Matthew Pouliot

Free Agency

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Top 50 Free Agents

Friday, September 07, 2012

Presented here is a list of this winter's top 50 free agents, not so much as I judge them but as I imagine teams will judge them. Left off the list are Robinson Cano, R.A. Dickey, Curtis Granderson, Tim Hudson, Brian McCann, Carlos Ruiz, James Shields and David Wright, as they're all practically assured of having their 2013 options exercised. Other players with option years are denoted with asterisks.
All ages are as of April 1, 2013.

50. Ryan Madson (RHP Reds - Age 32)*: Madson was supposed to get a fat four-year contract as a free agent last winter. Instead, he settled for a one-year, $8.5 million contract and then he ended up needing Tommy John surgery before ever throwing a pitch for the Reds. Cincinnati figures to buy out its half of his $11 million mutual option, sending him back into free agency. Madson possesses one of the game's best changeups, and after a few false starts, he settled in nicely to the closer's role in Philadelphia last year. He should be a nice pickup for some team.
49. Kyuji Fujikawa (RHP Japan - Age 32): Long one of Japan's best relievers, Fujikawa's worst ERA since 2005 was a 2.01 mark in 2010. He's at 1.44 with 21 saves (bringing his career total to 217 saves) and 55 strikeouts in 43 2/3 innings for Hanshin this year. Possessing a low-90s fastball, a forkball and a curveball, Fujikawa should be perfectly capable of sliding right in as an eighth- or ninth-inning guy in the majors, and reports indicate that he is ready to make the move. He might command a two-year deal in the $8 million-$10 million range.
48. Carlos Villanueva (RHP Blue Jays - Age 29): Villanueva has spent seven years in the bigs and just once, when he worked exclusively out of the pen for Milwaukee in 2010, has he occupied the same role all year long. This year, he was moved to the rotation after amassing a 3.24 ERA in 33 1/3 innings out of the pen, and he's remained successful, going 5-5 with a 3.50 ERA in 12 starts. Even as long as Villanueva has been around, he's just turning 29 in November. Don't be surprised if someone gives him a two-year deal in the $10 million-$12 million range this winter.
47. Delmon Young (OF Tigers - Age 27): This one should be fascinating, Young is the youngest player on this list and thanks to a recent surge, it looks like he'll end his age-26 season with about 20 homers and 80 RBI. He had 21 homers and 112 RBI for the Twins in 2010. However, he's spent the rest of his career to date as a below average regular because of his poor OBPs and lousy defense. It's entirely possible he still has a couple of .300-25-100 seasons in his future, but when he instead comes in at .270-15-75, he's quite a liability. It may take a strong September to get him a multiyear deal.
46. J.J. Putz (RHP Diamondbacks - Age 36)*: After GM Kevin Towers said last week that he was planning to exercise his closer's $6.5 million option for 2013, Putz rewarded the show of faith by blowing saves against the Dodgers and Giants on consecutive days, resulting in a pair of Arizona losses. Despite the lapses, Putz is still 28-for-33 saving games this season, with a 3.26 ERA and a 54/11 K/BB ratio. If he finishes the season healthy, the option is getting picked up. Of course, with Putz's injury history, that's not a given.
45. Brandon League (RHP Dodgers - Age 30): League hasn't been the same pitcher this year as last, but he gets tons of grounders, possesses a decent strikeout rate and he hasn't been on the disabled list since 2007. He's not an ideal closer for a contender, but he'd about as good of a bet as any other reliever on this list to still be pretty valuable come 2014 and '15. He'll be in demand this winter.
44. Jhonny Peralta (SS Tigers - Age 30)*: The bad news is that Peralta really shouldn't be looked at as a shortstop going forward. The good news is that the third base market is even emptier than the shortstop market this winter, with only Kevin Youkilis, who will also be looked at as a first baseman, here in the top 50. The Tigers hold a reasonable $6 million option on Peralta for 2013 that they may exercise, though they'd be better off going and getting a defensive-minded shortstop. Of course, they could always do both; picking up Peralta's option and trading him would make sense.
43. Francisco Liriano (LHP White Sox - Age 29): Liriano has topped 150 innings in a season once in his career, and he's currently on pace to finish with an ERA over 5.00 for the third time in four years. Still, one imagines there will be plenty of interest in him. His fastball has perked back up to the 91-95 mph range this year, and he's getting more swings and misses as a result. His strikeout rate is the highest it’s been since 2006. Control remains a problem and he's always given up more hits than one would expect given his stuff, but there's still the chance that he has a couple of 15-win, 200-strikeout seasons in his future.
42. Jonathan Broxton (RHP Reds - Age 28): This year was all about Broxton rebuilding his value after a rough 2011 that saw him limited to 12 2/3 innings by elbow problems. He's been pretty successful, first as a closer for the Royals and now as a setup man in Cincinnati, but without showing the dominant stuff that made him one of the game's most dominant relievers from 2006-09. While his ERA stands at 2.70, he has just 33 strikeouts in 46 2/3 innings. In 2009, he had 114 strikeouts in 76 innings for L.A. Perhaps Broxton is getting a two-year, $12 million deal as is, but he's riskier than some of the relief alternatives.
41. Ryan Ludwick (OF Reds - Age 33)*: Ludwick has thus far given the Reds 25 homers and 72 RBI for their $2.5 million, making him one of the year's biggest free agent bargains. His deal with the team includes a $5 million mutual option for 2013, but he figures to decline that and seek a multiyear deal in free agency. That Ludwick has been so inconsistent from year to year will work against him, but right-handed power is hard enough to come by that a two-year, $12 million contract seems appropriate.

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

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