Anybody Out There? You Be the Judge.

Most of the big free-agent names have found their homes for 2012; that includes Prince Fielder, who took a staggering amount of cash on Tuesday and will reside in one of his pop’s old haunts. With Fielder’s deal, that leaves Roy Oswalt and Edwin Jackson as the two biggest names still looking for new digs before spring training begins in about a month.

But those names are the obvious ones. Let’s take a peek at some other players still on the free-agent market, and then we’ll try to get a feel for some of their potential landing spots.

Casey Kotchman (2011 WAR: 2.8) — Kotchman experienced a career revival in St. Pete last season, but it came at a somewhat bad time for the first baseman. For one, it’s never really a good thing for a first baseman’s career year to be a .306/.378/.422 triple-slash (shades of Sid Bream, perhaps?), and it’s not often great to flounder for every year prior to your first big free agency foray. So do few teams take Kotchman’s year seriously, or are they just non-plussed about an .800 OPS? Maybe it’s the first half/second half splits (.849/.755 OPS)?

It’s probably a bit of everything, but maybe that’s not entirely fair to Kotchman. His walk and whiff rates are in line with his career marks, and his ISO last year was actually below his career mark by nearly 15 points. An ever-capable defender, Kotchman could provide a relatively cheap upgrade for a club that’s needy at first—considering he was nearly a 3-win player last year—and has been productive every season that he’s had a reasonable BABIP. He’s not a game changer, but he’s the only free-agent hitter left who was worth more than a win-and-a-half last season. Someone could get a decent deal here , just like Tampa did this season, and I think the smart money is on the Cleveland Indians. It makes a lot of sense because Kotchman should come cheaply, and he isn’t the kind of bat a club has to worry about displacing on days Carlos Santana comes out from behind the dish.

Johnny Damon (2011 WAR: 1.5) — Damon has kept plugging away the past two seasons and has provided a decent batting average and just enough pop to get him over that .400 slugging mark. The walks slipped a bit in 2011, but the power made a slight resurgence — even though there isn’t a great disparity between Comerica and the Trop as far as left-handed hitters are concerned (at least according to StatCorner’s park factors). Damon still has decent speed (16 straight seasons of  double-digit stolen bases) and he makes consistent contact (his 82.1% is still above average, but it’s slipping), but he’s only played about 350 innings defensively the past two seasons. And most of those innings were in 2010.

As a result, a DH with a .750ish OPS is about as attractive as the winner of a “Miss Bayou” competition. He might be able to hang on long enough to get that shiny, arbitrary 3,000th hit, but that’ll only bring notice to how arbitrary counting stats can be when it comes to hall of fame voting. It sounds as if Damon desperately wants to play for the Bronx Bombers again, which has its  pick of a small, unsightly litter that also includes Raul Ibanez to share a DH role with Andruw Jones. Damon should be able to garner a big-league deal even if the Yankees aren’t interested. But the market is drying up quickly.

Derrek Lee (2011 WAR: 1.4) — Lee was all but left for dead after his time in Baltimore, and for once that’s not a slight on the Pittsburgh Pirates. For the second straight season, Lee performed better when shifting gears to a different club — this time nearly boosting his OPS by 300 points (.706/.982). As a right-handed slugger with a good defensive reputation, it’s a bit odd that he has yet to get an offer to his liking (assuming of course that his demands are at least sane). In fact, he’s said that he might  retire, rather than play under a deal that isn’t to his liking, a la Jermaine Dye a few seasons ago. Lee has hit lefties and righties with aplomb during his 15-year career, so hanging on as a lefty masher doesn’t make a ton of sense financially. As spring training approaches, some team will find budget room for him. But with 15 seasons — and $91 million-plus — under his belt, he also could call it quits.

Rick Ankiel (2011 WAR: 1.4) — Ankiel’s batting lines have been cover-your-eyes bad the past three seasons, but he provides two things teams can use on the cheap: pop and defense. He might run everywhere he goes on the ball field, but he’s proven to be a capable defender out in center — with an assist to his rocket arm — and his career ISO is just under .200. He’s held his own in small spurts in corners, so in essence, he’s every team’s ideal fourth outfielder. At an average of $2 million and change the past three seasons — and apparently trending downward — he provides more than your average Jason Repko, and he won’t break your bank.

Todd Coffey (2011 WPA: 0.33) — Much of the buzz around the portly right-hander is generated by his awesome in-game entrance. But he’s actually been a pretty solid reliever during the past three seasons (3.68 ERA, 7.3 K/9, 2.6 K/BB). In fact, his numbers compare quite favorably to Matt Capps over that same time  (3.79, 6.5, and 3.4 respectively). Remember that Capps is coming off a nice $7.15 million payday, and he got a one-year deal worth $4.5 million after a down season. That 2011 salary for Capps actually signifies well over $1 million more than Coffey has made during his entire career, despite their relative similarities.

At his worst, Coffey will struggle, but he won’t embarrass himself with the free pass (four seasons over 3.0 BB/9). He can be susceptible to the long ball (three years above one per nine), but overall he’s a capable middle-inning reliever who throws a legit 93-plus mph fastball, spins a really good slider and keeps the fans entertained. There’s some value in that, right?

Rich Harden (2011 WPA: -0.78) — Harden’s long been a favorite of mine, and as a result, I’m quite surprised he hasn’t been snapped up. By contrast, even coming off a really bad 2010 season, Harden managed to re-sign with the A’s last offseason. Now off a much better year — at least on the peripherals front — the market has been slow to develop for the crystalline Canadian right-hander.

Among the positive signs for Harden was the return of the strikeouts (back to 9.9/9), the banishment of walks (to a sub-career rate of 3.4/9), and a return of much of the velocity that escaped him during that disastrous season in the Lone Star State. So why the slow wagon to market for Harden’s services? Well, there’s considerable doubt about his endurance and durability after a fourth-straight year of diminishing returns in the IP department. But I don’t think that’s cause for concern. Whatever team signs Harden should look at him as a middle reliever, for whom 80ish innings is actually a boon, rather than a bust. After all, then you can pick which 80 innings he throws, dependent of context. I feel strongly that someone will pick Harden up on a bargain-basement rate in the next couple weeks, and he will prove himself an asset either as a swing man or in middle relief.

Here’s a few passing thoughts on a other players:

Brad Lidge — He compensated for declining velocity with too many sliders. Now he needs to reel in his control.
Raul Ibanez — He’s Probably at the end of the line, but was pretty darn good for a very long time (16 seasons). He’s coming off 10-straight seasons of 30-plus doubles and 15-plus home runs.
Magglio Ordonez – See Ibanez, but better. A lot better. His ankle, plus his age will likely do him in.
Kosuke Fukudome — He needs to prove he’s more of the player with Cubs than Indians. He could be an unheralded acquisition.
Edgar Renteria — There’s little tread still left on his tires, but he still managed to be worth nearly one win last year. He will end up with a team that wants veteran leadership in the infield.
Ivan Rodriguez/Miguel Tejada – See Renteria.
Javier Vazquez – He’s unofficially retired, but he seems to have plenty left in the tank, should he get an an offer. His market would arguably have been greater than Oswalt’s.
Russell Branyan – There’s absolutely no interest on the market to date, but cheap muscle can be interesting. He’s coming off career-worst season at age 35, but he has bounced back before.
Jeff Francis – Severe lack of velocity and strikeouts have made Francis’ market a bit inconsistent. Still, his durability last season will endear him to a handful of clubs.
Brad Penny – He’s still firing 93 mph fastballs, but he’d missing fewer bats. A move to the bullpen might help him regain some of the whiffs and help him hold on a bit longer.
Juan Pierre – He gives production almost identical across the board, but his declining defense and half as many base swipes cut his wOBA by 20 points and WAR by more than three. He straddled a fine line the past few years, but at 34, the end could be near.
Carlos Guillen – He can’t hit, field or stay healthy. Someone will take a flier and be disappointed, most likely.




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In addition to Rotographs, Warne is a Minnesota Twins beat writer for 1500 ESPN Twin Cities. Follow him on Twitter @Brandon_Warne, or feel free to email him to do podcasts or for any old reason at brandon.r.warne@gmail-dot-com

19 Responses to “Anybody Out There? You Be the Judge.”

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  1. Vin says:

    I would think Ankiel and Fukudome could at least get offers to be 4th outfielders.

    Francis seems bound for the Pirates, or perhaps the Royals again.

    Lee is most likely done in my estimation.

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    • rbt says:

      Royals won’t resign Francis; they are committed to not blocking the kids.

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    • I’ve maintained all along that Fukudome would be a good fit for the Twins, but I tend to agree that he or Ankiel shouldn’t be unemployed for much longer.

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      • Vin says:

        Fukudome would fit well on the Nats, no?

        Also, just noticed that there is no JD Drew in this piece. I would bet on him outproducing Ordonez, Ibanez, Ankiel or Pierre if someone would just give him a chance.

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  2. MustBunique says:

    Cespedes?

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  3. Great stuff. Really enjoyed the post.

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  4. Hurtlockertwo says:

    Interesting read, most of these players are 5 plus years past their best seasons which should be a clue to teams paying huge money for 7-10 years to players. The drop off can be steep. (yes, I understand the front loaded concept of contracts)

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  5. Jmei says:

    Isn’t Mike Gonzalez still unsigned? I suppose he’s an injury risk but he’s lights-out against lefties (career 2.82 xFIP) and put up decent numbers overall last year (8.61 K/9, 3.54 BB/9, 4.11 FIP, 3.73 xFIP). He’d be great as a LOOGY-type who can also get righties out at a decent clip.

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  6. Chris says:

    How is Coffey not signed, he’s a real gamer I saw him get hit on the elbow by a line drive at 102 2 days later pitching again

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    • I don’t know if that’s a desirable thing, at least not in the scope of free agent pitchers. Joking aside, it’s really a shame that he doesn’t have the ‘proven closer’ vibe, as he’d be much more well compensated to this point.

      A savvy GM would be more apt to pick him up than Capps, *cough* *cough*

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  7. Sammy says:

    Zach Duke’s still out there.

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  8. Sammy says:

    Nostradamus says Pirates sign them all, trade them at midseason, and win the world series, just for kicks.

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  9. Kampfer says:

    I am pretty sure that Damon had already had more than 300 hits like 12 years ago.

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  10. todmod says:

    I found the comment that Kotchman is productive when he has a reasonable BABIP pretty funny. His BABIP of .335 that carried him to production last year was not reasonable. He stunk in 2009 with a “reasonable” BABIP of .283 for a slow 1st baseman. The .7 WAR in the 3 years prior to last year is a pretty good reason to be skeptical. It’s hard not to expect mediocrity from him.

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    • I should have suggested “agreeable” rather than reasonable, but his ’07 season had a .305 BABIP and that was by far his best offensive campaign.

      It’s truly crazy how groundball heavy he is.

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