While most of the year's best free agents have found new homes, these 12 players are available and could be a big help in 2015.
The week between Christmas and New Year's Day has traditionally been a quiet one for those who work in baseball's front offices. These days, it might be the only such period they have left. The game's executives, however, will do more than relax with their families over the holidays. They will also use the time to take stock of the rosters they have spent the previous two months modifying, and to consider what holes remain to be filled as spring training approaches.
After an unusually frenzied November and December, they had better hope that those holes aren't gaping, particularly if they had planned to address them via free agency. Of the members of the Reiter 50, SI.com's annual ranking of the game's top 50 free agents, 33 had already found new homes as of Thursday morning. While Max Scherzer and James Shields — ranked No. 1 and No. 3, respectively — are still available for what are certain to be extremely high prices, starting pitching options behind them are few, especially after it was announced that Japan's Kenta Maeda (No. 11) will not be posted this offseason. The only starters remaining are one pitcher who might retire (Hiroki Kuroda, No. 26) and a handful of veterans in their mid-to-late 30s whose best days are surely behind them (Jake Peavy, No. 34; Chris Young, No. 41; and Aaron Harang, No. 48).
Impact hitters are in even more limited supply. The highest-ranked remaining regular is now middle infielder Asdrubal Cabrera, at No. 15. After him, it's outfielders Nori Aoki (No. 17) and Colby Rasmus (No. 18), infielder Stephen Drew (No. 32), catcher Geovany Soto (No. 43), utilityman Emilio Bonifacio (No. 45) and OF/DH Delmon Young (No. 50). That's it.
Those players will likely go soon, especially because their will be no lingering qualifying offer orphans who remain homeless until spring or beyond. Of the 12 players who received those one-year, $15.3 million qualifying offers in November — which compel any team that signs them to forfeit a high draft pick — only Scherzer and Shields are left.
So now is when general managers will start to mine deep in search of overlooked diamonds, or at least semi-precious stones. Last year, for example, they found value in players like Jason Hammel, Casey McGehee and Edinson Volquez — in addition to Harang and both Youngs, Delmon and Chris — none of whom was ranked on SI.com's top 50 list. Similarly unranked players, unheralded due to injury or performance or both, have already started to sign. Just this week, Chris Capuano, Gavin Floyd, Brandon Morrow and Jason Motte became the property of the Yankees, Indians, Padres and Cubs, respectively. Still, plenty others remain. Here are the best 11 of them.
There are available relievers who had better seasons, including Francisco Rodriguez and Rafael Soriano, but Janssen pitched fairly well after returning from a strained back, and he saved 81 games for Toronto over the past three seasons, allowing less than a baserunner per inning. With the Nationals unlikely to re-sign Soriano, they are looking for a solid arm to set up (and possibly back up) closer Drew Storen, and Janssen is a logical fit.
Though his brief, albeit terrific, time as a closer is likely over, the 2013 All-Star bounced back nicely after a midseason trade from the Pirates, posting a 3.48 ERA in Anaheim. His strikeout rate above suggests he can still be an effective setup man, and even after signing Andrew Miller, the Yankees could use another one.
Vogelsong pitched well after a disastrous 2013, though he lasted no more than three innings in two of his three postseason starts. With the Twins perennially in need of veteran pitching depth, he could move East after a generally successful four-year career revival in San Francisco.
The Padres got nothing for the $8 million they paid Johnson last year, as he was forced to undergo a second Tommy John surgery before he made a start. Even so, when he is healthy — which hasn't been often — he is one of the league's most talented pitchers (as his 2.14 ERA in 37 starts with the Marlins between 2010 and '11 suggests), and he's well worth an incentive-laden gamble for a club that believes it's a contender.
Chamberlain was last seen imploding in the ALDS against the Orioles, but before that, he'd put together his best season in years. He's no longer the flamethrower of his youth — his fastball averaged just over 93 mph in 2014 — but he could be attractive to a team like the Pirates, who have addressed their rotation by signing A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano but still need bullpen help.
Like his former teammate Kris Medlen, who reached a two-year deal with the Royals on Thursday, Beachy underwent a second Tommy John surgery last March and was subsequently non-tendered by the Braves. Beachy has shown flashes of brilliance — he had a 2.00 ERA in 13 starts in 2012 before his first elbow reconstruction — and, just as with Medlen, he represents a low-risk gamble, one that could pay dividends for the Angels if they find themselves in the thick of the race at midseason.
Few players have been with their current teams for as long as Weeks, who debuted with the Brewers in 2003. Though he never quite reached his five-tool potential, he can still be productive, and he could return to Milwaukee to form the short end of a platoon with the lefthanded-hitting Scooter Gennett.
He's likely to be the league's oldest position player, and third-oldest overall behind Rockies reliever LaTroy Hawkins and Mets starter Bartolo Colon, but Ichiro appears to want to play forever if anyone will have him. He can still get on base, swipe a few bags and play all three outfield positions, and he might find a taker in the Orioles, who have a top-heavy roster that lacks depth.
Cabrera was arrested in September for suspicion of driving under the influence of marijuana, and he was later charged with resisting arrest. Those ongoing legal issues, combined with his poor season, led the Padres to non-tender him. But he was an All-Star in 2013 and has top-end speed while playing a crucial position. New Dodgers president Andrew Friedman has never shied away from players with off-field troubles, and Cabrera could replace the traded Dee Gordon's wheels while backing up both of the club's new middle infielders, second baseman Howie Kendrick and, provided the trade with Philadelphia gets finalized, shortstop Jimmy Rollins.
His brief tenure in Boston ended in acrimony and with a mid-July release, and he didn't hit much after being picked up by St. Louis as a fill-in for the injured Yadier Molina (.244 with one home run and six RBI in 30 games). But with Russell Martin having signed with the Blue Jays, Pierzynski is the second-best catcher remaining on the market — after Geovany Soto, ahead of David Ross — and he could find a taker in Atlanta, which (for now) has the defensively deficient Evan Gattis and the very young Christian Bethancourt behind the plate.
Kendrick is unspectacular, but he can eat innings — 199 of them last year. The reluctantly rebuilding Phillies will have a rotation that is anorexically thin, particularly if they trade Cole Hamels, and they could do worse than to bring back Kendrick for a ninth season in Philadelphia. Someone has to get some outs there.