Big MLB Names Who Still Won't Have a Home When Spring Training Begins
With approximately four weeks remaining until MLB teams report to spring training, there are a surprising number of familiar names still available on the free-agent market.
Some of these players have had impressive seasons in the majors, both in the regular season and postseason, and could surely make meaningful contributions to any clubs that signed them to contracts.
However, with many MLB clubs looking to save money where they can or determine whether younger players can make impacts, veteran players who have had previous success are still looking for employment and could still be waiting once spring training begins.
Obviously, outfielder Michael Bourn and starting pitcher Kyle Lohse are big-name free agents still looking to sign with teams. But players of their caliber will likely get contracts from someone before spring training begins—especially since their asking prices will surely come down.
But who are some recognizable names that could still be working out on their own and frequently checking in with their agents once camps open in Florida and Arizona? Here are some players that might be waiting well into March before finding employment.
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Though it may have appeared otherwise earlier in the offseason, closers are in as much demand as they've ever been.
Rafael Soriano just signed a two-year, $28 million deal with the Washington Nationals. Brandon League received a three-year, $22.5 million contract from the Los Angeles Dodgers. Jonathan Broxton inked a three-year, $21 million agreement with the Cincinnati Reds.
Yet a closer with 277 career saves, a 3.11 ERA and a strikeout rate of nearly 10 batters per nine innings is still looking for a job as spring training is a month away.
However, Jose Valverde looked like a pitcher who was either hiding an injury or whose career might be finished during last year's playoffs.
One year removed from a so-called perfect season of 49 saves in 49 opportunities, the Detroit Tigers couldn't bury him low enough on the depth chart during the postseason. Valverde allowed nine runs in less than three innings of work as the Tigers advanced to the World Series.
General manager Dave Dombrowski could barely wait for the season to be over before announcing that the Tigers would not bring Valverde back. Thus far into the offseason, no other team has shown any interest in signing him, either.
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If Brian Wilson was willing to sign a minor league deal, with the incentive of earning a major league contract if he makes a team out of spring training, he would probably be with an MLB team right now.
Under those circumstances, the San Francisco Giants would likely have brought Wilson back after not tendering him a contract for 2013. The New York Mets, according to ESPN New York's Adam Rubin, would also prefer to sign Wilson to a minor league contract.
But Wilson isn't going for that—at least not yet. He's still mad that the Giants cut him loose. But San Francisco had no interest in paying Wilson at least $6.8 million, which is what he would've been entitled to under the current collective bargaining agreement.
Wilson is coming off the second Tommy John surgery of his career. Teams are willing to take a chance on a player who's undergone one reconstructive procedure because the success rate has been so high. But an elbow that's been blown out twice is a different story.
According to the New York Post's Mike Puma, the Mets didn't think Wilson looked ready for spring training after watching him throw. Perhaps he can change that perception in a few weeks. But Wilson will obviously have to improve and find a team with a glaring need in its bullpen.
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Some might snicker at classifying Delmon Young as a "big name."
But if the postseason is MLB's biggest stage, Young has looked like a star when the most fans have been watching. In last year's playoffs, Young hit .313 with a .907 OPS, three home runs and nine RBI.
During the regular season, however, Young hasn't been as impressive. In 608 plate appearances for the Tigers, Young hit .267 with a .707 OPS, 18 home runs and 74 RBI.
But there might be a larger market for Young's services if he wasn't viewed as a defensive liability. According to FanGraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating, Young cost Detroit four more runs than the average left fielder would have on defense last year.
That essentially cuts Young's market in half, as National League teams are unlikely to put him in their outfield unless they are absolutely starved for some offense from a right-handed bat. It should be noted that two such teams, the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves, had no interest in Young.
Young apparently has no interest in being a platoon player, but he might have to accept such a role if he wants to land with an MLB team this season.
Can Daisuke Matsuzaka ever be the same pitcher that compiled an 18-3 record and 2.90 ERA for the Boston Red Sox in 2008?
Matsuzaka hasn't put up numbers anywhere close to that during the last four seasons, though suffering an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery in 2011 played a significant role in that performance.
Last year with the Red Sox, Matsuzaka posted a 1-8 record and 8.28 ERA in 11 starts. As a result, Boston did not tender him a contract after the season. Considering that the Red Sox need starting pitching, that's certainly notable.
But there is interest in Matsuzaka throughout MLB, which could indicate that he may sign a contract before teams report for spring training in a month.
According to NESN's Ricky Doyle, at least three teams have shown interest in signing Matsuzaka to a minor league deal. Those clubs are the New York Mets, Miami Marlins and Cleveland Indians. Bill Center of the San Diego Union-Tribune has reported that Matsuzaka's first preference is to sign with the San Diego Padres, likely because of Petco Park's pitcher-friendly dimensions.
However, if getting a major league contract is important to Matsuzaka, he could still be waiting for a job when spring training begins.
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Perhaps the biggest difference between this current offseason and last year's winter market is the demand for second basemen who could provide some offense.
A year ago, a player like Kelly Johnson—capable of popping 20 home runs—drew interest at a position that doesn't provide much offense. But now, just about every MLB team seems content with their situation at second base.
Johnson hit 18 home runs with 14 stolen bases for the Toronto Blue Jays last season. While several teams might be interested in that kind of power and speed, Johnson's .225 batting average and .678 OPS is a concern.
Additionally, Johnson isn't a strong defender at second base. According to FanGraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating, Johnson allowed nearly seven runs more than an average defender at second base would have last season. Most teams want much better defense than that from the middle infield.
Johnson will surely find a club at some point who wants to bring him in to provide infield depth. But if he's looking for a starting job or a major league contract, Johnson could have to wait until teams decide whether or not they like their situations at second base.
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