Matthew Pouliot

Strike Zone

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2007 Free Agents - Hitters

Sunday, August 26, 2007


This is the first of two columns looking at this winter's free agent class. Along with projected contracts and destinations for the year's premier free agents are sections are the candidates to be traded this winter, possible non-tenders and glances at the players available in the following two free agent classes.

First up are the hitters. A column on the pitchers will follow Monday.


Catchers

Jorge Posada (Yankees) - Catchers are supposed to be well into their decline phase by age 35, but Posada, who actually turned 36 this month, seems on his way to a career year. It's perfect timing, as it guarantees that he'll get more than one- or two-year offers as a free agent. In truth, he's been so productive that a couple of teams might be willing to go four years, figuring that he could be at least a part-time first baseman by the end of the deal. It's very likely that he'll stay with the Yankees, but it will be interesting to see what happens if the Mets go to $54 million-$56 million for four years. Prediction: Yankees - three years, $39 million

Paul Lo Duca (Mets) - The Mets seemingly were pretty thrilled with what Lo Duca did as their No. 2 hitter in 2006, but they've soured on him to the point at which it's possible he won't get even a token offer from the club this winter. At the very least, GM Omar Minaya will want to see what happens with Posada and Ivan Rodriguez. Lo Duca turns 35 in April, so he can't be counted on to bounce back offensively. He'll be some team's starter in 2008, but he's not worthy of a long-term deal. I can see him landing with the Astros, Orioles or Phillies. Prediction: Astros - two years, $10 million

Michael Barrett (Padres) - After three straight seasons as one of the game's top offensive catchers, Barrett has had a disastrous 2007. Not only has his OPS dropped to 667, but his already shaky defensive reputation has taken a hit and there are concerns about his attitude after his highly publicized altercation with Carlos Zambrano. Now he'll likely have to take a one-year deal in an attempt to rebuild his value. The Padres figure to have limited interest in bringing him back. Prediction: Rockies - one year, $4 million

Jason Kendall (Cubs) - With a .306/.404/.418 line in 98 at-bats to date with the Cubs, Kendall has put himself in much better position to remain a starting catcher next year. The Cubs are likely to have some interest in re-signing him, and Houston would also make sense. The NL Central clubs just don't do much running, making Kendall's noodle arm less of a liability. Prediction: Cubs - one year, $3 million


Other free agents: Yorvit Torrealba (Rockies), Ramon Castro (Mets), Jason LaRue (Royals), Brad Ausmus (Astros), Jose Molina (Yankees), Damian Miller (Brewers), Doug Mirabelli (Red Sox), Josh Paul (Devil Rays), Paul Bako (Orioles), Kelly Stinnett (Cardinals), Mike DiFelice (Mets), Sandy Alomar Jr. (Mets), Jason Phillips (FA), Raul Casanova (Devil Rays), Alberto Castillo (Orioles), Humberto Cota (Minor FA - Pirates), Miguel Ojeda (Minor FA - Rangers), Guillermo Quiroz (Minor FA - Rangers)

Torrealba and Castro could get multiyear deals, but no one else here should. Torrealba might stay with the Rockies and battle Chris Iannetta for playing time again. I believe Castro is one of the game's top 30 catchers, perhaps one of the top 20. However, the back condition that cost him a chance to replace Lo Duca also will hurt his chances of landing a starting job. … The Astros seem ready to move on from Ausmus, but if he wants to continue his career as a backup, there will be a lot of interest. … While it would be risky to part with Tim Wakefield's personal catcher, the Red Sox would surely like a better backup than Mirabelli with Jason Varitek getting up there in years. If they try moving on again, Torrealba and Castro would likely be at the top of their list.


Options
Ivan Rodriguez (Tigers) - $13 million club option, $3 million buyout
Rod Barajas (Phillies) - $5 million club option, $500,000 buyout
Mike Lieberthal (Dodgers) - $1.4 million club option, $100,000 buyout
Gary Bennett (Cardinals) - $900,000 club option, $50,000 buyout

Pudge has slipped enough offensively that he's not a $13 million player any longer. However, after factoring in the buyout, the Tigers will probably want to keep him at $10 million for one year. It'd be different if it was a long-term commitment. … Barajas' option will surely be declined, leaving him to seek work as a backup elsewhere. … The Dodgers could go in a different direction or try to bring Lieberthal back at a lower price tag. … I'm guessing the Cardinals will hold on to Bennett.


Trade candidates: Ramon Hernandez (Orioles), Brian Schneider (Nationals), Gerald Laird (Rangers), Ronny Paulino (Pirates), Miguel Olivo (Marlins), Kelly Shoppach (Indians), Dioner Navarro (Devil Rays), Gregg Zaun (Blue Jays), Jeff Clement (Mariners), Jeff Mathis (Angels), Taylor Teagarden (Rangers), Eliezer Alfonzo (Giants), Rob Bowen (Athletics), Brayan Pena (Braves), Rene Rivera (Mariners), J.D. Closser (Athletics)

Hernandez has struggled in his second year in Baltimore, and since the Orioles might have Matt Wieters ready as soon as 2009, they're going to be open to trading the veteran with two years and $16.5 million left on his contract. The Mets, Cubs, Phillies and Astros could be interested. … The Nats will probably want to wait more year before turning the reins over to Jesus Flores, so Schneider figures to stay put. … Laird was reportedly a target of the Cubs at the deadline, and the Rangers could move him in order to go with Jarrod Saltalamacchia behind the plate. … Paulino is believed to be one of the Mets' top choices to replace Lo Duca.


Non-tender candidates: Miguel Olivo (Marlins), Adam Melhuse (Rangers), Eric Munson (Astros), Matt Treanor (Marlins), Koyie Hill (Cubs), Robby Hammock (Diamondbacks), Pete LaForest (Padres), Chris Heintz (Twins), Kevin Cash (Red Sox), Geronimo Gil (Rockies), Corky Miller (Braves), Gustavo Molina (Orioles), Carlos Maldonado (Pirates)

Olivo has been an adequate enough stopgap for the Marlins, but the club may not want to pay the $2.5 million-$3 million it would take to keep him next year. With little in the farm system, picking up a quality young catcher should be a top priority for GM Larry Beinfest this winter. Shoppach wouldn't be a bad choice.


Top 2008-09 free agents: Kenji Johjima (Mariners), Jason Varitek (Red Sox), Johnny Estrada (Brewers), A.J. Pierzynski (White Sox), Gregg Zaun (Blue Jays)*, David Ross (Reds)*, Henry Blanco (Cubs)*, Mike Redmond (Twins)*, Toby Hall (White Sox)*, Javier Valentin (Reds)*, Vance Wilson (Tigers), Adam Melhuse (Rangers)

2009 options: Zaun - $3.75 million vesting option, Ross - $3.5 million ($375,000 buyout), Blanco - $3 million ($300,000 buyout), Redmond - $950,000 ($100,000 buyout), Hall - $2.25 million ($150,000 buyout), Valentin - $1.3 million ($75,000 buyout)

Top 2009-10 free agents: Victor Martinez (Indians)*, Ramon Hernandez (Orioles)*, Bengie Molina (Giants), Brian Schneider (Nationals), Miguel Olivo (Marlins), Josh Bard (Padres)

2010 options: Martinez - $7 million ($250,000 buyout), Hernandez - $8.5 million ($1 million buyout)


First Basemen/Designated Hitters

Mike Piazza (Athletics) - Piazza's numbers are well down in his first year as a DH, but he's been learning a new league and he's had to deal with a major shoulder injury. It's still pretty likely that he'll be able to help a team if he wants to continue his career in 2008, and with little else out there in the way of quality DH options, he should be able to find work. The Angels and Orioles could both use him as a part-time DH and catcher, and he'd be an intriguing option to share time with Saltalamacchia in Texas. The A's probably won't bring him back. Prediction: Rangers - one year, $4 million plus incentives

Sean Casey (Tigers) - The Tigers thought they were getting a deal when Casey agreed to come back on a one-year, $4 million contract, but he's been one of the league's weakest regulars this year. Casey could likely hang on for another five years or so as an NL reserve and pinch-hitter if he wanted to. First, he'll probably find one more team willing to take a chance on him as a starter. The Giants, Royals, Rangers and A's could be interested. Prediction: Royals - one year, $2 million

Other free agents: Shea Hillenbrand (Dodgers), Ryan Klesko (Giants), Mike Sweeney (Royals), Eric Hinske (Red Sox), Doug Mientkiewicz (Yankees), Tony Clark (Diamondbacks), Mark Sweeney (Dodgers), Olmedo Saenz (Dodgers), Greg Norton (Devil Rays), Robert Fick (Nationals), Julio Franco (Braves), Erubiel Durazo (Yankees), Craig Wilson (White Sox), Travis Lee (FA), Matthew LeCroy (Minor FA -Twins), Lance Niekro (Minor FA - Giants), Ken Harvey (Minor FA - Twins)

With few quality alternatives, Hillenbrand likely would have been in line for a nice multiyear contract had he just been his usual average self. Instead, he's likely to have difficulty finding a team willing to promise him a starting job. It'd be no surprise if he's playing in Japan by 2009. … Klesko is about as good of a hitter as any of the first basemen available. Still, his difficulties staying on the field could have him settling for something like $1.5 million-$2 million in 2008. … The Royals apparently wouldn't mind having Sweeney back on an incentive-laden deal. There shouldn't be any team out there willing to commit to him as a regular DH.


Options
Kevin Millar (Orioles) - $2.75 million club option (vests w/475 PA)
Scott Hatteberg (Reds) - $1.85 million, $150,000 buyout

Millar's option will kick in with another 51 plate appearances, and the Orioles will be pleased to have him back after his fine season. … The Reds need to go to Joey Votto at first base next year, but they'll probably keep Hatteberg around as insurance. He's cheap enough to justify it, though that both he and Votto are left-handed hitters means he's not quite an ideal choice.


Trade candidates: Todd Helton (Rockies - NTC), Carlos Pena (Devil Rays), Richie Sexson (Mariners), Nomar Garciaparra (Dodgers - NTC), Rich Aurilia (Giants), Casey Kotchman (Angels), Conor Jackson (Diamondbacks), Dan Johnson (Athletics), Mike Jacobs (Marlins), Kendry Morales (Angels), Ryan Shealy (Royals), Chris Shelton (Tigers), Scott Thorman (Braves), Justin Huber (Royals), Brad Eldred (Pirates), Scott Moore (Cubs), Wes Bankston (Devil Rays), Larry Broadway (Nationals)

Any suitor requiring a serious upgrade at first base will have to make a trade. … After a fast start, Helton now has a line nearly identical to the disappointing one he posted in 2006. The Rockies should have to pick up close to half of the $73.5 million he's owed over four years in order to move him. The Red Sox, Yankees and Tigers could be interested. … The Rays might want to consider selling high on Pena, who would be especially attractive given that he'll be under control for two years and he probably won't make more than $3.5 million in 2008. He could bring in a talented young arm. … Sexson's value should be lower than ever, but he still didn't clear waivers this month. He's owed $14 million in 2008, the final year of his deal. … Garciaparra has a no-trade clause and probably would wield it unless traded to an moved into an ideal situation. He's likely staying.


Non-tender candidates: Ben Broussard (Mariners), Ross Gload (Royals), Josh Phelps (Pirates), J.R. House (Orioles)

Broussard, who turns 31 in September, is about as interesting as any of the free agents. Since he's making $3.55 million, the Mariners probably won't carry him as a reserve again. There's a slight chance they'd move Sexson and carry Broussard as their first baseman. However, if Sexson goes, it'd make at least as much sense to play Raul Ibanez at first. … Barring a poor September, Gload figures to remain with the Royals as a bench player in 2008.


Top 2008-09 free agents: Mark Teixeira (Braves), Jason Giambi (Yankees)*, Jim Thome (White Sox)*, Carlos Delgado (Mets)*, Richie Sexson (Mariners), Frank Thomas (Blue Jays)*, Nomar Garciaparra (Dodgers), Ben Broussard (Mariners), Kevin Millar (Orioles), Rich Aurilia (Giants)

2009 options: Giambi - $22 million ($5 million buyout), Thome - $13 million ($3 million buyout), Delgado - $16 million vesting option ($4 million buyout), Thomas - $10 million vesting option,

Top 2009-10 free agents: Adam LaRoche (Pirates), Nick Johnson (Nationals), Carlos Pena (Devil Rays), Aubrey Huff (Orioles), Dmitri Young (Nationals)*, Jose Vidro (Mariners)*, Robb Quinlan (Angels), Ross Gload (Royals), Josh Phelps (Pirates)

2010 options: Young - $6 million vesting option, Vidro - Vesting option


Second Basemen

Luis Castillo (Mets) – Castillo will only get more fragile as he ages, but when he's in the lineup, he's probably the most effective of any of the second basemen likely to be available this winter. He's getting on base 36 percent of the time again this year, and he's been even better since joining the Mets at the deadline. Also, his defense remains well above average. A three-year contract would be a bad idea, but someone will go to two years, and it figures that the Mets will make a bid to retain him. Prediction: Mets - two years, $11 million

Tadahito Iguchi (Phillies) - After a disappointing first half with the White Sox, Iguchi has aided his chances of remaining a starter next year by hitting .308/.362/.442 in 104 at-bats for the Phillies. He doesn't offer as much range at second base as one would like, but he likely has another year or two left before he begins to turn into a liability. With few teams likely to be in the market for a starter, there's a good chance he'll settle for a one-year deal. Prediction: Padres - one year, $4 million

Kaz Matsui (Rockies) - Matsui's .253/.303/.343 line outside of Coors Field this year is pretty scary, and durability remains a major issue here. Still, he's revived his career to the point at which he'll probably get another job as a regular this winter. That he's 28-for-30 stealing bases will really help his case. Expect the Rockies to attempt to re-sign him if they can get him for $3 million-$4 million. A mutilyear deal wouldn't be a very good idea, but he might get one if he finishes the year on a high note. Prediction: Rockies - one year, $4 million

Mark Loretta (Astros) - There were more second basemen available than jobs last year, which is why Loretta and Ronnie Belliard had to settle for reserve roles. The same could happen again this season, depending on whether the Astros and White Sox decide to go forward with Chris Burke and Danny Richar, respectively. The Astros are known to want Loretta back, possibly as a starter over Burke. However, with his average down 100 points since the All-Star break, he's looking more like a role player every day. He'd actually be a nice fit for the White Sox, as he could start over Richar against lefties and serve as a backup elsewhere. The Astros, though, figure to keep him. Prediction: Astros - one year, $3 million


Other free agents: Tony Graffanino (Brewers), Damion Easley (Mets), Jerry Hairston Jr. (Rangers), Miguel Cairo (Cardinals), Todd Walker (FA), Mark Bellhorn (Reds), D'Angelo Jimenez (Nationals), Chris Woodward (Braves), Alejandro Machado (Twins), Desi Relaford (Rangers), Tony Womack (FA), Antonio Perez (Minor FA - Athletics), Nick Green (Minor FA - Pirates)

Graffanino should have been in line for the same kind of deal as Loretta, but a torn ACL is going to keep him out for the start of 2008. … Everyone else here is sure to be a backup at best. The Mets will probably try to keep Easley, but he'd make less sense for them if they don't have a left-handed hitter for him to platoon with.


Options
Jeff Kent (Dodgers) - $9 million club option, $500,000 buyout (vests with 550 PA)
Jose Valentin (Mets) - $4.3 million club option (vests with 430 PA)
Marcus Giles (Padres) - $4 million club option

Kent is currently at 460 plate appearances, so his option will vest if he remains healthy the rest of the way. With no superior alternatives out there, the Dodgers should bring him back regardless. … Valentin's option won't vest and the Mets figure to move on from him. He'll likely have to compete for a bench job somewhere. … If Giles doesn't have a big finish, not only won't his option be picked up, but he might have to settle for a minor league contract this winter. He doesn't offer any versatility, so there's going to be little reason for a team to carry him unless he shows he's good enough to start at second base.


Trade candidates: Orlando Hudson (Diamondbacks), Felipe Lopez (Nationals), Josh Barfield (Indians), Ray Durham (Giants), Chris Burke (Astros), Omar Infante (Tigers), Jorge Cantu (Reds), Jamey Carroll (Rockies), Asdrubal Cabrera (Indians), Jed Lowrie (Red Sox), Alberto Callaspo (Diamondbacks), Mike Fontenot (Cubs), Martin Prado (Braves), Aaron Miles (Cardinals), Russ Adams (Blue Jays)

Hudson, a free agent after next year, would be the top second baseman out there if the D'Backs decided to trade him. That Callaspo was a bust makes it more likely that Arizona will stay the course, but anyone willing to dangle a quality young starter might still have a shot at him. … Lopez just hasn't been nearly the hitter for Washington that he was in Cincinnati. The team can hope that changes in the new ballpark next year or trade him while he still has some value left. I'm guessing they'll choose the former. … Barfield has been a complete bust in Cleveland, and the Padres have a hole at second base. Perhaps there's a chance the Indians would trade him back to San Diego and turn second base over to Cabrera.


Non-tender candidates: Jose Castillo (Pirates), Jorge Cantu (Reds), Pete Orr (Braves)

Castillo was only truly horrible during April, but the Pirates aren't going to pay him $2 million to act as a bench player again. He needs a fresh start elsewhere. … I'm still listing Cantu at second base, but he needs to be viewed as a first baseman or maybe a corner outfielder going forward. Perhaps the Reds will ante up the $1 million or so he'll earn in arbitration and use him as a reserve.


Top 2008-09 free agents: Orlando Hudson (Diamondbacks), Felipe Lopez (Nationals), Mark Ellis (Athletics), Mark Grudzielanek (Royals), Ray Durham (Giants), Alex Cora (Red Sox), Jamey Carroll (Rockies)*

2009 options: Carroll - $2.5 million ($150,000 buyout)

Top 2009-10 free agents: Brian Roberts (Orioles), Placido Polanco (Tigers), Freddy Sanchez (Pirates), Mark DeRosa (Cubs), Adam Kennedy (Cardinals), Omar Infante (Tigers), Ronnie Belliard (Nationals), Jose Castillo (Pirates), Aaron Miles (Cardinals)


Third Basemen

Alex Rodriguez (Yankees) - A-Rod controls his destiny, so he gets listed as a free agent, even though I'm assuming he'll reach an agreement with the Yankees before voiding the three years and $81 million he'll have left on his contract. It makes all of the sense in the world for the Yankees to extend him for an additional three years or so. After all, the Rangers are due to pay close to 40 percent of his salary as is. If nothing can be worked out with the Yankees, then the Cubs, Red Sox and Angels would be the favorites to land him. I doubt it will come to that, though. Prediction: Yankees - three-year, $100 million extension though 2013

Mike Lowell (Red Sox) - That Lowell has already set a career high for errors this year can be overlooked when he's hitting 25 points higher than ever before and is on pace for a personal-best OPS and more than 110 RBI. The Red Sox surely weren't counting on keeping him for more than two years after taking his contract in the Josh Beckett deal, but now they'll have to make a bid to re-sign him. That said, it'd be no surprise to see him take a three- or four-year deal from another team, perhaps Philadelphia or San Francisco, rather than a two-year pact from the Red Sox. He's turning 34 in February, so a longer deal would be a poor risk. Prediction: Giants - three years, $33 million

Pedro Feliz (Giants) - It was a pleasant surprise that no team looked at Feliz's solid power numbers and offered him a three-year contract last winter. He ended up taking a one-year, $5.1 million contract to stay with the Giants, and he's gone on to post his usual line. Feliz is strong enough on defense to justify regular playing time at third, but especially since he's turning 33 in April, there's every reason to keep going year to year with him. The Giants should move on. Prediction: Twins - one year, $3 million


Other free agents: Mike Lamb (Astros), Russell Branyan (Phillies), Geoff Blum (Padres), Aaron Boone (Marlins), Jeff Cirillo (Diamondbacks), Tony Batista (Nationals), Sean Burroughs (FA), Fernando Tatis (Mets)

Lamb has established himself as a pretty valuable player, but he's no starting third baseman. An AL team could do worse than giving him a two-year, $6 million deal to serve as a part-time corner infielder and designated hitter. The Twins, Indians, Yankees, A's and Red Sox could be interested. The Diamondbacks might also like him as Chad Tracy insurance.


Options
Corey Koskie (Brewers) - $6.5 million club option, $500,000 buyout
Abraham Nunez (Phillies) - $2 million club option, $335,000 buyout

It's anyone's guess whether Koskie will be able to play next year. The Brewers will decline his option, so he'll compete for a bench job somewhere if he's sufficiently recovered from post-concussion syndrome. … Nunez's defense will likely keep him on a major league roster, but the Phillies shouldn't want him back, at least not at that price.


Trade candidates: Miguel Cabrera (Marlins), Eric Chavez (Athletics - Limited NTC), Garrett Atkins (Rockies), Troy Glaus (Blue Jays - NTC), Hank Blalock (Rangers), Scott Rolen (Cardinals - NTC), Joe Crede (White Sox), Edwin Encarnacion (Reds), Kevin Kouzmanoff (Padres), Wilson Betemit (Yankees), Casey Blake (Indians), Craig Counsell (Brewers), Wes Helms (Phillies), Andy LaRoche (Dodgers), Brandon Wood (Angels), Andy Marte (Indians), Chase Headley (Padres), Dallas McPherson (Angels), Willy Aybar (Braves), Michael Morse (Mariners)

Yeah, that's most of the game's notable third basemen, but I did decide at the last minute to omit Adrian Beltre and Chone Figgins, both of whom were mentioned in rumors last winter. … The Marlins are more likely to part with Dontrelle Wilis than Cabrera this winter, and I also think both Chavez and Atkins are staying. The A's might be able to find more productive ways to spend the money going to Chavez, but if they tried to deal him now, they wouldn't get much in return. I could still see the Red Sox attempting to deal for him if they lose Lowell.

Glaus and Blalock are the big-name third basemen most likely to go. Glaus, who has a no-trade clause, is believed to have a preference for the West Coast, making Los Angeles and San Diego natural fits for him. The Rangers aren't likely to win next year, and dropping Blalock would be the easiest way for them to shed salary. The Phillies and Giants likely would be quite interested if he became available.



Non-tender candidates: Joe Crede (White Sox), Morgan Ensberg (Padres), Ramon Vazquez (Rangers), Hector Luna (Blue Jays), Matt Kata (Pirates), Jason Wood (Marlins), Chris Basak (Twins), Luis Rodriguez (Twins)

Crede isn't likely to get a raise from the $4.94 million he made this year, so he should have a little trade value left, even after back surgery. The White Sox could opt to keep him and move Josh Fields to left field, but they don't seem particularly taken with the idea. It's not hard to see why after Crede pretty much bailed on the club this year. … The Padres might like to have Ensberg back as a part-time player, but he'd likely have to accept about half of the $4.35 million he's making in 2007.


Top 2008-09 free agents: Chipper Jones (Braves)*, Hank Blalock (Rangers)*, Joe Crede (White Sox), Casey Blake (Indians), Morgan Ensberg (Padres), Craig Counsell (Brewers)*, Wes Helms (Phillies)*, Nick Punto (Twins), Scott Spiezio (Cardinals)*, Willie Bloomquist (Mariners), Pablo Ozuna (White Sox)*

2009 options: Jones - $8 million-$11 million (vests with 450 PA in 2008), Blalock - $6.2 million ($250,000 buyout), Counsell - $3.4 million ($400,000 buyout), Helms - $3.75 million ($750,000 buyout), Spiezio - $2.5 million ($100,000 buyout), Ozuna - $1.2 million ($200,000 buyout)

Top 2009-10 free agents: Miguel Cabrera (Marlins), Chone Figgins (Angels), Chad Tracy (Diamondbacks)*, Melvin Mora (Orioles)*, Akinori Iwamura (Devil Rays)*, Ty Wigginton (Astros)

2010 options: Tracy - $7 million ($1 million buyout), Mora – Club option ($1 million buyout), Iwamura - $4.25 million ($250,000 buyout)

Page 2


Matthew Pouliot is the Executive Editor of RotoWorld.com and has been doing the site's baseball projections for the last 10 years. Follow him on Twitter at matthewpouliot.
Email :Matthew Pouliot



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