MLB Free Agency 2013: Ranking 10 Biggest Red Flag Free Agents
With over 165 free agents on the market during the offseason in Major League Baseball, the winter months will certainly provide plenty of drama and excitement.
It's the job of every MLB general manager to properly assess the value and worth of each free agent and determine if it makes sense to offer them a contract.
Signing free agents is not an exact science. So many factors can determine the success or failure of each signing. Injuries, poor performance, an inability to adjust to new surroundings—history is certainly filled with players who never performed up to their new contracts.
So, which of the free agents in this year's class should general managers be wary about—and why?
Let's take a look.
10. Delmon Young
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The Detroit Tigers have already stated that designated hitter/left fielder Delmon Young will not be a part of their future plans. This despite the fact that Young won the ALCS MVP award with a terrific performance against the New York Yankees.
Young hit .267 with 18 HR and 74 RBI during the regular season then hit .313 with three HR and nine RBI during the postseason.
Certainly seems like he'd be a solid guy in any lineup, right?
Not so fast.
First, Young's awful defensive skills definitely limit him. One would expect a 28-year-old to be able to do more than just DH.
Second, the behavioral issues automatically raise a red flag. His arrest for second-degree aggravated harassment in late April in New York certainly didn't sit well with the Tigers or with MLB, who suspended him for seven days and ordered him to undergo anger management counseling and alcohol evaluation.
Young was suspended for 50 games back in 2006 for throwing a bat at an umpire in a minor league game.
No question about it—Young comes with red flags.
9. Ryan Ludwick
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Outfielder Ryan Ludwick is coming off a nice season with the Cincinnati Reds, hitting .275 with 26 HR and 80 RBI.
It was Ludwick's best regular-season performance since 2008 with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Ludwick declined his mutual option on his contract that called for $5 million for the 2013 season. Ludwick is looking for a multi-year contract—the Reds are willing to offer two years.
Ludwick will likely get more than the $5 million that he turned down for next season, since there is not a wealth of great corner outfielders on the free-agent market.
However, Ludwick went through two years of mediocre play before breaking out this past season with the Reds. Much of that was courtesy of a very hot second half.
Streaky is the word to describe Ludwick. While the numbers in 2012 look nice, I'm just not so sure it's worth rewarding Ludwick based on that season alone. The whole body of work certainly suggests otherwise.
8. Grady Sizemore
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If there's one positive about the prospect of signing free-agent outfielder Grady Sizemore, it's the fact that at least he'll be fresh to start out the 2013 season.
Sizemore missed the entire 2012 season after having back surgery in February. While the timetable for Sizemore's recovery at the time was 8-12 weeks, he experienced setbacks during his rehab. Recurring knee pain also occurred, shutting Sizemore down for the year.
This comes on the heels of Sizemore missing large chunks of time during the previous three seasons. Six knee surgeries and a back surgery can't have very many general managers in baseball hoping for the old Grady to return.
7. Francisco Liriano
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Left-handed pitcher Francisco Liriano is a mystery wrapped around an enigma.
One minute, Liriano confounds hitters by throwing a no-hitter. But with that no-hitter comes six walks and just two strikeouts. The next minute, he can't last more than three innings and has absolutely zero command of the strike zone.
The Chicago White Sox took a chance on trading for Liriano at the trade deadline last season. A 5.40 ERA in 11 starts was not what the White Sox were hoping for.
Now, Liriano is available once again. There are probably a few pitching coaches out there who think they can work with Liriano and "fix" what ails him mechanically.
But is it worth a large sum of money to do so?
6. Jeremy Guthrie
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Starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie's 2012 season can best be described as Jekyll and Hyde-like.
The Guthrie that pitched for the Colorado Rockies was Mr. Hyde, posting an awful 3-9 record and 6.35 ERA in 19 appearances, 15 of them starts.
The Guthrie that pitched for the Kansas City Royals was Dr. Jekyll—a 5-3 record and 3.16 ERA in 14 starts.
While it's possible that Guthrie just didn't adapt well to Denver, if I'm a general manager, I have to think about which Jeremy Guthrie I am going to be paying for. And for how long should I be paying Guthrie to see which side of him shows up?
5. Nick Swisher
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When Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com wrote two months ago about right fielder Nick Swisher possibly looking for a contract similar to the one signed by Jayson Werth two years ago, a red flag instantly popped out at me.
Swisher consistently produces anywhere from 25-28 homers with 85-90 RBI each year—certainly not numbers to sneeze at.
But those numbers completely disappear during the postseason. In meaningful baseball in October, Swisher has a .169 average with just four HR and eight RBI in 48 games.
Sorry, but for me that doesn't warrant anything close to a Jayson Werth-type contract.
Heck, Werth wasn't even worth a Werth-type contract.
4. Shaun Marcum
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Right-handed pitcher Shaun Marcum will be looking for a nice payday this offseason. General managers will be wondering if his elbow can hold out.
Marcum missed over two months this past season after experiencing elbow tightness. While in itself it might not sound ominous, it comes on the heels of Marcum's Tommy John surgery just three-plus years ago.
Marcum is a front-line pitcher—when healthy. That caveat is what will make or break Marcum's contract negotiations this offseason.
3. Brandon McCarthy
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Much like Shaun Marcum, the injury bug for starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy will also likely influence the type and size of contract he receives this offseason.
McCarthy thrived with the Oakland A's, posting a 3.29 ERA over two seasons and displaying an excellent command of the strike zone. However, he saw stints on the disabled list in both of those seasons with shoulder issues.
McCarthy's shoulder kept him out of large chunks of the 2008 and 2009 seasons and the entire 2010 season.
When healthy, McCarthy is one of the elite pitchers in baseball. It's that caveat that will have general managers very wary.
2. Melky Cabrera
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Normally, if a hitter who posted a .346 batting average hits the open market, general managers would be beating down his door with contract offers.
In the case of Melky Cabrera, he's going to have to prove himself all over again.
Courtesy of his 50-game suspension for elevated levels of testosterone, Cabrera now has to show that his numbers were not a direct result of his use of PEDs.
And he'll likely have to do it on a contract far less than the one he was hoping to sign prior to his PED use.
Several teams have a need for a productive corner outfielder. But in Cabrera's case, is that production still there with a clean body?
1. Josh Hamilton
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Josh Hamilton is the prized package on this year's free-agent market, but with that immense talent comes issues that have red flags popping up all over the place.
First, the injury history. Hamilton has played in over 140 games in only two of six seasons.
Second, the substance abuse history. Hamilton has relapsed a couple of times—that we know of—during his time with the Texas Rangers. He requires an accountability coach to be with him and travel with him during the course of the season.
Last, the streaky nature of his play. This past year alone was a prime example of that. What could Hamilton have hit if he didn't suffer through prolonged slumps?
Despite all of that, no general manager is going to ignore a player who hit 43 HR with 128 RBI.
However, the debate will continue ad nauseum as to Hamilton's worth and whether or not the above issues continue to hinder his performance down the line.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.