30. Lance Berkman
(1B Cardinals - Age 37): Berkman was able to stay healthy and play at an All-Star level as a right fielder last year, but because of bad knees, he's been limited to 76 at-bats this season after moving back to first base following Albert Pujols
' departure. That he can still hit is undeniable, but Berkman doesn't appear interested in extending his career as a designated hitter. He's likely headed off to retirement, though if he changes his mind, there won't be any shortage of suitors.
29. Jose Valverde
(RHP Tigers - Age 35): Valverde was perfect last year, going 49-for-49 saving games. This year, he's been far shakier at times, but he's still blown just four of his 32 save chances. Since the All-Star break, he's 12-for-13 and he has a 2.78 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP. If he finishes strong from here, the Tigers figure to offer him a two-year deal to stick around as their closer. Besides the unobtainable Mariano Rivera
, there are no free agent closers that are necessarily better bets for 2013.
28. Melky Cabrera
(OF Giants - Age 28): Cabrera appeared destined for a contract worth in excess of $40 million for four years before he was caught doping. He'll definitely be shunned by some teams as a free agent this winter, but he won't have to beg for a job. At least a couple of teams will be willing to gamble that the 2011 Kansas City Melky was the real Cabrera, and that player was worth undoubtedly worth $10 million-$12 million per year. He might have his choice of one-year, $10 million offers and proposals in the $15 million range for two years.
27. A.J. Pierzynski
(C White Sox - Age 36): Putting together a career year at age 35, Pierzynski is batting .284/.329/.523 in 398 at-bats. His 24 homers have topped his previous career high by six, and it looks like he'll set a new personal best in RBI, too (71 now, 77 in 2004). While Pierzynski has never had a great defensive rep, his pitching staffs have often overachieved, and he definitely gets bonus points for durability. The White Sox will likely re-sign him to another two-year deal.
26. Fernando Rodney
(RHP Rays - Age 36)*: It's too bad the Rodney case probably won't get tested in free agency this winter, as the Rays hold a $2.5 million option that they'll surely exercise unless he suddenly falls apart this month. It would have been fascinating to see what kind of offers he would have gotten as a 36-year-old with just one sub-4.00 ERA in a six-year span. His 2012 appears set to go down as one of the great seasons in modern relief history.
25. Stephen Drew
(SS Athletics - Age 30)*: Drew is the only shortstop available with a reasonable chance of being a difference-maker for a team, yet he's hit .203/.298/.321 in 54 games this year after coming back from a gruesome ankle injury. It makes him quite the risky investment. The A's hold a $10 million mutual option on his contract after acquiring him from the Diamondbacks last month, and it's possible they'll exercise their portion of it if he finishes strong. It'd then be up to Drew whether he feels better about going back on the market next year or if he'd rather have a modest two- or maybe three-year deal now. More so than most, he figures to be a bargain or a bust.
24. Torii Hunter
(OF Angels - Age 37): Hunter posted his worst OPS since 2003 when he hit .262/.336/.429 last year, but he's bounced back to .304/.356/.442 so far this season. Of course, as much as we may rally against the idea of protection for batters, the fact that he's sandwiched right in between Mike Trout
and Pujols in the Angels order sure can't hurt. Hunter says his first priority is to stay with the Angels, but the Halos have Mark Trumbo
, Vernon Wells
and Peter Bourjos
to play with Trout in the outfield. Unless he's willing to take a discount and perhaps a reduced role as the season goes on, he'd be better off elsewhere.
23. Chris Iannetta
(C Angels - Age 29)*: The trade that sent Iannetta from Colorado to Anaheim last winter allows him to void the $5 million club option that's on his contract for 2013. He figures to go that route and seek out a multiyear deal this winter, though there's a good chance he'll stay with the Angels anyway. A broken wrist has marred Iannetta's season, but he's hit .268/.359/.471 in 157 at-bats while healthy. At $21 million for three years, he'd be a very good investment.
22. Hisashi Iwakuma
(LHP Mariners - Age 31): I pegged Iwakuma for a three-year, $21 million contract in this spot a year ago, but everyone was scared off by his shoulder woes and he signed for a piddling $1.5 million guarantee from the Mariners. Fortunately, he did hold out for a contract that would make him a free agent again after 2012, and he may well get that $20 million contract with the way he's throwing now. He's 7-4 with a 2.42 ERA since moving into Seattle's rotation, and he has a 1.74 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 57 innings over his last nine starts.
21. Rafael Soriano
(RHP Yankees - Age 33)*: Soriano's unusual contract with the Yankees had just one guaranteed season, but it included player options for 2012 worth $11 million and 2013 worth $14 million. Exercising the 2012 option was a no-brainer for Soriano after he stumbled to a 4.12 ERA in 39 1/3 innings last year. This year, he's gotten to close again with Rivera down and he's amassed 35 saves and a 1.98 ERA in 54 2/3 innings, pushing his market value back up. Of course, $14 million is still quite a bit better than he'd do as a free agent, but there might be a two-year, $16 million-$18 million offer for him out there if he wants to keep closing.