2013 MLB Free Agency: 20 Non-Superstars Who Can Make a Huge Difference
This list attempts to rank them by projecting how much each will affect his new team. In making this determination, actual ability and expected contract length were equally important. Youth, unique skills and positional depth factored into the ordering, too.
The following free agents are just a notch below baseball's upper-echelon talents.
20. Kevin Youkilis
Kevin Youkilis possesses great on-base skills. A protruding batting stance supplements his plate discipline. Only Carlos Quentin has been plunked by more pitches since 2007.
For the fourth straight season, Youk spent time on the disabled list. Durability concerns make him a poor choice for teams lacking serviceable third basemen on the bench or in the minor leagues.
Then again, he's just a few years removed from being an elite slugger. The extra-base hits will mount when Youkilis is in the lineup.
19. Ryan Madson
Ryan Madson completed his transition to the bullpen prior to 2007. The results have been terrific—five straight seasons with a WAR above 1.0 (via Baseball-Reference.com).
He's back on the free-agent market 10 months after signing with the Cincinnati Reds. Madson sat out this past summer following Tommy John surgery and the Reds would rather buy out his 2013 option than commit $11 million.
Prior to injuring his elbow, he had a nasty changeup and mid-90s fastball. If Mad Dog has retained those weapons, he can be an All-Star-caliber closer.
18. Melky Cabrera
Melky Cabrera's situation is more complex than those of his free-agent peers. His offensive production a season ago could've netted him a long-term deal...had it been done cleanly.
Before engaging in talks with the outfielder, teams must decide how they prioritize winning and integrity.
Also, who knows what the Melk Man can deliver without PEDs? Signing him has both risk and upside depending on whether the "real" Cabrera struggles like the 2010 version (.255/.317/.354 with 4 HR) or thrives like last year's apparition (.346/.390/.516 with 11 HR).
There are clubhouses that would welcome him with open arms, but fans everywhere certainly would not.
17. Andy Pettitte
Age adds awesomeness, at least in Andy Pettitte's case. Each of his last two MLB campaigns—2010 and 2012—have been injury-shortened but excellent.
The potential Hall of Famer is contemplating retirement, and only the New York Yankees can talk him out of it (via The Star Ledger's Jeff Bradley and Andy McCullough).
Though riding him for a full regular season seems unrealistic, there's nobody more trustworthy in October (all-time leader with 19 playoff wins).
16. Mike Adams
Down the stretch, stud reliever Mike Adams suffered from thoracic outlet syndrome as one of his ribs pushed against a nerve and caused numbness. His struggles from Sept. 1 onward—7.56 ERA, 2.28 WHIP, 3 HR allowed—suggest that something wasn't right.
Team sources confirm that he underwent successful surgery to address it (via ESPNDallas.com).
His stellar San Diego Padres numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. Pitcher-friendly Petco Park has a tendency to skew statistics.
However, Adams' seven healthy months in the dry Texas climate qualify him for a multi-year closer's guarantee. He'll excel in any conditions.
15. Ichiro Suzuki
Though Ichiro Suzuki's name remains prominent, he is a couple years removed from being a superstar performer.
Opposing pitchers don't fear his bat anymore. Suzuki has drawn just five intentional walks in his past 175 regular-season contests. As a result, he hardly reaches base at a league-average rate.
With durability, base-stealing efficiency and contact ability that few can match, he still deserves an everyday opportunity. Teams would be hard-pressed to find a stronger throwing arm in this free-agent class.
If the future Hall of Famer gets his way, the New York Yankees will re-sign him (via Joel Sherman, New York Post).
14. A.J. Pierzynski
MLB catchers rarely hit at a high level beyond their 36th birthdays (via FanGraphs). Unless someone believes A.J. Pierzynski is the second coming of Carlton Fisk, expectations should be lowered.
He stepped up in a contract year with all sorts of offensive career bests.
But akin to Ichiro Suzuki, Pierzynski is notoriously impatient at the plate.
13. Russell Martin
Russell Martin's 2007 Silver Slugger Award was an aberration, but his value behind the plate compensates for a dwindling batting average.
The Canadian rediscovered his power stroke in the Big Apple (39 HR since 2011). Of course, the ESPN Home Run Tracker reveals that Yankee Stadium's short right-field porch had a lot to do with that.
Several months shy of turning 30, he is the youngest starting catcher available.
12. Ryan Ludwick
Again, dismiss his San Diego Padres performance (.228/.301/.358 with 17 HR in 160 G). Ryan Ludwick has otherwise been a legitimate middle-of-the-order asset.
Pedestrian speed and consistently sub-par defense limits his overall contribution. Also, Ludwick's one MLB season of 140-plus games is a red flag.
Powerful right-handed bats are scarce, so the demand for him should be relatively high.
11. Hiroki Kuroda
The Japanese media tells Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe that Hiroki Kuroda will be content signing another one-year deal.That's the only reason he isn't higher on this list.
He seamlessly transitioned to the American League East, setting personal records in innings pitched, complete games and strikeouts. Kuroda saved his best for last with an 11-K performance in the ALCS.
A handful of teams should be interested.
10. Torii Hunter
Torii Hunter left baseball for two weeks in May to help his teenage son deal with sexual-assault charges. The commotion didn't weigh on the veteran's mind as he batted .329 from then on and finished the season with his team's third-best RBI total.
He still has a good defensive reputation, though being labeled as a corner outfielder hurts his market value. His contract-year OPS of .817 is elite among center fielders.
However, Hunter now finds himself in direct competition with Ryan Ludwick (.877) and Nick Swisher (.837), both of whom are several years younger.
Los Angeles Angels GM Jerry Dipoto tells Jerry Fletcher of the OC Register that fitting him on the 2013 roster is "a challenge." Expect to see him with a new MLB organization by Opening Day.
9. Brandon McCarthy
Brandon McCarthy throws strikes as consistently as any available starting pitcher. During the past couple seasons (43 GS), he has never walked more than three batters in a game. Making solid contact against his cutter is a challenge, which explains why the OPS against him over that span is just .677.
The right-hander is a positive clubhouse influence. His decision to return to a major league mound after nearly losing his life on one exudes courage. McCarthy also uses humor to deal with everything (h/t CSNBayArea.com).
He's practically assured a multi-year deal.
8. Dan Haren
Only three MLB pitchers posted a winning record and 4.0 FanGraphs WAR in every season between 2005 and 2011: Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia and...Dan Haren?
Yup, the right-hander used to be among the most durable, underrated superstars in the league. That title has temporarily been stripped following a campaign that saw him average fewer than six innings per start.
According to FanGraphs, Haren's fastball velocity in 2012 dropped. Not surprisingly, the home run rate against him rose.
But the 32-year-old has never relied on power to retire batters. He's an intellectual on the mound, as likely a bounce-back candidate as any potential free agent.
Will the Los Angeles Angels decline his $15.5 million option? GM Jerry Dipoto hasn't decided yet (via Mike DiGiovanna, Los Angeles Times).
7. Marco Scutaro
The San Francisco Giants and Marco Scutaro could be drying the ink on a new agreement momentarily. The infielder envisioned a quick negotiation back in September (via Andrew Baggarly, CSNBayArea.com).
Following those comments, however, Scutaro propelled the team to an NL West title—and later, the World Series—with outstanding offensive production. His stock has soared. At 37 years old, he is significantly more accomplished than any other free-agent middle infielder.
Whoever wins the bidding for him must promise length and a starting job. Under those circumstances, Scutaro will have a sizable impact.
6. Angel Pagan
Angel Pagan is the rare example of an veteran outfielder with a short track record. He has started fewer than 600 MLB games.
Pagan's strengths include effective baserunning and defensive range.
He lacks power, however, and struggled with situational hitting in 2012 (via Baseball-Reference.com).
5. B.J. Upton
A late-season power surge elevated B.J. Upton into the top tier of free-agent position players. It also assured that his tenure with the small-market Tampa Bay Rays would be coming to an end.
From a distance, there's a lot to like about Upton: 28 years old, 30-30 potential and a history of playoff success.
Characteristics that may hinder his earning power include a high strikeout rate and perceived lack of hustle.
4. Adam LaRoche
Adam LaRoche's 2012 team is considered the front-runner for his future services. Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post even reports that "some progress" has been made between his representatives and club officials.
Former teammates Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman tell Washington Times writer Amanda Comak that they would love him to re-sign. The article cites his power-hitting, glove work and leadership skills as reasons why he's valuable.
LaRoche is established at a thin position, so all offers should span at least three years.
3. Nick Swisher
In free agency, suitors value consistency as much as a great contract year. Hence, Nick Swisher will get paid.
His usual numbers since 2006—.258/.365/.471 with 27 HR and 84 RBI—are better than what most MLB right fielders produce. Swisher's enthusiasm for the game reportedly annoys some of his peers (via CBS New York), but it's largely seen as an asset.
His experience and respectable performance as a first baseman is an important factor for National League teams who approach him about a long-term deal.
2. Edwin Jackson
Edwin Jackson's journey has taken him to six different franchises since 2008.
It's time to settle down!
Despite underwhelming in front of a national audience during the NLDS, his summer wasn't a waste. Jackson set new career highs with a 1.22 WHIP and 2.90 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
The Scott Boras client eyes a contract which will last through the remainder of the decade, and the Toronto Blue Jays might comply.
Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com tweets that the team sent a delegation of scouts to see him pitch in September. Moreover, team sources tell The Globe and Mail's Jeff Blair that Toronto is targeting him.
1. Anibal Sanchez
Right-hander Anibal Sanchez and southpaw Mark Buehrle are easy to contrast. It goes beyond the handedness. They have different physical frames and repertoires, and the former enters free agency with far less experience and mileage than Buehrle had a winter ago.
But both will be forever linked as the most coveted non-superstars in their respective free-agent classes.
For the third straight season, Sanchez improved his walk percentage. He also hasn't missed a turn in the rotation since August 2009.
He could come away with a contract similar to—and possibly more lucrative than—Buehrle's four-year, $58 million pact.
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