MLB Free Agency: Best Player Left at Each Spot After Prince Fielder Tigers Deal
Prince Fielder is no longer an MLB free agent. He signed for $214 million over nine seasons with the Detroit Tigers Tuesday, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Now that he is gone, Edwin Jackson is the closest thing to a marquee player left on the free-agent market.
Jackson isn't the only talented player who remains available, though.
As the Hot Stove season winds down, players' agents will make some furious calls over the next 10 days, trying to place their clients with the right teams prior to spring training. Here are the best players left at each position on the diamond; call them the best of what's around.
Catcher: Ronny Paulino
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Paulino needs only his youth to earn this honor.
The other free-agent backstops left on the market are all at least 36 years old—Paulino is 31. None of those players have any offensive value, either, and Paulino (at least) can boast an .860 career and .752 2011 OPS against left-handed pitching.
At 31, he is not a whiz behind the plate or aside it, but he has that one skill. Paulino should be able to land with a team either in desperate need of catching help, or whose incumbent bats left-handed, and is the better option to complement that squad's roster.
The White Sox make some sense.
First Base: Derrek Lee
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Derrek Lee is easily the best remaining fit at first base for at least two teams, but he may not be interested in taking either deal, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. If true, that's a shame, because Lee could turn the fortunes of at least one semi-contender.
The Cleveland Indians' current batting order is virtually all left-handed. Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo, Jason Kipnis, Lonnie Chisenhall and Travis Hafner all bat exclusively from that side. The Tribe needs some balance, a player who can comfortably bat in a number of slots and who has some right-handed thump.
Lee fits perfectly. He could make the Indians viable in the AL Central, though certainly not the favorites. It's worth a shot, for both sides. Hopefully, Lee will not retire.
Second Base: Jeff Keppinger
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The pickings around the rest of the infield are slim as well; they ought to be by this stage of the winter. Keppinger is a good-glove second baseman, but no longer has the chops for shortstop. He once got on base well for a role player, but had a .300 OBP in 2011.
Keppinger is not likely to receive much of a contract; he might even settle for a minor-league deal. With Aaron Miles and Felipe Lopez in the mix for the same jobs and deals, Keppinger looks good by comparison.
Third Base: Mark Teahen
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Despite a calamitous season in which he was traded as a sheer salary dump to Toronto then released this month, Mark Teahen has a few skills that still might re-appear given the right opportunities.
His power is one; his BABIP skill is another. He must stay out of everyday lineups, but could be and should be a valuable piece off the bench somewhere. Any team that signs him will have to pay only the league-minimum salary, as the Blue Jays owe him the rest of his salary.
Shortstop: Ryan Theriot
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Theriot is really reliving his 2008 season, when he posted a .387 OBP. In none of his seasons before or since has Theriot matched or even approximated that figure, but he still fields well enough to play shortstop when needed, and he runs and hits a bit.
That said, he felt the bitter taste of being non-tendered by the Cardinals in November, and has yet to find a suitor. When one pops up, Theriot is not going to like the terms.
Left Field: Juan Pierre
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The left-field market is as shallow as a Michael Bay movie, and Juan Pierre would not be on a list of this sort otherwise. Still, Pierre is one of the many players in the game who tend to get unfairly maligned for what they do not do, and never appreciated for what they do offer.
All Pierre can do is slap the ball into open space and run, but he still does that fairly well. His hands and his feet have slowed a bit, and as a result, he's no longer a 40-steal guy who impacts the game with his base-running.
That's okay, though, because he still makes it to first base a respectable percentage of the time. He rarely walks, but hardly ever strikes out.
In fact, he fanned in just 5.8 percent of his plate appearances last season—easily the lowest rate in the league. Since his speed will always help him reach more than a similar batter when the ball hits the bat, he remains a viable bottom-of-the-order batter. Even as his value has cratered the past two years, his OBP has been above league average each season.
Center Field: Yoenis Cespedes
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Counting Cespedes as a center fielder might be cheating. He has the speed for the position, but many reports are that he simply lacks the defensive instincts to survive there in MLB. Still, whichever team thinks he is worth most will be the one to sign him, and it seems inevitable that the team that values him highest would do so partially because they think he can handle that spot.
Once Cespedes figures out defense, he needs to prove he can make consistent contact in the majors. He has a big swing and will strike out often, but so long as he keeps it in check, his tools should overwhelm the lack of fundamental goodness in his technique.
Consider the Miami Marlins the front-runners.
Right Field: Kosuke Fukudome
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The painful shooting feeling you just felt in your finger is a sliver—we're scraping the bottom of the barrel here. That said, Fukudome is underrated, too. Like Pierre, people remember only what he used to do (or was expected to do, in this case) and forget to appreciate what he does.
Fukudome owns a .361 career OBP at a time when the league around him has averaged .340 in that category. He draws walks and flashes enough power to be an exactly league-average hitter in his career, after factoring out ballpark influences.
He also remains capable of covering right field well, so though it doesn't look like one is coming, this guy deserves another shot somewhere.
Starting Pitcher: Edwin Jackson
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Scott Boras caught everyone off their guard with his spectacular last-second cash-grab on behalf of Prince Fielder. If he has another in him for Edwin Jackson, it will be a firm reminder of how far ahead he runs in his industry relative to the rest of the world's sports agents.
Jackson deserves to have a solid deal by now. He is at least 80 percent of the pitcher C.J. Wilson is, but getting 80 percent of Wilson's deal (which would amount to four years and $48 million or so), seems far out of the question.
If a team like the Red Sox or Blue Jays does sweep in and scoop Jackson on a three-year or shorter deal, they have made the steal of the winter.
Relief Pitcher: Dan Wheeler
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Wheeler missed the end of the 2011 season with forearm tightness, which is a major concern. Still, he hardly has a fragile history, and when he was on the mound in 2011, he remained (as he usually is) very good.
He fanned 39 batters against eight walks in 47 innings last year.
Problematically, Wheeler is an extreme fly-ball pitcher. That doesn't play well anywhere in the AL East except Tampa Bay, but it does play in a few cities whose teams are still looking to round out their bullpens. Wheeler would be a wise gamble for the Minnesota Twins or the Miami Marlins.