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MLB Free Agency: Roy Oswalt and the Best Players Left at Each Position

Matt TruebloodSenior Analyst IOctober 11, 2016

MLB Free Agency: Roy Oswalt and the Best Players Left at Each Position

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    With Yoenis Cespedes off the market, the 2012 MLB free agency window has nearly closed. If any available player were seriously coveted by an MLB team, that player would already be under contract.

    Jorge Soler and Roy Oswalt are the biggest names still expected to sign, though Soler is not yet officially a free agent, and Oswalt's suitors have lately set themselves sternly to other subjects.

    A few potential contenders still have holes, though, and there is certainly no shortage of players out there looking for work.

    The Chicago White Sox found a potential gem of a fourth outfielder (at least in terms of value) when they signed Kosuke Fukudome on Tuesday.

    Here are the best players left at each position as Spring Training hits its gear.

Catcher: Jason Varitek

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    Why is he still available?

    Jason Varitek has not been even a league-average hitter since 2007. The 2.7 WAR with which FanGraphs credited him that season are half as many as he has garnered in the four seasons since.

    The last thing left in his toolbox is the ability to hit left-handed pitching, and the Red Sox (far and away the team most likely to sign him when the winter began) chose lefty-mashing Kelly Shoppach over Varitek this winter.

    What can he do?

    Though finding catchers who can hit left-handed pitching is easy, finding anyone with Varitek's clubhouse bona fides and a pair of World Series rings is hard. He's old, but there have been older men behind the plate, and he might be worthwhile purely as a mentor to a younger player.

    Best Chance:

    The Chicago Cubs may get some trade offers for Geovany Soto this spring, and with Welington Castillo poised to fill Soto's starting backstop role, they wouldn't need an especially talented backup. Varitek could reunite with Theo Epstein and foster Castillo's development in a rebuilding environment.

First Base: Derrek Lee

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    Why is he still available?

    Injuries and natural decline have left Lee far less valuable than he was at his mid-2000s peak. He's no longer the terrific athlete who played first base almost artistically, and holes in his swing have forced him to become hyper-aggressive.

    His strikeout-to-walk ratio, under 2-to-1 for his career, came in north of 3-to-1 in 2011. Lee also seems intent on finding just the right situation.

    What can he do?

    Lee should have another productive year or two in his bat. After injuries derailed him for the first halves of 2010 and 2011, he bounced back and hit very well down the stretch each time. His hands remain sure at first base, so for a rangy but erratic infield, he could be a consistent error-saver.

    Best Chance:

    At the outset of the Hot Stove season, the Pittsburgh Pirates (with whom Lee finished the 2011 season) offered him salary arbitration. They wanted to keep Lee, but the fit wasn't right on the player's end.

    Since then, Lee has reportedly insisted on finding the right situation and price before signing anywhere. It may very well be we have seen the last of him in MLB, though the Pirates and Indians might have strong interest if Lee softens his demands.

Second Base: Felipe Lopez

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    Why is he still available?

    As recently as 2009, Lopez was a valuable, even exciting player. He posted a .383 OBP primarily as a second baseman, and had enough power to flesh out his overall value.

    Two terrible seasons later, though, Lopez is adrift. His OBP in 2011 was .247, or 200 points worse than league leader Miguel Cabrera's. He has changed teams in each of the last four years and five of the last six, and at 32, he's at the end of his window to turn anything around.

    What can he do?

    At the plate, Lopez can do some things well. He still runs, has mild pop and once was good at making contact. He should be closer to a league-average batter than to a replacement one, 2011 numbers be damned. He's not very good even at second base, though, and to the extent that he ever played shortstop, he no longer does so.

    Best Chance:

    Anyone could sign Lopez. Teams scramble as March winds toward April, looking for someone who can fill a middle-infield hole or provide depth. The Cardinals and Brewers have each acquired Lopez twice in the last three years, and each has the chance to need help on the infield at some point, so they're the smart bets.

Third Base: Eric Chavez

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    Why is he still available?

    For years, Eric Chavez was a third-base superstar. From 2001-2005, he was to the A's as Evan Longoria now is to the Rays. Since then, though, injuries have stood very much in his way.

    In the last four years, Chavez has played only 122 games combined. He hasn't been all that good over that span, either.

    What can he do?

    When healthy, he can still do pretty much everything. He's a solid bench player because he can defend a tricky position at which players often get hurt, and because he can hit right-handed pitching.

    Best Chance:

    The Yankees became Chavez's second MLB organization in 2011, and could have interest in him again as a platoon DH and backup hot corner man. The Tigers would also make some sense.

Shortstop: Edgar Renteria

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    Why is he still available?

    In context, it's quite unfair that Renteria is out there still. He's better than Rafael Furcal, Ryan Theriot, Yuniesky Betancourt, Omar Vizquel and Ronny Cedeno, all of whom landed big-league jobs earlier this winter.

    He's there, though, because injuries and age have scared away most teams.

    What can he do?

    Still able to handle shortstop defensively, Renteria also retains his ability to hit a little bit. He's no slugger, nor a walks maven, but he certainly keeps his head above water.

    Best Chance:

    The Rays, Mariners and Cardinals are each an injury or a bad spring from being utterly without a shortstop. Each would be wise to consider Renteria as a fill-in.

Left Field: Johnny Damon

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    Why is he still available? 

    No enigmas here. Damon is a free agent because teams perceive him as having selfish personal goals in mind, rather than the (presumably) noble one of adding to a championship team. It seems those squads most likely to be interested in an aging outfielder/DH have little interest.

    What can he do?

    He can hit. Damon may be going out of his way to chase the milestone of 3,000 career hits, but he's not bad at it. He has some power, he runs well and he brings energy to every team he joins.

    If executives think a selfish player can't lead a team and make it more fun for everyone to come to the park every day, they fundamentally misunderstand their players. 

    Best Chance:

    The Yankees will look pretty silly if they sign Raul Ibanez instead of Johnny Damon. The Cincinnati Reds made a mistake by choosing Ryan Ludwick over Damon. That being said, the best remaining fits are probably the Rangers and Twins. 

Center Field: Jorge Soler

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    Why is he still available?

    Technically, Soler is not even available yet. The Cuban defector is not yet an MLB free agent. He also is just 19 years old, and not actually a center fielder. He's big, strong and tool-laden, but has a long way to go developmentally.

    What can he do?

    Soler has a chance to be a star-level, power-and-arm right fielder with enough speed to play that position well. He's a physical monster, though not a similar one to countryman Yoenis Cespedes. He isn't really a center fielder, but no true center fielder is left anywhere on the market.

    Best Chance:

    The Cubs lead a pack of interested teams, but given the history of Soler's agent, if an agreement is rumored, it's probably very close to done. Chicago likely will land Soler.

Right Field: J.D. Drew

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    Why is he still available?

    After a poor 2011, Drew has all but retired. No team has come close to whatever point it is at which he would agree to a deal, likely more about playing time than money.

    What can he do?

    Injuries are inevitable and a huge problem for Drew. They need not totally hold him back, though. He can hit, field right field well and draw a lot of walks. He is hardly a model of durability or interest, but he produces enough to be still be worth a long look.

    Best Chance:

    The most likely scenario is that Drew retires, but one team that could ponder pulling him in for one last circuit is Baltimore.

Designated Hitter: Vladimir Guerrero

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    Why is he still available?

    Guerrero was not a terrible hitter in 2011, but he sure didn't look good for a DH. The Orioles want him back only for a substantial monetary cut, and others might not feel they need what Guerrero offers at all.

    What can he do?

    He's always going to hit at least some. Guerrero's bat has slowed and his power is fading, but for one more year, he should be able to hit enough to be at least a platoon DH or powerful pinch-hitter.

    Best Chance:

    Guerrero looks unlikely to ever find another job, though positions could open by mid-March in Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Detroit. Even the Yankees could inquire.

Starting Pitcher: Roy Oswalt

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    Why is he still available?

    It's possible teams have had a tough time keeping up with Oswalt, who began the winter in search of a one-year deal; then switched and asked for multiple seasons; then went back. That's not the only reason, though. Injury risk also remains in play.

    What can he do?

    Everything pitchers do, Oswalt does well. He's athletic, a good fielder, has solid peripherals even as he ages and keeps his composure on the mound. If no further back injuries slow him down, he will be the best buy of the winter.

    Best Chance:

    Oswalt would prefer the Cardinals or Rangers. The media would prefer the Red Sox. No one wants it to be the Reds, not even Cincinnati GM Walt Jocketty.

Relief Pitcher: Michael Wuertz

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    Why is he still available?

    Wuertz's 2011 ERA (6.68) was eclipsed only by his walk rate (6.95 per nine frames). He has awful command, and is useful only against right-handed batters.

    What can he do?

    Wuertz's slider is a gift of a pitch, but it's been a bit of a Trojan horse for him the past two years. He throws that pitch too much, and he lacks command.

    Still, with a bit more balance and a smart manager using him against right-handed batters exclusively, Wuertz could have value again.

    Best Chance:

    Every team will sign and cut three or four right-handed relievers this spring. Wuertz could settle in anywhere.

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