MLB Free Agency: Best Player Left at Each Position After Adam LaRoche's Deal
Mike Stobe/Getty Images
The free-agent market lost another big name recently with first baseman Adam LaRoche returning to the Washington Nationals, but there are still a few stars available.
LaRoche had a great season with the Nationals in 2012, helping them get to the postseason for the first time ever. He couldn’t obtain a three-year contract like he had hoped, but decided that two more years in Washington was good enough for him. And there’s a mutual option for 2015 for him, should he continue to play well.
LaRoche was one of the top players available this offseason and his signing sets the stage for many more free agents to sign contracts. There isn’t nearly as much depth as there was at the beginning of the free agency period, but plenty of impact players are left.
With LaRoche off the market, let’s take a look at the best remaining free agent at each position.
Kyle Lohse, Starting Pitcher
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Lohse was one of the best pitchers in the majors last season, going 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA for the St. Louis Cardinals. It was the second consecutive season where he posted a sub-4.00 ERA and won at least 14 games.
Lohse declined a qualifying offer from the Cardinals after the season ended, a move he definitely regrets now. As of January 4, Lohse hadn’t received one offer, according to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Lohse shouldn’t be sweating just yet as there’s plenty of time to sign a deal, but he may have to start calling teams instead of waiting for them to call him.
Rafael Soriano, Relief Pitcher
Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports
With Mariano Rivera expected to be ready for Opening Day, the New York Yankees have their Hall of Fame closer back. That means that Rafael Soriano will not be returning next season after doing a stellar job in 2012.
Soriano was also one to decline a qualifying offer and is still without a job. ESPN’s Buster Olney reports that the Los Angeles Dodgers have interest in the right-hander, despite signing several relievers this offseason.
The problem with Soriano is that the team that signs him will have to cough up a draft pick, which clearly is more valuable that Soriano originally thought. Soriano also wants a closing job and will expect a large sum of money to sign any deal. It may be a while until he puts ink on a piece of paper.
Miguel Olivo, Catcher
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
The market for catchers is extremely weak and Miguel Olivo is the best of several bad options. Olivo batted .222/.239/.381 with 12 home runs and 29 RBI in 87 games with the Seattle Mariners in 2012.
Olivo is not a starter and is a very average backup. The last we heard of a team being interested in him was over a month ago, when Adam Rubin of ESPN New York reported that the New York Mets could want to sign him.
Olivo has played significantly worse since coming back to the American League after spending 2010 with the Colorado Rockies. Maybe jumping back to the National League would benefit the backstop, although he might not have much of a choice as to where he plays in 2013.
Carlos Lee, First Baseman
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Carlos Lee has always been picky about where he plays, but it’s no time to be picky now. Lee hasn’t been productive at all in a very long time and his future doesn’t look too bright. He posted a 0.3 WAR between the Houston Astros and Miami Marlins last season.
What we do know about Lee is that he won’t be returning to the Marlins in 2013, as MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro reports that Miami has no interest in bringing him back.
Best-case scenario for Lee next season is probably being the first bat off the bench for a National League team. His other best-case scenario would be securing a designated hitter’s role with an American League team, but that seems like more of a longshot.
Kelly Johnson, Second Baseman
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kelly Johnson is not going to be a star second baseman, but he is still capable of starting and playing a role on a contending team. He didn’t post a very high WAR for the Toronto Blue Jays last season, but at least it was positive.
Toward the end of October, MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm reported that Johnson wasn’t likely to get a contract offer from the Blue Jays, and he’s been right so far. Johnson hasn’t received any other offers, or if he has, he’s keeping it a secret and not signing it.
Johnson’s main struggle is his hitting. He doesn’t hit very consistently and strikes out about once every four plate appearances. 2012 could have been a fluke season since he had successful seasons the two previous years, but it could also be the start of a major decline in his career.
Alex Gonzalez, Shortstop
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Alex Gonzalez caught a tough break in 2012 with the Milwaukee Brewers, tearing his ACL early in the year and missing the remainder of the season. Gonzalez didn’t get enough plate appearances for his vesting option for 2013 to kick in.
In late November, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported that the Boston Red Sox had checked in on Gonzalez, but they ended up signing Stephen Drew to play shortstop instead. It hasn’t been reported that there is any interest from any other teams in Gonzalez.
Gonzalez did play decently the previous season with the Atlanta Braves, as well as the previous season with Atlanta and the Toronto Blue Jays. It’s questionable as to how he’ll return after missing nearly all of last season. He’ll most likely end up as a backup infielder by the time spring training starts.
Brandon Inge, Third Baseman
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Brandon Inge isn’t going to do much for anyone at the plate, but what he lacks offensively, he makes up defensively. Inge is one of the top defensive third baseman in baseball, and led all players covering the hot corner with at least 600 innings in UZR/150 last season.
The most recent news surrounding Inge’s free-agent status was reported by Darren Wolfson of ESPN 1500, who said that the Minnesota Twins had interest in him. ESPN’s Jayson Stark reported in mid-December that the Miami Marlins had shown interest, but they ended up signing Placido Polanco.
It’s doubtful that Inge would be able to land a starting job this late in the offseason, but he is still a very valuable glove off the bench. As late-game replacement is more likely to be the role that Inge signs on to play next season.
Scott Hairston, Left Fielder
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Scott Hairston had one of the best seasons of his career with the New York Mets last year, hitting .263/.299/.504 with 20 home runs and 57 RBI in 134 games. He can play any of the outfield positions and maybe even a little second base if he has to.
The Mets have thought about bringing Hairston back, but see him as a fallback option, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reports that the Philadelphia Phillies could end up being a landing spot for the outfielder.
Hairston is one of the few valuable outfielders left on the market and would be a great addition to nearly every team. If he’s not going to be starter, he’s a great guy to have off the bench as a pinch-hitter, pinch-runner or defensive replacement.
Michael Bourn, Center Fielder
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
Michael Bourn is easily the top remaining free agent and, like a couple of other players on this list, the fact he declined a qualifying offer could be hurting his chances of signing a big deal. Bourn is the best defensive outfielder in baseball and is also a threat at the plate and on the basepaths.
The Texas Rangers are one team that hasn’t ruled out taking a chance on the speedy outfielder, according to T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com. A return to the Atlanta Braves isn’t out of the question and the Seattle Mariners also seem like a good fit for Bourn.
If the lack of interest—or legitimate contract offers—in Bourn continues, he may be better off accepting a one-year deal to play for a contending team and then reentering the market next offseason. He could always sign an extension with the team or test the waters once again.
Nyjer Morgan, Right Fielder
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
After a relatively successful first season with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2011, Nyjer Morgan was a bit of a disappointment last season. He’s an average outfielder, but not much of an offensive weapon. He’s no longer a threat on the bases like he once was and is now more of a fourth outfielder.
Morgan elected free agency at the end of the season and we haven’t heard much about him since. That is, baseball-related news. We have heard from Morgan on Twitter, where he recently confessed to cheating on his girlfriend, which you can read up on courtesy of Bleacher Report Pop Culture Lead Writer Gabe Zaldivar.
I don’t think that Morgan’s confession is going to affect his chances of making a Major League roster this spring, but hey, who really knows with him these days.
Luke Scott, Designated Hitter
USA TODAY Sports
There aren’t many designated hitters available this offseason, but Luke Scott is one that is worth giving a contract to. Scott hasn’t been very productive the past two seasons, but he does have the ability to slug at least 20 home runs given the right number of plate appearances.
Scott hasn’t drawn much interest his offseason at all. ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports that even the Houston Astros are one of the teams that don’t have interest in signing Scott, and I’m sure many others don't either, otherwise he’d have a contract right now.
Although Scott has been on a bit of a downward spiral recently, he’s a little more valuable than other designated hitters because he can still play the field. Scott can be used as a corner outfielder or a first baseman, making him a prime candidate for a National League team needing depth on its bench.