The All Free-Agent Team: The Best Unsigned MLB Players Still on the Market
Two weeks before Christmas and the hot stove was blazing; Zack Greinke signed with the Dodgers, Josh Hamilton joined the Angels, and the Tigers brought back Anibal Sanchez.
As we neared the holidays, the hot stove simmered down a bit, but the market stayed active with the Indians making a splash by signing Nick Swisher, the Red Sox trading for Joel Hanrahan and the Diamondbacks surprising everyone to land Cody Ross.
Since Christmas and into the new year, however, the hot stove has come to its typical lull. The biggest move recently was by the Cubs, who locked up Edwin Jackson to a four-year, $52 million deal.
Other than that, there have been a few interesting signings, but nothing has generated shock waves through the league.
It is this period of tranquility in early January, combined with the start of the NFL playoffs, which often leads to most fans putting the hot-stove talk on the back burner. People often forget there are still quality free agents on the market—the type of guys who can still change a team's fate for the upcoming season.
The remaining free-agent market isn't laden with superstars, and it is fairly thin at certain positions—as you will soon see—but there are still enough impact players available to make the weeks leading up the start of spring training very interesting.
The change in free-agent compensation rules, requiring teams not picking in the Top 10 of next year's MLB draft to surrender their first-round picks to sign a player to whom a qualifying offer was made, has resulted in players who would have often been signed months ago remaining free agents.
The difficulty of signing these players by the perennial contenders who seek their services—but would have to sacrifice a first-round pick—has led to discussions on the possibility of teams making sign-and-trade deals—the type of thing you usually only hear about in the NBA.
Regardless, there are still four top-tier free agents who were offered qualifying offers by their 2012 teams who remain on the market. They are joined by a number of middle-of-the-rotation quality pitchers, a deep bullpen and several respectable hitters.
This slideshow will compile the best possible 25-man roster for 2013 using the top remaining free agents. I'll take a look at how the players fared last season, what you can expect from them in 2013 and who are their most likely suitors.
It may not be a playoff-contending squad, but I'm confident they could beat the Astros in a seven-game series. That's not saying much, but there is still enough talent on the market that avid fans should still keep an eye on hot-stove rumors right up until catchers and pitchers report.
If you think I left off someone who belongs on the team, feel free to include any suggestions in the comment section.
Catcher: Miguel Olivo
We start at the catcher position, where the free-agent market may be the weakest. And, yes, it is that bad.
There were really only two starter-quality catcher free agents to begin the offseason, and they have both since signed with new teams: Russell Martin abandoned his pinstripes and joined the Pirates, while A.J. Pierzynski left the White Sox for the Rangers.
The market was so weak to begin with that the Braves exercised a $12 million option on Brian McCann despite knowing that it is unlikely he'll be ready for the start of the 2013 season.
Anyway, that leaves us with Miguel Olivo. Is he really the type of guy you want logging 100-plus games behind the plate for your team? Most likely not.
However, over Olivo's 11-year career, he has some pronounced skills, such as being a good game manager and his above-average power at the position, with 12 or more home runs in each of the last seven years, including a career-high 23 in 2009. He even owns a respectable 34 percent rate of throwing out would-be base stealers.
Here's the downside: He is a below-average contact hitter who is historically bad at drawing walks. He holds a career OBP of .275, and his 1.6-percent unintentional walk rate is the 37th worst of all hitters who have accumulated at least 250 plate appearances since 1950.
His 2012 Season: .222 AVG/.239 OBP/.381 SLG, 27 R, 12 HR, 29 RBI, 3 SB, 0.4 WAR
Olivo only played in 87 games last year, as he saw his playing time diminish down the stretch due to the rise of John Jaso.
Olivo drew but seven—that's right, just seven—walks all season in comparison to his 85 strikeouts. Olivo's power didn't wane, homering 12 times in 315 at-bats, but his ghastly .239 OBP made him almost impossible to play.
When you balance the things he does well with the things he does terribly, you are left with a pretty average catcher, as indicated by his 0.4 WAR.
At 34 years old and with over a decade in the league, Olivo is what he is. He bumped his walk rate a bit in 2011 but regressed last year and is still among the league leaders at pitches swung at outside the strike zone.
He can still be a good veteran presence and offer some pop off the bench, but unless his OBP rises significantly, he isn't fit to start.
Logical suitors: Royals, Cubs, Yankees, Padres
Who I think will sign him: Los Angeles Dodgers
A.J. Ellis emerged as a solid starting catcher, but his numbers dipped a bit in the second half, perhaps from a heavy workload. With little depth behind him, Olivo would pair well with Ellis and provide another veteran bat off the bench for a team in win-now mode.
First Base: Adam LaRoche
At first base, we find Adam LaRoche, who might be the best free agent still unsigned. Unfortunately for LaRoche, he was one of the four players (discussed in the introduction) whose team made him a qualifying offer of one year, $13.3 million.
LaRoche quickly rejected the offer, looking for a multi-year contract. Now, any team (who picks outside of the Top 10) who signs him will forfeit its first-round pick and the bonus money allotted for the pick.
As a result, a middle-of-the-order left-handed hitter who has hit at least 25 home runs in four of the past five seasons—excluding an injury riddled 2011 campaign in which he only played 43 games—remains on the market.
LaRoche would offer an upgrade at first base—a position at which he continues to improve and posted a 6.1 UZR at last season—for probably about half the league, but interest has been tempered due to his status.
LaRoche has had his fair share of red flags in the past, including struggling early on in the season and some off-the-field concerns, but at age 33 and healthy, he has developed into a complete player who has put together a very solid end-of-the-season batting line almost every year since 2006.
His 2012 Season: .271 AVG/.343 OBP/.510 SLG, 76 R, 33 HR, 100 RBI, 128 OPS+, 4.0 WAR
LaRoche's 2012 season was his pièce de résistance to date in his career. His 4.0 WAR was more than double his previous best (1.9 WAR in 2009), and he set career highs in hits, home runs and slugging percentage.
LaRoche missed three quarters of 2011 due to a torn labrum and partially torn rotator cuff that ultimately required season-ending surgery in June.
However, prior to the injury, LaRoche had been trending in the right direction, and his 2012 season looked like a continuation of improvement upon his 2010 campaign with the Diamondbacks, when he had 25 home runs, drove in 100 and posted a line of .261/.320/.468.
What this means for the upcoming season is that if LaRoche is fully healthy and is placed in the right environment, he should pick up where he left off in 2012.
He is still a better hitter in the second half, but the gap has been narrowed to where there isn't much of a difference. He's in good shape for his age and holds his own against lefties, so all signs point to a repeat of last year's impressive offensive output.
He should offer above-average defense and serve as a solid No. 5 hitter for whomever decides to sacrifice a pick and sign him
Logical suitors: Orioles, Rangers, Giants, Nationals
Who I Think Will Sign Him: Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox and Mike Napoli have been stuck in contractual turmoil for weeks now, and it looks as if the deal could be abandoned. LaRoche has been rumored as the Plan B option for the Sox, but he may be an even better fit at 1B than the converted catcher Napoli.
His left-handed bat would play well in Fenway, and he would give them another veteran power hitter to pair with Ortiz in the middle of the lineup.
The Nationals re-signed LaRoche to a two-year, $24 million deal, effectively taking the clear-cut best first baseman off the market.
It looks as though Mike Napoli might be back on the market soon, but until he is, you can take your pick between the likes of Juan Rivera, Casey Kotchman and Lyle Overbay for the best remaining first basemen.
Yes, the re-signing of LaRoche was a major blow for any team still in need of a first baseman.
Second Base: Kelly Johnson
Kelly Johnson remains as the lone starter option at second base and headlines what's left of the position in free agency.
Johnson, who will be 31 this upcoming season, is coming off arguably his worst season in the majors, other than an injury-shortened 2009 campaign.
Johnson is a bit maddening as a player; the converted outfielder shows flashes of brilliance and All-Star potential in spurts but can just as easily go into prolonged struggles where he flirts with a .200 batting average.
Johnson has a good combination of power and speed, but when he struggles to make contact, his stat sheet suffers and he's exposed as a marginal starter.
He's always maintained a consistently solid walk rate but has struck out 148, 163, and 159 times over the last three seasons respectively.
When things are going well—like in 2010: .284/.370/.496, 26 HR, 13 SB—he looks like a prototypical No. 2 hitter, but when he struggles—like 2012: .225/.313/.365, 16 HR, 14 SB—he looks like a No. 8 hitter.
Defensive metrics provide mixed reviews, but Johnson is generally considered a middle-of-the-pack, unspectacular defender at second.
His 2012 Season: .225 AVG/.313 OBP/.365 SLG, 61 R, 16 HR, 55 RBI, 14 SB, 1.4 WAR
Johnson was still fairly productive overall as a hitter despite hitting .225 and striking out 159 times. Even when he's striking out more than usual, he can still provide some pop, draw the occasional walk and give you league-average production at second base as he did in 2012.
He posted a career-worst UZR of -6.9 at 2B, but after two years in the black (7.1 in 2010, 2.5 in 2011) and a DWAR of 0.8, it may be a little fluky.
Johnson struggled as the team struggled but looked like he had given up down the stretch, hitting .195/.284/.333 in the second half.
Johnson hit well in April and May but got caught in one of his prolonged funks for the rest of the season that he was unable to fight his way out of despite a 16-14 HR-SB campaign.
Johnson is a hard player to peg. In the six seasons since 2007, he has hit .225 or under and posted an OPS of .692 or lower three times, while he has hit .276 or better and posted a OPS of .795 or higher in the other three seasons.
There hasn't been much of a middle ground for Johnson; he either hits well and inflates his counting stats, or he struggles mightily but still manages to post league-average production.
A lot will depend on where he signs; he often seems to go as the team goes. His strikeout rate isn't improving, so another year closer to last year seems likely, but he should still offer 15-15 HR-SB production and a solid glove up the middle, regardless.
Logical Suitors: White Sox, Rockies, Marlins, Twins
Who I Think Will Sign Him: Oakland A's
The A's moved Cliff Pennington over to second base after acquiring Stephen Drew for their playoff run last year.
The A's have since lost both Pennington and Drew but added Hiroyuki Nakajima to replace Drew at SS.
The A's are left with Adam Rosales and Jemile Weeks atop the depth chart at 2B for the time being. Johnson would offer an upgrade over both and fits in well with what the A's try to do on offense.
He has some pop, has a good batting eye and is a low-volume, high-percentage base stealer—the type of characteristics that usually appeal to Billy Beane.
Shortstop: Alex Gonzalez
Shortstop rivals the catcher position for the least amount of remaining talent available in free agency.
Jason Bartlett is a slick-fielding defensive shortstop who showed upside after hitting .320/.389/.490 for the Rays in 2009, but he has since struggled to stay healthy. In the three seasons since, he has hit .241/.310/.317 with a combined six home runs and entered the season after hitting .133 in just shy of 100 plate appearances last year prior to a knee injury that led to his release.
Additionally, everyone finally got the memo that Yuniesky Betancourt is not a starter.
That leaves the battle-tested but yet still capable Alex Gonzalez as the lone starter quality option at shortstop. Gonzalez will be 36 years old for the upcoming season, but he's less than three years older than Jason Bartlett—which just doesn't sound right but is completely true.
Gonzalez was signed as a free agent out of Venezuela in the Marlins' second season of existence and has gone on to have a surprisingly lengthy career despite injuries, mediocre offensive production and achieving journeyman status.
Gonzalez doesn't do anything above average at this point, but prior to last season's injury, the Braves saw enough to trade for him in 2011, and the Brewers trusted him enough to start at SS to open 2012.
He's slowly treading into below-average defense territory, and much like his starting catcher counterpart Miguel Olivo, he's never been particularly adept at drawing walks, but he still offers solid power production.
His 2012 Season: 24 Games, .259 AVG/.326 OBP/.457 SLG, 4 HR, 15 RBI, 0.2 WAR
Gonzalez was having a typical season before it was cut short due to a torn ligament in his right knee. If anything, through the 26 games he played, he still showed he had enough left in the tank as a hitter to be worth starting.
There hasn't been much information on how Gonzalez has rehabbed, what shape he's currently in or if he'll be 100 percent by Opening Day.
The Red Sox showed some interest before going with Stephen Drew. The Brewers apparently have a "standing offer" for him to return in 2013 but only as a backup to Jean Segura. However, Gonzalez still wants an opportunity to play everyday.
If he's good enough to go, teams should expect his downward trend to continue defensively. But Gonzalez could still post starter-quality offensive production in spite of a middling batting average, subpar walk rate and almost zero speed on the basepaths.
Logical Suitors: Brewers, Braves, Mariners, Reds
Who I think Will Sign Him: Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates are making a concerted effort to contend in 2013; they own two solid veterans atop their rotation, have a budding superstar in center field in Andrew McCutchen, signed Russell Martin and, despite trading Joel Hanrahan, have a capable closing option in veteran Jason Grilli.
The Bucs signed Clint Barmes to a two-year deal to play shortstop last year—a move that didn't make much sense at the time and still doesn't. If healthy, Gonzalez would provide an upgrade, solidify the infield and relegate Barmes to a utility role, where he belongs.
Third Base: Brandon Inge
I promise the market gets better after third base. Similarly to the shortstop position, what's left of third base in free agency leaves a lot to be desired, and the position is headlined by another 35-year-old coming off a season-ending injury.
With the other remaining options including the likes of Chone Figgins and Orlando Hudson, Inge is the best option more by default than by choice. That said, after it looked as if his career had entered its twilight stage once he was cut loose by the Tigers, Inge had a revival of sorts once the A's picked him up.
Inge has established a reputation as a fan favorite, clubhouse leader and skilled defenseman at the hot corner. He doesn't offer the same positional versatility he did in the past, but he has shown he is still capable of being a top-notch defensive third baseman.
Inge is a lifetime .234 hitter and hasn't hit over .250 in the last seven seasons. He still offers some power but shouldn't be expected to exceed 20 home runs in a season at this point in his career.
His strikeout has always been poor and has hovered around the 23-26 percent range, while he has maintained a steady walk rate in the 7-9 percent range over the past five seasons. It all adds up to a savvy veteran, who offers some pop and above-average defense but will struggle to post a .300 OBP and .400 SLG.
His 2012 Season: 83 Games, .218 AVG/.275 OBP/.383 SLG, 12 HR, 54 RBI, 0.8 WAR
The Tigers released Inge, who had previously spent his entire career with the franchise, after nine games. The team moved him to second base, but it wasn't working out, and after hitting .100 in 20 at-bats and a 6/0 K/BB ratio, the Tigers decided to go in a different direction.
It looked like it could be the end for Inge, but he was one of a number of hitters who was rejuvenated by the A's magic in the Bay Area last season.
Inge still only hit .226/.286/.389 for Oakland but tacked on 11 home runs and 52 RBIs—numbers that would've looked very impressive extrapolated over a full season—while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense. Unfortunately, Inge suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery, cutting his season short.
Inge underwent shoulder surgery in September with the usual recovery period being six months. If all goes well, his return to full strength would coincide with the start of spring training.
Some teams have kicked the tires on him, but he's yet to sign. The health of his throwing shoulder is a very big concern given that his primary value is tied to his defense.
Assuming the recovery time period holds true, we should expect more of the same from Inge: good defense and some power but at the expense of an unimpressive batting line. He may be just productive enough to still warrant a starting job in 2013.
Logical Suitors: Colorado Rockies, Anaheim Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins, Oakland A's
Who I Think Will Sign Him: Atlanta Braves
The Angels make a lot of sense too, but Inge would make for a great platoon partner with the left-handed and inexperienced Juan Francisco, who is slated to replace the position Chipper Jones has manned for so many years.
Inge would offer some infield defensive prowess to an infield that includes Dan Uggla at second base and is unsettled at shortstop.
Right Field: Scott Hairston
Scott Hairston has been a highly sought-after option to play right field this offseason, and the interest has only picked up since the Diamondbacks snagged Cody Ross much to the surprise of his expected suitors.
Hairston, who was the closest he has ever been to a full-time everyday player last season at age 32, offers the most power of all the remaining right field options and could be a late bloomer who develops into an everyday starter in his later years.
Hairston is a converted second baseman, a once-prized prospect in the Diamondbacks system a decade ago.
He was forced to move to the outfield by the time he reached the majors and has since become capable of handling all three outfield positions, even though he was primarily utilized as a left fielder prior to last season.
Hairston can mash—he has a lifetime slugging percentage of .449, an even 100 OPS-plus and recently hit 27 home runs and 33 doubles in about a season and a half's worth of work (543 at-bats).
But the one thing that Hairston is best known for and why he so sought after by teams like the Yankees is his aptitude against left-handed pitching.
Hairston slugged .550 against left-handed pitching last year (compared to .457 against righties) and owns a career .276/.325/.500 line against lefties.
Hairston has generally been a part-time player or fourth outfielder for much of his career, but he received the most at-bats with one team in a single season last year and produced starter-quality numbers, despite a low walk rate. This may be his best chance to finally be a starting outfielder.
His 2012 Season: .263 AVG/.299 OBP/.504 SLG, 52 R, 20 HR, 57 RBI, 8 SB, 1.5 WAR
Hairston's ability to hit the long ball played a big part in the Mets' hot start to 2012, and though the team cooled off, Hairston kept hitting through most of the summer.
Receiving consistent at-bats, Hairston was one of the team's best hitters behind David Wright. He hit lefties well, flashed power, filled in admirably at all three outfield spots and looked the part of an everyday player.
That is, except for the month of September, when he still managed four home runs but hit .192 and struck out 16 times without drawing a single walk.
There are a lot of reasons why, if he re-signs with the Mets or goes to a team where he'll be expected to do more than platoon, Hairston could duplicate last year's solid batting line and increase his counting stats.
For one, we don't know what he could do with 600 at-bats, but we know he hits lefties well and can hold his own against righties.
We also know he has the raw power to take a ball out of every park. There is a chance he could be exposed as a glorified part-time player who just isn't worthy of a full season's workload, especially given his inability to draw walks.
That said, at worst, he should continue to be a matchup nightmare for lefties and continue to hit around 20 home runs, regardless of where he ends up.
Logical Suitors: Yankees, Blue Jays, Phillies, Rays, Rangers
Who I Think Will Sign Him: New York Mets
The Mets have pushed hard to re-sign Hairston and rightfully so. The Mets outfield is in flux and without a single starter in place at the moment.
The Mets know Hairston can hit in New York, and he won't be contained by Citi Field. He'll give them at least one starter in the outfield—most likely in right field—and some protection for Wright and Ike Davis.
If Hairston wants playing time, no team can offer him more than the Mets, who have yet to sign a player to a major league contract this offseason.
Center Field: Michael Bourn
Michael Bourn and B.J. Upton headlined not just the center field free-agent class, but they were both considered upper-echelon talents of the entire free-agent market this off-season.
Upton quickly signed with Bourn's former team, the Atlanta Braves, on a five-year, $75.25 million deal to fill the void created by Bourn in center field. Where does that leave Bourn? Still waiting for a similar deal on the open market.
Not surprisingly, Bourn was made a qualifying offer by the Braves, which he summarily rejected.
As a result, whoever signs Bourn will have to sacrifice a quality pick and the bonus money that comes along with the draft slot—a first-rounder for those who pick Nos. 11-20, a second-rounder for those in the Top 10.
Why Upton quickly reached a deal with Bourn's former employer and why Bourn hasn't received a similar contract yet is not completely clear.
Bourn, at age 30, is two years older than Upton and has significantly less upside, though it's questionable as to whether Upton will ever meet the lofty goals once set for him by scouts.
However, Bourn is the best at what he does: causing chaos on the basepaths. He doesn't have Upton's power, but he is a better base stealer and has posted a significantly better OBP over the last three seasons.
He is as dangerous as anyone when it comes to getting into scoring position after a single or drawing a walk. Bourn finished middle of the pack in range factor for qualifying center fielders (whereas Upton finished last among qualifiers), but he led the league in DWAR at the position with a 3.0.
Although he strikes out more and walks less than you'd want from a top-of-the-order batter, his speed in the field and on the bases as well as his base-hitting abilities make him a prototypical lead-off hitting center fielder in today's game.
His 2012 Season: .274 AVG/.348 OBP/.391 SLG, 96 R, 9 HR, 57 RBI, 42 SB, 13 CS, 6.0 WAR
This wasn't Bourn's best year as a lead-off hitter, even if fantasy owners enjoyed the increase in HR and RBI (both career-highs in 2012).
Bourn's average dipped 20 points from 2011 to a pedestrian .274 while his OBP stayed right around his career range at .348 in 2012.
Bourn added 10 triples for the second straight year but saw his SB total drop from 61 to 42, while he was caught stealing a major league-high 13 times.
He's still one of the game's best base stealers and a great center fielder, but he needs to return to his roots as a lead-off hitter; the dramatic increase in home runs along with a career-worst 155 strikeouts may indicate a change in mentality from his approach in past years.
Bourn just turned 30 in December, and he's still at his peak. The fact that he's still available likely has more to do with his asking price and the fact that signing him will cost a draft pick.
Forty-plus stolen bases, regardless of where he goes, seems like a given, and if he can focus his skills on getting on base and being a table setter, there's no reason he couldn't return to 2011 form, where he flirted with hitting .300 (.294 to be exact) and led the majors in stolen bases.
He's still expected to be one of the best and most reliable lead-off hitters in the game and a superb defender in center field.
Logical Suitors: Braves, White Sox, Mariners
Who I Think Will Sign Him: Texas Rangers
The Rangers recently signed Lance Berkman, but he alone cannot replace the production lost from Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli and Michael Young.
With center field still in play, Bourn would be a good fit at the right price. The Rangers pick toward the very end of the first round, so it would be less value given up in the draft than, say, the Mariners.
It would also facilitate trading Elvis Andrus with another bona fide lead-off hitter on the roster. The Rangers have also shown interest in Bourn recently.
Left Field: Delmon Young
I'm being a little generous listing Delmon Young in left field, as he was primarily a designated hitter last season and appears best suited for that role going forward.
His minus-30.9 UZR/150 in LF for the Tigers last year was a career worst, and after five straight years of negative UZRs at the position, he has gone from a bad defender to a liability in the field.
However, as we saw by the 31 games he played in left field last year and the combined 125 games played there between Minnesota and Detroit in 2011, he can still play the position if need be and deserves to be listed there accordingly.
On the surface, Delmon Young should be generating much more interest in the free-agent market than he currently is. He's only 27 years old, and he's a former first-round pick.
In a season and a quarter with the Tigers (191 games), he has hit 28 home runs and drove in 106 runs. He has a respectable lifetime batting average of .284, and he may be the best postseason hitter over the past two seasons, as his 2012 ALCS MVP can attest to.
He has shown flashes of dominance where he looks every bit the part of a premiere power hitter. So why is he still a free agent?
Despite what he has accomplished and the potential to put up even bigger production, Young has some very pronounced flaws. The first, his aforementioned inability to play any position in the field with relative skill, already cuts the number of likely suitors in half.
Secondly, he is historically bad at drawing walks. He has a career 4.1 percent walk rate—only marginally better than Miguel Olivo, who, if you recall, was one of the worst at drawing a walk.
Among all qualifying hitters last year, only Alexei Ramirez drew a walk less frequently than Young did, and Young's OBP has been trending downward since his debut.
Finally, and rightly or wrongly, there are some perceived character issues, dating back to his throwing a bat at an umpire in the minors in 2006, his personality clashes with then-clubhouse leader Carl Crawford in Tampa, ultimately leading to him being traded to the Twins.
Then there's most recent incident: being arrested for aggravated harassment—a hate crime in New York City. The book on Delmon is pretty simple: You have to take the good with the bad.
His 2012 Season: .267 AVG/.296 OBP/.411 SLG, 54 R, 18 HR, 74 RBI, -1.2 WAR
After he hit eight HR in 40 games once he was acquired by the Tigers in 2011, plus an impressive postseason performance, a lot of people thought it may portend a monster 2012 campaign in a contract year.
As has become the norm, Young did the things he excels at well but struggled with drawing walks and maintaining consistency. He ultimately fell short of expectations.
He showed some pop but looked slow-footed outside the batter's box. He did, however, have one of his typical flashes of brilliance at the most opportune time in the postseason. Young hit .355 with three home runs and seven RBI in eight games between the ALCS and World Series, perhaps setting the stage for 2013.
Young will likely be relegated to designated hitting for whomever signs him given his liabilities in the field.
At 27 years old—an age that used to be associated with breakout years for hitters—he could build upon his strong finish to last season and finally cross the 30-HR plateau.
Then again, he could also repeat his 2012 performance, with a few good weeks of hitting overshadowed by a season of underachieving. It's up to you to believe whether or not he'll ever break out; teams must not seem to think so, as he's still on the market.
Logical Suitors: Indians, Yankees, A's, Blue Jays
Who I Think Will Sign Him: Baltimore Orioles
After they shocked the world and made the playoffs last season, the Orioles have mostly stood pat this offseason.
They currently have Wilson Betemit penciled in as DH, which is all you need to know to understand why Delmon Young would be a good fit in Baltimore. If anyone could help Young reach his potential, it's a master motivator like Buck Showalter.
Designated Hitter: Luke Scott
While there are some more accomplished names available on the designated hitter free-agent market, Luke Scott is the youngest and most likely to still make an impact in 2013.
Future Hall of Famer Jim Thome will be 42 and hit just three home runs in 115 plate appearances with the Orioles.
Johnny Damon is a few hundred hits short of 3,000, but after being released by the Indians, his fourth team in as many years, and hitting .222 in 64 games, we may have seen him for the last time.
There are also the likes of Travis Hafner, who is a shell of his former self, and Carlos Lee, who barely remains mobile. While all these names were at one time considered "stars" or among the best in the league, it seems none may pique the interest of a big-league club enough to warrant a major league contract.
Luke Scott will have to earn his contract as well, but there has been some tepid interest in the 34-year-old.
Scott has been hampered by back and oblique injuries the past two seasons, limiting him to just 160 games in that time span. In 2010, Scott's last healthy season, however, he hit .284/.368/.535 with 27 home runs and 72 RBI for the Orioles.
Although a lot of his home runs come in bunches, prior to the last two injury marred campaigns, Scott was a pretty reliable power threat, best suited for a No. 6 slot in the lineup.
As someone who didn't see a full season's workload until 2007, when he was 29 years old, he may be able to recover from his injuries and still enjoy the tail end of a short peak. His time in the field has been gradually reduced to almost nothing, but he has still shown he can man first base or left field in a pinch.
He struggled at the plate the last two years, but even a modest rebound, if healthy, could result in him still possessing 20-plus HR power while posting solid walk and strikeout rates.
His 2012 Season: 96 Games, .229 AVG/.285 OBP/.439 SLG, 14 HR, 55 RBI, 5 SB
The things that did not go well for Scott are apparent: He was limited to 96 games due to a variety of injuries, he hit 30 points below his career AVG, and he posted a career worst in OBP.
He also hit .149 in 87 at-bats against lefties. On the bright side, he still showed good pop—knocking out 14 home runs and 36 extra-base hits in limited actions; he also drove in an impressive 55 runs in under 100 games.
And although it shouldn't matter much, his five stolen bases were a career high, which is somewhat of an indicator that his legs are still as fresh as they ever were.
The bar should be set fairly low. He's 34 years old, and he's coming off two injury-plagued years in which his AVG is under .230 and his OBP under .300 for that time span.
Also, given his limitations defensively and his mighty struggles against lefties, it's unlikely he'll be given a full-time starting gig.
That said, he still has some pop, and if he rehabbed well, he could hope to be the left-handed version of Scott Hairston in 2013, where he gets an opportunity to mash against righties, can boost his batting line and still jack out 20 or so home runs.
Logical Suitors: Anyone who has ever owned him (Rays, Orioles, Astros), Brewers
Who I Think Will Sign Him: Cleveland Indians
The Indians currently have a void at DH, where they may look to rotate hitters such as Mark Reynolds, Carlos Santana and Matt LaPorta—should he still be in Cleveland come Opening Day.
They could add Luke Scott to that mix and give him a big chunk of at-bats against righties, DH opportunities and platooning at first base with right-handed hitting Mark Reynolds—whose defense, albeit better than it was at third base, is still a question mark.
Bench: Ryan Theriot
Given the paucity of quality second basemen and shortstops, Ryan Theriot is left as the best available backup middle infielder.
Theriot will be 33 this upcoming season, but he still offers about the same skill set he did when he broke in as a 26-year-old rookie seven years ago.
Theriot has almost no power at the plate, he isn't a great fielder at either shortstop or second base, and he doesn't draw a ton of walks, but he offers something intangible that the other remaining options just don't.
Some people don't subscribe to the notion of intangibles, but Theriot has been able to stick in the majors despite not doing anything at an above-average level. He's a solid singles hitter and has a lifetime .281 batting average—although he's the type of player who could hit around .300 and still not be very productive—and his 10.6 percent strikeout rate is 13th best among all active qualifying hitters.
Theriot can come off the bench as a pinch-hitter when you need someone to lay down a bunt or slap a single, as a pinch-runner when you need to get a runner into scoring position late in the game or as a safe, albeit limited, defensive option up the middle.
As mentioned, he doesn't have tremendous skills as a hitter or a fielder, but he knows his role and is the type of player coaches love as the last man off the bench.
The only real difference between him and Skip Schumaker, a well-respected and sought-after player, is that Schumaker bats as a lefty.
His 2012 Season: 104 Games, .270 AVG/.316 OBP/.321 SLG, 0 HR, 28 RBI, 13 SB, -0.4 WAR
You know a hitter has almost no power when his slugging percentage is only five points higher than his on-base percentage. Theriot had all but 17 extra-base hits in 2012 and didn't hit a single home run.
He only struck out 47 times in 384 plate appearance and managed to steal 13 bases in 18 attempts as the World Champion Giants' backup second baseman.
He had an awful -8.1 UZR at 2B, but given how much it deviates from seasons past, it may be an aberration. All things considered, he filled the reserve role admirably.
Theriot should find some work before spring training in a similar role to last season as a utility infielder and last man off the bench.
The offensive upside is severely limited, but Theriot can still hit for average and swipe a dozen or more bags. Given his defensive prowess in years past, his UZR could improve, or we could see a downward trend in his fielding abilities as he nears his mid-30s.
Logical Suitors: Braves, Orioles, Tigers, Twins
Who I Think Will Sign Him: San Francisco Giants
In a way, Theriot personifies the World Series Champion Giants: a scrappy, fundamentally-sound underdog.
The Giants are the only team with any substantial rumors regarding Theriot at the moment, according to CSN's Andrew Baggarly. Also, bringing him back to occasionally spell 37-year-old Marco Scutaro and light-hitting Brandon Crawford up the middle makes sense, given his familiarity with Bruce Bochy and the Giants' clubhouse.
He doesn't have the bat to start, despite some second-base openings around the league.
Bench: Bobby Abreu
Of all the former stars now past their prime and clinging for one last opportunity, one who may still get a shot and prove useful for a team is Bobby Abreu.
There was a noticeable decline in Abreu's game as he entered his mid-to-late 30s a few seasons ago, but he was still worthy of a full-time job.
Abreu no longer has the 20-plus home run power, 20-plus stolen base speed nor the ability to hit near .300, but he can still hold his own at the plate, keep his strikeouts down and draw walks at an impressive clip.
Abreu may make for an interesting Hall of Fame debate in a few years if he can squeeze out another year or two of productivity, but for now, he'll have to continue to wait for any feelers.
He seemed to realize his skills were on the decline and adapted accordingly by focusing on just making contact when getting balls in the strike zone and having the patience not to swing at balls.
He showed he still had some speed and is still a smart, solid baserunner. He was never a great fielder, but he has seemed to deteriorate and his once-great arm no longer intimidates baserunners.
He can still play left field on occasion but is probably best utilized as a DH or coming off the bench—roles hard to justify at his age (39 in March). He also has reduced offensive potential and needs to be willing accept less money, since he is no longer an everyday player.
His 2012 Season: 100 games, .242 AVG/.350 OBP/.342 SLG, 3 HR, 24 RBI, 6 SB, -0.4 WAR
Abreu dropped from 20 to eight home runs between 2010 and 2011 and was deemed expendable by the Angels before the 2012 season even started with the signing of Albert Pujols, the return of Kendry Morales and imminent promotion of Mike Trout.
After eight games, the Angels released him to make way for Trout, and the Dodgers picked him up. The power drain continued, as Abreu only had 12 extra base hits (eight doubles, one triple, three homers) in 230 plate appearances, but he managed six stolen bases and impressive walk total of 35.
At the end, though, Abreu looked like a shell of the superstar-caliber player he once was and a player who could be inching toward retirement.
Abreu may have to earn his way back to the majors on a contingent minor league that will result in his calling up to the majors by a certain date—a route that did not work for Manny Ramirez, Vladimir Guerrero, or Miguel Tejada last season.
His best bet to return to the majors would be in a part-time or reserve role that limits his exposure in left field and allows him to see most of his at-bats against lefties. If a team is willing to give 300 plate appearances, he could push for a 10/10 HR/SB season despite a batting average around .250.
Logical Suitors: Red Sox, Blue Jays, Indians
Who I Think Will Sign Him: Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays have shown a willingness to gamble on past-their-prime veterans in the past—Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez come to mind—even if they haven't paid off.
The Rays also lack outfield depth and have no clear-cut designated hitter. Bringing in Abreu, who can still get on base, in a minor-league deal is a typical low-risk, moderate-reward move that could pay off for the budget-conscious Rays.
Bench: Nyjer Morgan
One of the more interesting personalities in baseball, Nyjer Morgan, is the final position player included as the best available fourth outfielder option.
I could have chosen Juan Rivera or Rick Ankiel here, both of whom offer a bit more experience and some more pop, but Morgan offers just about everything you look for in a traditional fourth outfielder.
Morgan is also slightly younger than both Ankiel and Rivera, but speed-first hitters usually project better late in their career and into their mid-30s, while both Ankiel and Rivera look as if they're well into their declines.
Back to what Morgan offers: He's a left-handed hitter; he averages 33 stolen bases based on a 162 game average; he is a good singles hitter; he can draw the occasional walk and has a lifetime OBP of .341 and is a good defender at all three outfield spots.
He doesn't hit for power, does get caught stealing more often than a good base stealer should and has caused some controversy with his comments and gestures.
He is generally accepted as a good teammate with a fiery personality who loves to play the game, but others think he isn't worth the distraction and sideshow created by a part-time player.
His 2012 Season: .239 AVG/.302 OBP/.308 SLG, 44 R, 3 HR, 16 RBI, 12 SB, 0.1 WAR
The 0.1 WAR is pretty indicative of Morgan's season; when he isn't hitting in the .280-.300 range and reaching base around a .340 clip, he's just not that useful.
He was limited to only 322 plate appearances in a crowded outfield that featured superstar Ryan Braun and emerging talents in Carlos Gomez and Norichika Aoki.
He still managed to swipe 12 bags and score 44 runs, solid numbers for a reserve outfielder whose best asset is his speed and defensive versatility.
Though Morgan remains unsigned, he should find a job as a fourth or fifth outfielder given his skill set. Someone should think he's worth the gamble to fill out a team's roster and provide some speed off the bench.
Morgan hit just .239 last year, a career low, but his 2012 BABIP was .296—nearly 40 points below his career .335 BABIP. A slight uptick in luck and we could see a substantial rise in average, along with the additional benefits of more opportunities for runs and stolen bases.
Logical Suitors: Brewers, Reds, Marlins, Mariners, Giants
Who I Think Will Sign Him: Houston Astros
Most of the logical suitors expected to be in contention already have speedy fourth outfielders that would render Morgan redundant.
The Astros are a good fit with their young lineup; Morgan could play the role of veteran sparkplug, but he's still young enough to be a solid contributor and would come cheap.
The Astros are also undecided in center field and Morgan could rack up significant playing time. If Morgan rebounds with an increased BABIP, he could make for some midseason trade bait as the Astros continue to focus on the future.
Starting Pitcher No. 1: Kyle Lohse
Kyle Lohse is the best starting pitcher still available in free agency. Whether or not that is considered a positive or negative statement about the remaining quality of starting pitching depends on the reader.
There are a wide variety of opinions on Kyle Lohse: He was frequently associated with the words "overrated" and "overpaid" during his tenure with the Cardinals, but few can deny how good of a pitcher he has been over the last two seasons.
Many chastised the Cardinals in 2008 for giving Lohse, then coming off his first sub-4.00 ERA season, a four-year, $41 million deal with a full no-trade clause.
For the first two years of the deal, the deal looked as awful as some had feared: Lohse had made only 40 starts in 2009-2010, going 10-18 with a 5.56 ERA, giving up almost 11 hits per nine innings and recording an unsightly 1.55 WHIP.
He was the Kyle Lohse most had come to know: generally bad, but occasionally mediocre.
However, we have seen a vastly different Kyle Lohse—different than his entire career, but especially different than 2009-2010—over the last two seasons.
Lohse came back healthy in 2011 and had a career year, posting a 3.39 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and a 2.01 BB/9, en route to helping the Cardinals win the World Series.
He followed that up last year with an even better individual campaign, going 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and career-best 1.6 BB/9, even pitching well into October and through the postseason.
Many teams are scared off and worried he could quickly revert back to the Kyle Lohse of old without the wizardry of the Cardinals' coaching staff, and that concern is amplified by the amount of money he expects to be paid.
Despite the concerns, over the last two years, Lohse has logged 400 innings of top-of-the-rotation pitching, and despite his low strikeout rate, he has posted a better FIP than the likes of C.J. Wilson and Jake Peavy.
The question remains, however, which version of Kyle Lohse will the team who signs him be getting?
His 2012 Season: 33 GS, 211.0 IP, 16-3, 2.86 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 143 K, 38 BB
I've already waxed poetic about the impressive superficial numbers Lohse posted in 2012. For most teams, he would've been considered an ace last year.
That said, there are some underlying numbers that raise concerns about a regression. Despite the aforementioned impressive FIP, his FIP was significantly higher than his ERA last year (3.51 to 2.86).
Additionally, hitters against Lohse had a BABIP of .269 and .262 each of the last two years, which is a far cry from the lifetime .297 BABIP against Lohse. Lohse has gotten by with finesse and good defense, but he didn't miss a lot of bats in 2012 (6.1 K/9 IP).
If everyone knew what to expect from Lohse next year, there would be a lot less consternation surrounding his availability. The underlying numbers, the career peripheral statistics, the low strikeout rate, and the idea of pitching for a team who hasn't worked its magic with pitchers like the Cardinals, have raised some concerns about a potential regression.
The 2009-10 season aside, Lohse has at least remained healthy, and there shouldn't be any injury concerns. The issue is whether he can continue to pitch like a front-line starter or if he belongs in the back of the rotation.
The numbers seem to suggest he could pitch like someone who belongs somewhere in the middle in 2013.
Logical Suitors: Cardinals, Orioles, Mariners, White Sox, Padres
Who I Think Will Sign Him: Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers have some major rotation issues behind ace Yovani Gallardo and could use an NL Central battle-tested workhorse to bridge the gap between Gallardo and the rest of the rotation.
Mike Fiers and Marco Estrada had nice 2012 campaigns, but if the Brewers want to be a playoff contender, they'll need another quality starter like Lohse to provide a veteran capable of pitching in big games.
The Brewers sound a bit tight on cash, but it appears Lohse, another player whose signing will cost a team a draft pick, will have to scale back his salary requests.
The Brewers need a lefty as well, but none of the available southpaws offer the same No. 2 starter upside that Lohse does.
Starting Pitcher No. 2: Shaun Marcum
After Lohse comes Shaun Marcum, another right-hander, who has No. 2 starter upside but is not without flaws.
Marcum is a less-known commodity, going under the radar at times, but that's what happens when you spend your career in Toronto and Milwaukee.
Marcum became a full-time starter five seasons ago in 2008. The good news: He's never recorded an ERA over 3.70 (which occurred last year) in that time span.
The bad news: He missed part of 2008 with an elbow injury, missed all of 2009 after undergoing Tommy John surgery and just recently missed one-third of 2012 with a new elbow injury. It's safe to say GMs are concerned with his ability to stay healthy.
If he can stay healthy, however, he has shown that while he may not be a staff ace, he's capable of filling the role of a No. 2 or No. 3 starter.
He has a good fastball, but he isn't an overpowering pitcher. With a deep repertoire of pitches, including a sinking changeup, Marcum has quietly but impressively racked up strikeouts, averaging at least 7.1K per 9 innings for each of the last four seasons.
Marcum does just about everything well; his K-rate is healthy, and his lifetime walk rate of 2.8 is impressive, as is a career WHIP of 1.22, which has been 1.16 or lower in three of the past four seasons.
This year aside, which will be discussed in more detail below, he hasn't shown any real lingering effects from Tommy John surgery in 2009; he pitched 395.1 innings of 3.59 ERA pitching in 2010-2011.
Marcum won't give you gaudy fantasy stats, but he is a quietly good pitcher without any glaring flaws.
His 2012 Season: 21 GS, 124.0 IP, 7-4, 3.70 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 109 K, 41 BB, 1.3 WAR
After two impressive healthy seasons post-surgery, Marcum had his most underwhelming campaign as a starter in 2012.
Not only did his peripherals bump up a bit closer to the league average, but he reignited questions about his ability to stay healthy, which have previously lay dormant.
Marcum had shoulder issues going into the season, but he ended up missing all of July and most of August with elbow tightness.
Marcum came back, but he didn't look like the same pitcher. Prior to the injury, his ERA sat at 3.39 with a 1.17 WHIP and .227 BAA in 13 starts.
In his eight starts after returning, his ERA rose to 4.32, his WHIP to 1.36 and his BAA to .279.
Perhaps most importantly, his innings pitched per start dropped from 6.3 IP/start before the injury to 5.1 IP/start after the injury, not topping 6.0 IP in a single start post-return.
If Marcum can return to full strength in time for the start of the season, we could expect a return to his No. 2 starter-quality performance in 2010-2011.
He was well on his way to doing so before the injury setback last season. If fully healthy, Marcum is rather consistent: an ERA within a half-run below 4.00, a WHIP in the 1.15-1.25 range, around 7K/9 IP and a walk rate a shade below 3.0BB/9 IP.
If Marcum is still dealing with arm issues that affect his ability to pitch deep into games and get movement on his breaking pitches, we could an uptick in his ERA and WHIP as we did in the second half of 2013.
Logical Suitors: Orioles, Padres, Red Sox, Brewers
Who I Think Will Sign Him: Seattle Mariners
The Mariners have made some moves to address their lineup, but they still lack protection after King Felix.
Marcum would be a good fit, and pairing his solidly impressive numbers with a bona fide star in Felix Hernandez would give them a 1-2 punch good enough to make the Mariners competitive once again.
They're moving in the fences at Safeco, but it should still be a pitcher-friendly park—the type of atmosphere a pitcher like Marcum can thrive in.
Signing Marcum, unlike Lohse, wouldn't cost the Mariners the 11th overall pick in the 2013 draft nor the bonus money allotted for the pick.
Starting Pitcher No. 3: Joe Saunders
I was torn between going with Joe Saunders or Dallas Braden for this spot in the rotation.
Braden looked to be on his way to becoming the Oakland A's bona fide ace—and inevitably some perennial contending team's No. 2 starter once the A's traded—but multiple surgical procedures on his throwing shoulder have limited him to just three starts over the last two seasons.
We have no idea what type of pitcher Braden will be when he comes back, if he ever comes back.
Meanwhile, Joe Saunders continues to be himself. I've always associated Saunders with a bend-but-don't-break NFL defense. He gives up a lot of hits, a fair amount of walks (though he has improved with his pitch location) and puts on his fair share of baserunners as his career 1.36 WHIP can attest to, but at the end of the day, he still seems to get the job done as a back-end starter.
His career 4.15 ERA doesn't tell the whole story, but Saunders isn't a stranger to having to get out of jams and does a good job of getting timely outs and leaves a high percentage of runners stranded on base.
He'll never be a great strikeout pitcher—as a matter of fact, the best you can hope for is a mediocre K-rate—but that's not what he's about. He's a finesse lefty who has to keep hitters off balance with a mix of pitches and sometimes puts his fate in his defense's hands.
Though the Diamondbacks let him go midseason last year, he has improved as a pitcher. Over the last three seasons, he has a 4.07 ERA in 590.1 innings pitched.
He still gives up his fair share of home runs, but at age 31 and 189 starts under his belt, he has shown he can be trusted to give a solid outing every five days.
His recent two-start playoff performance—brief as it may have been—showed how much he has developed and how much poise he has as a veteran.
His 2012 Season: 28 GS, 174.2 IP, 9-13, 4.07 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 112 K, 39 B, 1.3 WAR
Saunders posted a career-best 2.0 BB/9 IP, which is where he needs to be if he wants his ERA and WHIP to be anything more than league average.
Arizona let Saunders go, but don't let that make you think he was atrocious. He had a 4.22 ERA (4.19 FIP) and a 89/31 K/BB rate in 130 IP. He then joined the Orioles and became their de facto ace, going 3-3 with a 3.63 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in seven starts.
His most impressive performances, however, came in the playoffs. Pitching in a winner-take-all one-game playoff at Arlington, he shut down the Rangers, holding them to one run over 5.2 IP and earning the win before holding the Yankees to one run over 5.2 innings at Yankee Stadium in an ALDS win.
Saunders gave up some hits and walks, but he shut down two of the best offenses on the road when it mattered most and showed a poise few pitchers possess.
If Saunders continues to limit his walks and can stay in that 2.0BB/9 IP, we could see his ERA and WHIP continue to hover around 4.00 and 1.30, respectively.
Depending on where he goes and the defense put in place behind him, that could result in 12-15 wins. Saunders is a lot like fellow southpaw Paul Maholm, and their career numbers seem to confirm the similarities.
Maholm had his option picked up with the Braves, where he'll likely be relied on as a change-of-pace fourth starter. Whoever signs Saunders should expect about the same from him
Logical Suitors: Brewers, Twins, Mariners, Pirates, Mets
Who I Think Will Sign Him: Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles have done nothing to upgrade their rotation, so it only makes sense to bring back their best and most reliable pitcher for their improbable stretch run.
Saunders may not be a true ace, but he would give the Orioles their most reliable starter, and he already has the trust and respect of O's manager Buck Showalter.
If the Orioles want to prove last year wasn't a fluke, they should look to maintain a rotation at least as good as last year's rotation, which would require bringing back Saunders.
Starting Pitcher No. 4: Erik Bedard
The biggest concern is and always will be whether Erik Bedard can stay healthy for an upcoming season.
After his virtuoso performance in 2007, a year in which he made 28 starts, posted a 3.16 ERA and lead the league with a strikeout rate of 10.29K/9IP, the bar was set high for Bedard.
He was only 27 years old, and after back-to-back dominant seasons, he appeared on the precipice of being a Top 10 starter in all of baseball.
Since then, it's been a series of unfortunate events. Injuries limited him to half-seasons in 2008 and 2009, and he missed all of 2010 following shoulder surgery but bounced back to make a respectable 24 starts in 2011.
Each year the story was the same: Bedard is a great pitcher if and when he can stay healthy.
However, what was once a general consensus is no longer an opinion held by even a majority of GMs, which explains why Bedard is still a free agent.
Each year, Bedard had to rehab his arm, and each year he moved closer to an age where the term "potential" was no longer valid, and the luster began to wear off.
A pitcher can only come back from so many injuries before he's no longer the same pitcher, and that seems to explain Bedard's mediocre 2012 season, which ultimately ended in his release from the Pirates after 24 starts.
It's hard to affix any static qualities to describe Bedard. His periods of extending playing time are usually so spread apart that each time we see him, he's not the same pitcher he was the time before.
One thing remains constant: Good or bad, Bedard remains a very good strikeout pitcher.
His 2012 Season: 24 GS, 125.2 IP, 7-14, 5.01 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 118 K, 56 BB, -0.8 WAR
As mentioned, the Pirates released Bedard on August 28th, seeing enough after 24 starts in 2012.
Bedard opened the season as if he were the same pitcher of old, posting a 3.12 ERA with a 51/22 K/BB ratio in his first 10 starts, but then he struggled through the summer months with a 6.58 ERA and 1.62 WHIP in five June starts, a 6.49 ERA and 1.59 WHIP in five July starts, and a 5.91 ERA and 1.45 in four August starts put the nail in the coffin.
He was also unbearably bad away from PNC Park, going 3-9 with a 6.98 ERA in 12 road starts. Why did Bedard crumble after a hot start? No one knows for sure.
FanGraphs noted that most of his numbers remained the same, including the percentage of strikes he threw, the contact rate against him as well as his K percent and BB percent.
What did change was a dramatic increase in home runs, perhaps due to arm fatigue, causing him to leave pitches up in the zone. Whatever the cause, Bedard's end results over the second half of the season weren't tolerable.
This is the first time Bedard faces an offseason where he is healthy, yet there is minimal interest in signing him.
He'll be 34 by the time the season starts, and we may see him begin to enter the phase of his career where he is clearly post-peak and has to accept a new role.
He doesn't have as much wear and tear on his arm as a normal 34-year-old pitcher would, but it's also a very fragile arm that has been the site of a number of surgeries.
It seems he may have to take a minor league deal and earn his way back to the majors next season.
Bedard has always been a good pitcher throughout his injuries, and the underlying numbers suggest that he wasn't that much worse of a pitcher in the first half of the season as compared to the second half, so a rebound could be expected if—and this is always a risky proposition with Bedard—he can stay healthy.
Logical Suitors: Orioles, Royals, Twins, Rockies
Who I Think Will Sign Him: San Diego Padres
The Padres have been rumored to be keenly interested in the likes of Lohse and Marcum, but they'll probably be outbid for them.
Bedard could provide the veteran arm they're looking for, and San Diego is always a good place for a pitcher to turn around his career.
With Cory Luebke and Andrew Cashner unlikely to be ready for the start of the season, Bedard could give them a solid second lefty after Clayton Richard in the back end of the rotation.
Starting Pitcher No. 5: Chris Young
Chris Young's career has followed an arc very similar to Erik Bedard's career. Young was a very promising pitcher in his mid-20s, starting 30 or 31 games in each of the three seasons from 2005-2007, improving each year and twice leading all of baseball in hits allowed per nine innings (6.7 hits/9 IP in 2006, 6.1 hits/9 IP in 2007).
Though a very different pitcher than Bedard, Young was being viewed in a similar light: an up-and-coming pitcher continuing to post better numbers each season as he entered a peak that could allow him to achieve an elite status.
Unfortunately, as the story goes, Young suffered a variety of injuries and setbacks from 2008-2011, starting only 40 games in that four-year span.
Young's most noticeable attribute is his towering height at 6'11'', which creates a downward trajectory on his pitch that has resulted in him being a very pronounced fly ball pitcher and a pitcher who, as a result, traditionally maintains a BABIP below league average.
He has never had great "stuff" nor an overpowering fastball. His average fastball usually sits in the mid-80s range, but when he's healthy, he does enough to keep hitters in the ballpark and creates a lot of easy pop-up outs.
The problem is his ability to stay healthy. Young missed the second half of 2009 for a "clean-up" surgical procedure on his throwing shoulder, then missed all but four starts in 2010 due to arthroscopic surgery to repair an impingement in the same shoulder.
Not surprisingly, he was again reduced to four starts in 2011 after suffering the same shoulder injury again. The surgery to repair a torn anterior capsule in his shoulder carried over to 2012, but he was able to come back in June as a similar if not slightly less effective replication of his old self.
His 2012 Season: 20 GS, 115.0 IP, 4-9, 4.15 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 80 K, 36 BB, 0.7 WAR
Young came back, but like Bedard he didn't offer the same upside he did before the years of repairs to his damaged arm.
Young was still moderately effective as a starter, but we saw a significant jump in his hits allowed rate—going from 6.1 hits/9 IP in his prime in 2007 to 9.3 hits/9 IP last season.
His walk rate and strikeout rate both declined, resulting in more balls put in play and a greater reliance on his defense.
Unfortunately, his BABIP jumped to a more normal .287 as more hits fell in against a pitcher who may have a lost a step and was never overpowering to begin with.
In the end, Young held his own, pitching fairly enough both at home and on the road, doing a good job of keeping the ball in the park for the most part.
Young appears to be fully recovered from his shoulder woes—at least for the time being. But he's looked healthy to start the season before, only to have an untimely setback, so his health in the winter should be taken with a grain of salt.
Someone will eventually sign him, probably to fill out the last spot in the rotation, and he should remain effective enough to satisfy those expectations, even if he is on a slight decline.
He's best suited in a big park that will keep the large number of fly balls he surrenders within the field of play.
Even if he makes a full season worth of starts, don't expect him to come anywhere near 200 innings. He averaged less than six innings per start last year.
Based on the adjustments made in 2012, Young should continue to be an efficient pitcher—one who doesn't give up too many walks or strike out too many hitters, but tries to produce easy outs for the defense en route to an ERA that could be slightly better than the league average.
Logical Suitors: Padres, Twins, Marlins, Mariners
Who I think Will Sign Him: New York Mets
According to ESPN, one Mets insider already confirmed interest in bringing back Young, and why not? They have rotation spots open, and he's built to pitch well in the pitcher-friendly confines of Citi Field.
Plus, even Wilpon would probably allow GM Sandy Alderson to bring back Young at a cheap price.
Starting Pitcher No. 6: Javier Vazquez
I'm cheating a bit by including a sixth starter, but I think it is important to note a player who won't appear on many free-agent lists, because he took a year off from baseball.
Javier Vazquez decided not to return to the MLB in 2012 after his first and only season with the Marlins in 2011, instead retreating home to spend time with his family in Puerto Rico.
Vazquez is still only 36 years old, and starting pitchers can be effective into their early 40s; he's four years younger than Andy Pettitte, who took 2011 off and looked like a rejuvenated pitcher last season.
There weren't any injury concerns, and his motivation may have been more due to mental fatigue than arm fatigue, as Vazquez has had no issue throwing 190 or more innings every season since 2000 (except in his tumultuous second tour of duty with the Yankees).
There is a dichotomy to Javier Vazquez's career statistics; he has been a much better pitcher in the National League than American League and seems to thrive when playing on non-contending teams.
Vazquez is a high-volume pitcher. He gives you 30-plus starts a year, usually 200 innings or more, and though his strikeout rate has fluctuated in response to how well he pitches, it usually trends at an above-average rate—he had four straight seasons of 8.0 K/9 IP from 2006-2009, including a career best 9.8 K/9 IP in 2009 with the Braves.
In the last season he played, 2011, Vazquez started off terribly with the Marlins—a real surprise given their status as a non-competitive NL team—by posting a 5.23 ERA and 1.51 WHIP in the first half.
His K-rate was a meager 6.2 K/9 IP, and Vazquez looked like a pitcher nearing the end of his career. He turned it around in the second half, however, posting a 2.15 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and averaging exactly 9K/9 IP in 14 second-half starts.
After a strong finish and getting a year's worth of rest (assuming rest does not equal rust), Vazquez could return to his high-volume, high-production role, albeit with his usual inconsistencies and experience a renaissance a la Andy Pettitte.
His 2012 Season: N/A, did not play
History shows that where Vazquez ends up pitching will play an important factor in his output. In five American League seasons, he posted an ERA of 4.67 or higher four times (even though his FIP was a bit more respectable).
Both seasons with the Yankees ended in disaster. He has produced better in the NL: He came into his own with the Expos, had a career-year with the Braves, struggled early but then dominated with the Marlins and was decidedly mediocre with the Diamondbacks (a rarity for him).
If we assume he can only benefit from a year's rest, there is a lot to like. He's an innings eater who actually has a quality repertoire of pitches and carries a career 3.32 K/BB ratio.
If he's back in the NL, a No. 2 starter production is possible. If he's back in the AL, perhaps No. 3-4 starter production is a more reasonable expectation.
Also, the bigger the ballpark, the better for Vazquez, who has had his share of issues with giving up home runs.
Logical Suitors: Braves, Mets, Mariners, Rangers, Phillies, Royals
Who I Think Will Sign Him: Washington Nationals
Some teams have a much bigger need for Vazquez, but Vazquez has already mentioned Washington as a possible destination, and that would be a situation that could be conducive for him: pitching in a pitcher-friendly NL East division and pitching home games in Nationals Park, which appears to be a fairly neutral park for pitchers based on its data.
The Nats are already pretty stacked in their rotation, but adding Vazquez could allow them to either trade Ross Detwiler or give them an excellent long reliever/spot starter out of the bullpen, given Detwiler's inconsistencies in 2012.
Closer: Rafael Soriano
Rafael Soriano gets the nod over Brian Wilson as the best reliever still available, and as such, he earns the role of closer on this all free-agent roster.
Soriano opted out of the last year of his three-year contract with the Yankees, which, when signed, earned him an average of almost $12 million annually to be a setup man—a contract that exemplifies just how good Soriano was from 2006-2010, after spending the early part of his career battling various injuries and undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Soriano was one of the most dominant and effective relievers over the five year span from 2006-2010, first as a setup man, then as an elite closer for the Braves and Rays in 2009 and 2010, respectively.
After two incredibly successful seasons as a closer, first posting an eye-popping 12.1 K/9 IP with the Braves in 2009 and then racking up 45 saves (which led the league) with a miniscule ERA of 1.73 for the Rays in 2010, Soriano was one of the most sought after closing options two offseasons ago.
The Yankees, however, doled out more money than anyone else to put him in a setup role and make him the presumptive heir to Mariano Rivera.
Soriano struggled in 2011 under the pressure of playing in New York and in one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks in his first season, seeing his HR/FB percent and walk rate double from the previous year, despite putting together a nice run of appearances late in the season.
Soriano can miss bats with the best of them (a career 9.4 K/9 IP rate) and has some experience closing. He may never be the guy teams fully trust to be the long-term answer, but as of right now, he's shown the ability to be as effective as any reliever in the game when he's hitting his spots.
His 2012 Season: 69 G, 67.2 IP, 42 SV, 69 K, 24 BB, 2.26 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 2.6 WAR
All things considered—intangibles included—this may have been Soriano's career year or at least his most impressive season.
When Mariano was lost for the year in May, he was thrust into the closer's role, and at the time, he was not regarded very highly by most of the Yankee faithful.
While no man will ever fill Mo's shoes, Soriano stepped into the closer's role as if he was unintimidated by the task at hand and had his best season to date—at least according to WAR.
Soriano pitched like the Soriano of 2009-2010, increasing his strikeout rate, cutting back on walks and racking up saves with dominating performances. He pitched so well that he decided to opt out of the last year of his contract which would have paid him $14 million.
Perhaps both Soriano and his agent, Scott Boras, overestimated the market demand for the closer as he remains a free agent.
Although it will cost a team a draft pick to sign him, as the Yankees made him a qualifying offer, eventually an organization will give him the keys to the ninth inning.
First, however, it seems he will need to come down on his asking price. If and when he does, the 33-year-old Soriano should be expected to pitch as well as he did in 2012.
He won't be back with the Yankees, which means less pressure and pitching his home games in a more favorable park.
His K-rate should still hover around 9K/9 IP, while a drop in HR/FB percent, as a result of moving out of Yankee Stadium, could even point to a lower ERA if he can stay consistent, which can be an issue for him.
Logical Suitors: Cubs, Tigers, Mariners, Brewers
Who I Think Will Sign Him: Chicago White Sox
Though the Tigers and Soriano have been posturing and seemingly going back and forth for months now, it looks like they may not come to an agreement.
The White Sox haven't come up in rumors yet, but as the market dries up, they could emerge as a possible landing spot.
Addison Reed had a solid 2012 campaign, but he's not the second coming of Trevor Hoffman and could use some more seasoning as a setup man.
Soriano will have to come down on his demands at some point, and if he still wants to close, a two-year deal between the parties could make sense, as the Sox showed they were instant contenders under Robin Ventura.
Soriano would take a good bullpen, make it great and give them an edge over their division rival, the Tigers, who would be left unsettled at closer.
Setup Man: Brian Wilson
Brian Wilson may be the biggest name on this list in terms of celebrity. Wilson has recently become somewhat of a media sensation, showing up to the ESPYs in bizarre fashion, appearing in advertisements and becoming one of baseball's most recognizable players.
All that stuff is nice, but it doesn't get you a contract. Unfortunately for Wilson, he only made two appearances in 2012 before he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery and watch the Giants' second World Series run in three years from the clubhouse.
The Giants then non-tendered him this offseason, only willing to bring him back on an incentive-laden contract at a lower base salary. Wilson made no secret that he took offense to this, but he is still currently doing his rehab workouts under Giants' supervision, where he recently completed his long-toss program and will start throwing off a mound again.
It's hard to say where Wilson will be by the start of the season in terms of his rehab program, but we have a pretty good idea what to expect once he's back at 100 percent.
Wilson had a very good run as the Giants' closer for four years from 2008-2011. He went through the usual lumps of a first-year closer in 2008, but he had a sensational three-year peak from 2009-2011, where he averaged 40 saves per season, a 10.25 K/9 IP rate, a 2.74 K/BB ratio, while recording a 2.50 ERA and giving up less than 8.0 hits per 9 innings during that span.
His epoch came in 2010, when he racked up 48 saves and struck out 93 hitters in 74.2 innings with a 1.81 ERA in the regular season before a 10-game tour de force in the postseason, in which he didn't allow a single run in 11.2 innings while striking out 16, en route to leading the Giants to their first World Series championship in 58 years.
Wilson wasn't as dominant in 2011, but the fiery closer did what he does best: throw heat and rack up strikeouts while not allowing his troublesome walk rate for a closer become problematic.
He certainly benefits from playing in spacious AT&T Park, and his 1.47 WHIP in 2011 was a bit worrisome, but few people have the mentality so fitted for the stressful job of closer, and Wilson has it.
His intangibles backed by his production and his ability to not cave under pressure make him one of the best closers in the league when healthy.
His 2012 Season: 2 G, 2.0 IP, 1 SV, 2 K, 2 BB, 9.00 ERA, 3.00 BB
Not much to say here: Wilson made but two appearances before he went under the knife and spent the rest of the season as the team's biggest cheerleader while rehabbing his arm.
Wilson will soon be throwing off a mound, so it sounds as if he could be ready by Opening Day, but it may take him a bit later into the season to get back into a groove.
His 2010 campaign was a magical year, and the underlying numbers suggest he may have pitched a little over his head, aided by good luck and a beneficial pitcher's park, but his averages from 2009-2011 are still good enough to be a top 10 closer going forward.
Given that he'll need some time to build up his arm strength after a year of recovery, a duplication of his 2011 performance would be a good place to set the bar for his 2013 season.
Logical Suitors: Cubs, White Sox, Tigers, Blue Jays, A's
Who I Think Will Sign Him: San Francisco Giants
It's really hard to see Wilson's zany personality embraced as well as it has been in San Francisco, where he has achieved a cultish appeal.
There are some hurt feelings there, but the Giants have publicly stated they're open to bringing Wilson back, and after a decade in the organization, both parties should be able to come to an understanding that non-tendering him wasn't personal, just business.
Other teams could use a closer more than the Giants can, and I can't see Wilson comfortable as a setup man. But as good as the Giants' other options are, Wilson is better suited for a full-time closer's gig than anyone else currently on the roster.
The Giants proved they don't need him to win it all, but having him back certainly wouldn't hurt their chances of doing it again, especially after what he already accomplished for them in postseason play.
Reliever: Francisco Rodriguez
How the mighty have fallen—relievers are a fickle bunch, and K-Rod's 2012 season exemplifies that notion.
For seven seasons, K-Rod was one of the most dominant and exciting, but troublesome closers in baseball. First as an Angel, K-Rod had four straight seasons of 40-plus saves, a sub-3.00 ERA and a strikeout rate of more than 9K/9 IP.
His era of dominating the ninth inning in Los Angeles (of Anaheim) culminated in 2008 when he shattered the single-season save record with 62 saves.
The record was largely a symbolic accomplishment: 2008 wasn't even his best season, but it represented just how effective and reliable K-Rod had become despite his sometimes gimmicky persona.
K-Rod went into a slight regression after 2008. That will happen to you when you play for the Mets. His time in New York was marred by the perception that he was just compiling stats, and he wasn't as good as he was for the Angels once he got his big payday combined with some personal off-the-field issues.
K-Rod had an impressive 2010 season, evoking memories of his tenure with the Angels, but with him earning a short suspension and the team finishing under .500, his excellent on-the-field performance was overlooked.
K-Rod continued to pitch well in 2011, though his ERA and WHIP saw upticks, but he was eventually traded to the Brewers, where he would thrive in a setup role for close John Axford.
K-Rod has always been a bit polarizing. His antics on and off the field have earned some criticism, and some have been concerned that he was someone who wasn't as good as his impressive statistics indicated.
Finally, there was always a looming worry that K-Rod's spasmodic delivery and awkward mechanics would eventually result in his implosion (a la Dontrelle Willis), but despite those concerns, K-Rod always posted better than league-average numbers across the board.
His 2012 Season: 78 G, 72.0 IP, 72 K, 31 BB, 32 HLD, 3 SV, 4.38 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, -0.2 WAR
The 2012 season was by far K-Rod's worst statistical season in the majors. His 4.38 ERA was more than a half-run worse than his previous worst (3.71 in his first season with the Mets).
It's a little difficult to figure out what caused this statistical regression. The main culprit seems to be a drop in K-rate compacted by an increase in HR/FB percent.
Though K-Rod still struck out an impressive 9.0K/9 IP, it was a sharp drop from the 9.9 K/9 IP of a solid season a year ago and a far cry from the 10.5 K/9 IP of his magnificent 2010 campaign.
Less strikeouts means more balls put into play, and with K-Rod's BABIP of .294 identical to his 2010 BABIP, it ultimately meant more runners reaching base.
This problem was then conflated with a 12.3 HR/FB percent (as compared to 5.3 percent in 2010 and 6.5 percent in 2011), which resulted in more runners scoring on the eight home runs K-Rod surrendered in 2012 (as compared to allowing four in 2011 and three in 2010).
What caused these underlying numbers to regress? It could be age, wear-and-tear, the mechanics taking a toll on his body—it's hard to say.
His pitch velocity was in line with years past, but in the brief opportunity he was given to close games, he downright imploded. He did finish strong, however. In his final 15 appearances, he pitched 15.0 IP, allowing only two runs, seven hits, one walk and striking out 15.
It doesn't seem as if faith in K-Rod closing games will be instantly restored. Relievers' final season numbers can be skewed by one really bad streak of games, which K-Rod did suffer through last July.
He did struggle at times during the rest of the season, but if not for one very egregious month of play, K-Rod's numbers wouldn't have been too noticeably different from years past.
There's always the possibility of implosion given the risk factors, but his strong rebound back in the setup role bodes well for 2013.
He should likely go back to compiling impressive stat sheets as someone's setup man, with the opportunity to close if he can pitch well into the summer months.
Logical Suitors: White Sox, Indians, Royals, Marlins, Brewers
Who I Think Will Sign Him: Detroit Tigers
There hasn't been any documented interested in signing K-Rod this offseason. He has expressed an interest in returning to Milwaukee, but the team has yet to reciprocate.
One possibility is the Detroit Tigers, who will lose Jose Valverde without a set internal replacement. The Tigers have a deep bullpen with capable closers such as established veterans Octavio Dotel and Joaquin Benoit, lefty Phil Coke, strikeout machine Al Albuquerque and hot prospect Bruce Rondon.
However, none of them have full-time closing experience, except for Dotel in 2004 with the A's and 2010 with the Pirates, and he is pushing 40.
I don't know if K-Rod would be a bit redundant with Dotel and Benoit on the roster, but he would give them a reliever with extensive closing experience, and at age 31, he could still return to dominating form.
Reliever: Jose Valverde
Continuing the trend of experienced, high-upside closers who may be on the precipice of implosion is Jose Valverde.
Valverde, who will be 35 at the start of next season, has been a solid closer for a lot longer than most people realize.
In an era where closers are stripped of their title on almost a weekly basis, Valverde has recorded 25 or more saves in each of the last six seasons for three different teams.
His 277 career saves ranks him sixth amongst active players (one spot behind all free-agent team bullpen mate K-Rod), and he's a three-time All-Star who just two years ago went 49-for-49 in save opportunities—the second-most saves in a single season without a blown save.
So why is there very little reported interest in Valverde?
For one, it just goes to show how poorly indicative the save statistic is when it comes to overall on-the-field performance.
Valverde has posted some gaudy save totals over the years, but many of those saves were very tenuous, and Valverde was lucky to get out of some tight jams and cling to a lead.
Even in his MLB Delivery Man of the Year Award-winning 2008 season (yes, that is a real thing), only approximately one-quarter of his saves (14 of 49) were "clean" saves where he didn't allow a baserunner (via hit or walk).
Valverde also struggled in a number of games where he wasn't charged a blown save, because the game was tied when he entered or the Tigers were trailing by a run or two.
The point is, Valverde did have a great 2011 but also was very fortuitous. And the thing with luck is it usually runs out, which it did in 2012 for Valverde.
His 2012 Season: 71 G, 69.0 IP, 35 SV, 48 K, 27 BB, 3.78 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 0. 5 WAR
Valverde was still a pretty good pitcher in 2012, but it was a far cry statistically from 2011. Valverde's ERA of 3.78 was in line with his FIP in 2011 of 3.55 (despite a 2011 ERA of 2.24) and his 2012 BABIP of .263 was in line with his career BABIP of .264 (as opposed to his .247 BABIP in 2011).
Most concerning, Valverde's strikeout rate dropped drastically to 6.3 K/9 IP, by far a career low. This time around, he also got credited with five blown saves.
At the end of the day, though, Valverde's regular season would've still likely been good enough to keep his job as closer.
Unfortunately, for Valverde, he imploded for the second-straight postseason. After recording a save in his first playoff appearance in 2012, Valverde gave up an almost-inconceivable nine ER in 1.2 innings in the postseason, getting stripped of his job and becoming the target of internet memes in the process.
Valverde has an established history of being a good to very good closer, and his experience should go a long way.
That said, much of his success has been predicated on his ability to throw gas and strike out batters.
His velocity didn't drop off much in 2012, but the way his strike out rate plummeted has to concern GMs, given that we're dealing with a 35-year-old who doesn't exude ideal conditioning.
Valverde has always walked a few too many batters to be an "elite" closer—2011 not included—and after how terribly he looked in the postseason, he may no longer be looked at as a potential closer. Given his track record, a rebound is possible as a middle reliever (much closer to his 2012 regular season numbers than his 2011 mirage), but there is concern an implosion is looming.
Logical Suitors: Cubs, Brewers, Marlins, Yankees
Who I Think Will Sign Him: Pittsburgh Pirates
Valverde should come very cheap this offseason, which would put him in the Pirates' wheelhouse. The Pirates traded incumbent closer Joel Hanrahan to the Red Sox, leaving the experienced and well-traveled Jason Grilli to close.
Grilli had an exceptional 2012, but he has just five career saves. The Bucs got Mark Melancon back in the Hanrahan deal, but after his 2012, he isn't likely to be fully trusted either.
Valverde would give the bullpen some much-needed late-inning relief experience at a team-friendly price.
Reliever: Matt Lindstrom
I recently waxed poetic about Matt Lindstrom in a recent piece on players the Blue Jays should target to complete their offseason.
I'm going to echo the same sentiments just two weeks later as the off-the-radar, power-pitching Lindstrom remains a free agent. Here's what I said about Lindstrom recently:
Lindstrom's fastball sits around 96 mph, but he has been known to touch 100 mph on the gun occasionally. He possesses one of the biggest and best fastballs in the game that he often offsets with a big, breaking slider. Typical of most high-velocity relief types, he struggled most of the early part of his career with control and consistency. He pitched extremely well in middle relief his first two seasons before imploding in his first opportunity as a closer, posting a 5.89 ERA for the Marlins in 2009, thanks largely in part to a 4.56 BB/9 and 9.3% HR/FB rate.
Lindstrom has spent the last two years in a bit of anonymity, but has improved each year since his disappointing 2009 campaign. He spent 2011 with the Rockies and split 2012 between the Orioles and Diamondbacks (three teams that do not have pitcher-friendly confines), and despite the minimal fanfare, has seemingly fixed his flaws. Lindstrom posted a 2.33 BB/9 in 2011 and 2.67 BB/9 in 2012, he has cut his HR/FB rate nearly in half from 2009 and now has a groundball rate over 50 percent. His average fastball velocity still hovers around mid-90s. He's still the same power pitcher he was, but has seemed to improve his control.
His 2012 Season: 46 G, 47.0 IP, 5 HLD, 40 K, 14 BB, 2.68 ERA, 1.26 WHIP
On the surface, Lindstrom's 2012 was nice, but it was nothing to get excited about. He only threw 47 innings and had a solid but unspectacular strikeout rate of 7.7/9 IP, and with five holds and no saves, it indicates most of his work came in low-leverage situations (40 of his 46 appearance came in non-save situations).
Looking more closely, Lindstrom is now walking batters at a very acceptable rate of 2.67 BB/9 and still has an average fastball velocity of 95 MPH. Like most right-handed relievers, lefties hit a little better against him, but he still limited lefties to a .640 OPS (as opposed to an impressive .534 OPS against righties).
Perhaps most telling of his potential is Lindstrom's home/away splits from 2012. He pitched his home games at Camden Yards and Chase Field—the fifth and sixth most hitter-friendly parks based on MLB Park Factors in 2012—and in 23 appearances, he had 5.16 ERA and 1.68 WHIP.
However, in his 23 road appearances, Lindstrom had a miniscule 0.37 ERA and 0.86 WHIP. Lindstrom also finished strong: In his final 21 appearances in August and September, he posted a sterling 2.21 ERA with 19 K and 3 BB.
Lindstrom has pitched very well in low-leverage roles the last two years, but he's also improved as a pitcher in that time span. He's far removed from his implosion as a closer and could be given another shot to work his way into a late-inning role.
As a hard thrower, the strikeouts will always be there. He also seems to have put his control issues behind him. If he can handle the pressure now as a seasoned 33-year-old, we could see him extrapolate 2012's impressive stat sheet over a bigger, more relevant workload in 2013 and perhaps earn himself another chance as a closer.
Logical Suitors: Diamondbacks, Blue Jays, Mets, Marlins, Tigers
Who I Think Will Sign Him: Seattle Mariners
Lindstrom is a native Northwesterner, and although 29-year-old Tom Wilhelmsen was a revelation for the Mariners last year, they don't have much reliable depth behind him.
Stephen Pryor is an intriguing young power pitcher, but he may still be a few years away from being trusted as a late-inning reliever.
The Mariners also just tried included Pryor in a deal that Justin Upton nixed with his no-trade clause, so they may not view him as their closer of the future.
Lindstrom would give them some experience and a possible fall-back closing option if Wilhelmsen falters in 2013.
Reliever: Matt Capps
Matt Capps offers some variation on the high-risk, high-reward type relief pitchers previously mentioned.
Capps has never been an elite strikeout pitcher nor has he ever really had long streaks of dominating opposing hitters, but Capps has been getting the job done primarily as a closer for the last six seasons.
His career strikeout rate of 6.5 K/9 IP is mediocre at best for a late-inning reliever, but it has entered dangerously low territory the last two seasons, with a 4.7 K/9 IP in 2011 and a 5.5 K/9 IP last season.
On the bright side, Capps is incredibly stingy when it comes to allowing a free pass, giving up 1.7 BB/9 IP over the course of his career.
He usually has pinpoint location, which has helped keep his BABIP down the past two years (.263 in 2011, .247 in 2012), but when he misses, he is easy to tee off on—as seen by the 15 HR he's allowed in 85.0 innings since 2011.
Capps is the type of pitcher who will always rely on a good defense to turn balls put into play into outs. Not surprisingly, his ERA is usually a half-run (or more) lower than his fielding independent ERA.
The key for him is to keep hitters off balance and not let them make solid contact. His ground-ball rate has dropped to around 41 percent, which isn't a positive trend when you allow a home run on 13.2 percent of fly balls (as Capps did in 2012).
Capps had a brilliant 2010 season split between Minnesota and Washington, despite being unlucky (with a BABIP of .309 that year), because he managed 7.3 K/9 IP and a 8.7 percent HR/FB.
Capps is a finesse pitcher by nature, but he's most effective when he gets a bit aggressive. He does have an average velocity around 93 MPH on a fastball, after all.
His 2012 Season: 30 G, 29.1 IP, 14 SV, 18 K, 4 BB, 3.68 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 0.2 WAR
Capps missed almost all of the second half of last season with inflammation in his rotator cuff, but he was healthy enough to return for one appearance in late September. Despite half the workload, all of his numbers were right around a typical season for Capps.
He had an ERA in the mid-3.00s, a low WHIP and walk rate but allowed too many home runs and hits per inning. Glen Perkins may have soon replaced him as closer even if Capps had remained healthy.
He pitched well enough to close for a last place team, but when you give up twice as many hits and walks (10.91 baserunners per 9 IP) as you do striking out hitters (5.5 strikeouts per 9 IP), closing out games can become risky business. In Capps' defense, he still recorded 14 saves in 15 opportunities.
Capps came off the DL in time to make one last appearance in September, but not in time to give teams a good idea of whether he fully recovered from his rotator cuff inflammation.
The fact that he was even able to return at any point bodes well for his health. Capps is still only 29 years old and has been a pretty reliable reliever for seven seasons.
Interest in Capps has been tepid since the Twins declined his option, but he would be a good fit as a seventh or eighth inning man for a lot of teams.
How he projects for next year depends on a number of factors: whether there are no lingering effects from his injury, where he pitches his home games (the bigger the ballpark, the better), whether he can get his strikeout rate up a bit and whether his low BABIP in recent years is sustainable.
Logical Suitors: Royals, Blue Jays, Pirates, Rays, Orioles
Who I Think Will Sign Him: Milwaukee Brewers
John Axford still deserves to be considered in the league's top half of closers, but the Brewers could surely use another realistic closing option waiting in the wings if Axford goes through another period of prolonged struggling as he did last season.
Right now, Burke Badenhop is the next man on the depth chart. Capps would give them a nice change-of-pace reliever who could fill a late-inning void and step up into the closing role if needed.
He has NL Central experience, posting a 3.61 ERA in 271.2 innings with the Pirates from 2005-2009.
Long Reliever: Carlos Zambrano
Last but not least, the incomparable Carlos Zambrano rounds out the all free-agent roster as the long reliever.
It may be a stretch listing Big Z as a long reliever, as he was a starter for nearly a decade before being demoted to the bullpen in the second half of last season, but I thought it was important to include him.
After being one of the most controversial and polarizing players, Zambrano went into the offseason quietly and with far less media attention than to which we've been accustomed.
Zambrano has struggled to pitch well the last two seasons, but at age 31 and after years of top-of-the-rotation caliber pitching, there's still a very good chance Big Z can be an impact pitcher going forward.
Don't let the fact that Zambrano was moved to the bullpen late last season make you lose all hope in him.
Like many of the Marlins' moves in the last calendar year, it really didn't make much sense. There has never really been any issue about Zambrano's durability or his ability to work deep into games, and he wasn't pitching terribly before the move to the pen.
In 20 starts he had a 4.54 ERA and 1.45 WHIP, but Zambrano held opposing hitters to an OPS-plus of 96—slightly better than the adjusted league average of 100.
Zambrano's big problem was his walk rate. Big Z has always had questionable control, but his 5.24 BB/9 IP as a starter last season was simply intolerable.
Zambrano's strikeout rate and velocity has tailed off a bit in recent years, and though it's not unreasonable to suggest that he peaked in his mid-to-late 20s, he's still shown enough to warrant a rotation spot somewhere.
His 2012 Season: 35 G, 20 GS, 132.1 IP, 4.49 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 95 K, 75 BB, 0.2 WAR
As mentioned, Zambrano's unacceptable walk rate and mid-summer implosion (7.23 ERA, 1.90 WHIP in June; 5.67 ERA, 1.78 WHIP in July) did him in.
Rather than let the veteran work it out, they moved him to the bullpen where it was much of the same: 15 appearances, 17 innings, 12 strikeouts, four walks and a 4.15 ERA.
Big Z used his sinker 43 percent of the time (up from 28.9 percent in 2011), but according to Pitch f/x, it was below league-average in effectiveness.
His average fastball velocity also dipped below 90 MPH (89.0) for the first time. Perhaps it's Zambrano wearing down after a decade of pitching or perhaps it was the ill effects of pitching in a toxic situation, but 2012 was a very disappointing year for Zambrano, even after what seemed like a much-needed change of scenery.
It's hard to make any kind of prediction about what to expect from Zambrano. We don't know who is targeting him, whether it'll be as a starter or reliever, or which extreme—good or bad—we'll get from him.
The numbers are trending downward after two below-average seasons, but there's still a strong track record working in his favor.
Teams will still likely view him as a starter, and the key will be throwing more fastballs and cutting down on his walk rate. If he can do that, we may never see the Zambrano of old again, but he could improve on his numbers of the last two years in the right situation.
Logical Suitors: White Sox, Indians, Brewers, Padres, Phillies
Who I Think Will Sign Him: Texas Rangers
Maybe it's too late to adjust Zambrano's demeanor, but if there is one guy who could put him in place, it's Nolan Ryan.
Zambrano isn't the same workhorse he was in the past, but he would be given the opportunity to go out there and pitch as many innings as his arm (or walk rate) could tolerate and work out his pitching problems.
The Rangers have done a good job turning Derek Holland—a similar pitcher in some ways—into a very good, albeit inconsistent starter.
The Rangers could get a lot of bang for their buck out of a one-year, incentive-based deal for Zambrano.
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