifacio would look good as the top bench option in Milwaukee. In fact, he could platoon with Scooter Gennett at second (Bonifacio's OPS against lefties was .959, and Gennett's was .802 against righties) and back up pretty much everyone else.
Duke had a 6.03 ERA in '13, so his performance this year was a welcome surprise for the Brewers, whom he joined as a non-roster invitee in spring training. The southpaw learned to shut down lefthanded hitters, holding them to a .198 batting average and a .569 OPS, and he held his own against righties. The Rockies' bullpen had an NL-worst 4.79 ERA and can use all the help it can get.
Reynolds' game is, at this point, no secret: He hits for a low average and whiffs a lot, but when he makes contact, he hits the ball a long way. This season marked his seventh straight with more than 20 home runs. The Rays' finances mean that they are generally forced to make do with incomplete players, and Reynolds could make for a nice fit at DH for a team that ranked third-to-last in the AL with 117 homers.
On a base salary of $1 million, Harang topped 200 innings for the first time since 2007 and finished with the best ERA of his 13-year career. It's unsustainable, though, especially a home run to fly ball rate that he somehow cut in half from '13, to just 6.4 percent, the league's eighth-best. But he was a revelation for a injury-depleted Braves staff, and both parties will likely be interested in a reunion.
Breslow scuffled through 2014, which meant that the Red Sox had little interest in exercising his $4 million option, but before that, he was among the game's most reliable relievers. Between 2008 and '13, he pitched in more games — 392 — than any southpaw except Matt Thornton, and he had a 2.82 ERA and a .224 batting average against. Breslow wasn't a lefty specialist, either, as righthanded hitters have posted a .680 OPS against him during his career, compared to .671 for lefties. His poor walk year will drive his price down, and a team like the Rays — who have long specialized in assembling quality bullpens on the cheap — will bet that it was a fatigue-driven outlier.
Young is one of the strangest players around, a once-great athlete who saw his defensive and base-stealing skills diminish by the time he was in his mid-20s, and a righthanded batter who hits righties better than he does lefties. But he was an important piece as a part-time player for the Orioles this year — among other things, he hit .500 (10-for-20) as a pinch-hitter — and that made teams wonder how the former No. 1 pick might fare with more regular work. The White Sox could give him time in leftfield.