Matthew Pouliot

Strike Zone

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2013 Top 50 Free Agents

Friday, November 02, 2012

20. Kevin Youkilis (3B White Sox - Age 34 - Prev. #18): Even in obvious decline, Youkilis is clearly the class of the third base market this winter. He did have a nice run initially after being traded from Boston to Chicago, but he finished up by driving in just one run in his final 15 games. Overall, he hit .236/.346/.425 in 80 games for the White Sox and .235/.336/.409 in 438 at-bats for the season. The resulting .745 OPS is down from .975 in 2010 and .833 in 2011. He's also injury prone, not having played in 140 games since 2008. Still, that there are several teams sniffing around for third basemen and very little in the way of alternatives should ensure that Youkilis gets a two-year deal, probably at $18 million-$20 million.


19. Shane Victorino (OF Dodgers - Age 32 - Prev. #17): Victorino heads into free agency coming off his worst year as a major leaguer; his .704 OPS was a far cry from the .847 he amassed in 2011 and was 50 points lower than any of his previous marks. While he could always rebound at age 32, it's also possible that he's exiting his prime and that he might be better utilized as a fourth outfielder come 2014. He might get $30 million for three years anyway, but a two-year deal would be more appropriate.


18. Andy Pettitte (LHP Yankees - Age 40 - Prev. #20): Pettitte's finishing kick may be altering the perception of his career. He posted ERAs 3.87 ERA or higher in 12 of his first 15 seasons, yet he came in at 3.28 in 2010 before retiring and then, after a year-plus off, he finished at 2.87 with his second-highest strikeout rate ever in his 12 starts last season. Pettitte has yet to make a decision whether to pitch an 18th season in 2013. If he chooses to come back, it's hard to imagine it will be for any team except the Yankees.


17. Rafael Soriano (RHP Yankees - Age 33 - Prev. #21): Something that no one would have seen coming a year ago: after a terrific season filling in for Mariano Rivera as the Yankees' closer, Soriano chose to opt out of his player option worth $14 million for 2013. Soriano was 42-for-46 saving games for the Bombers and finished with a 2.26 ERA in 67 2/3 innings. He also pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings in the postseason. Soriano figures to chase a closer gig elsewhere, though he could always re-sign with the Yankees if Rivera opts for retirement. He's probably in line for $20 million-$25 million for two years.


16. Torii Hunter (OF Angels - Age 37 - Prev. #24): Hunter has made it clear that his priority is to stay with the Angels. Still, it looks like the only way that is happening is if the team finds a taker for a portion of Vernon Wells' contract. Hunter finished last season with the highest average (.313) of his career and his largest RBI total (92) since 2007. At 37, he could easily slip. However, he'd likely be an average regular at worst, and he'd still get big points for his leadership. With the Yankees, Giants, Red Sox and Orioles all among his possible suitors, a two-year, $24 million deal seems realistic.


15. Ryan Dempster (RHP Rangers - Age 35 - Prev. #12): As it turned out, Dempster likely did hurt his stock by accepting a trade to Texas. Still, it shouldn't do any great damage. Dempster's 12 starts for the Rangers didn't tell us he couldn't pitch in the AL; sure, he had a 5.09 ERA, but he also struck out 70 hitters in 69 innings. He also did quite well in his three interleague starts while with the Cubs, going 2-1 with a 1.71 ERA. Since he's probably in line for a two- or three-year deal instead of the four- and five-year contracts some other top arms will get, he might prove to be one of the better values out there.


14. Dan Haren (RHP Angels - Age 32 - Prev. #14): The one player here whose free agency is still in doubt, Haren's option is expected to be declined by the Angels unless the team comes up with a trading partner first. At $15.5 million, with a $3.5 million buyout, it'd seem to be worth exercising; Haren wasn't nearly at his best last season, but he also wasn't all that bad in going 12-13 with a 4.33 ERA. He wouldn't have to bounce all of the way back to be worth the $12 million difference between the salary and buyout, and if he does, then he's a bargain. The guess here is that some team trades for him and picks up the option.


13. Mariano Rivera (RHP Yankees - Age 43 - Prev. #11): Rivera made it clear during the season that he had every intention of returning from a torn ACL to pitch at age 43 in 2013, but recent indications are that he's wavering. The game's all-time saves leader certainly has nothing left to prove. Still, there's also no reason to think he's finished as an elite closer. Some have suggested the retirement talk is a negotiating ploy, though that seems unlike Rivera. He may take a modest paycut from his previous $15 million salary to come back, but there's no reason he should have to take a large one.


12. Mike Napoli (C-1B Rangers - Age 31 - Prev. #13): It was a big comedown from his career-year in 2011, but what Napoli lacked for in singles and doubles last year, he did his best to make up for with homers (24) and walks (56). Overall, it gave him a .227/.343/.469 line in 352 at-bats. Also, he wasn't one of the Rangers who disappointed down the stretch, as he hit .254 with seven homers and 16 RBI in 51 at-bats during Sept. Napoli is probably most valuable catching three times per week and then playing first or DHing the rest of the time, but suitors could also look at him as a full-time first baseman. There should be enough demand for his power to get him $30 million-$36 million for three years.


11. Adam LaRoche (1B Nationals - Age 33 - Prev. #15): LaRoche's future was in doubt after a shoulder injury left him a shell of his former self in 2011 and later required surgery, making his career year in 2012 a stunning development. Along with hitting 33 homers and finishing with an .853 OPS, he won his first Gold Glove. Now he's the top pure first baseman on the market, making a three-year, $36 million deal a possibility. The Nationals would likely much prefer to re-sign him for two years.


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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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