Although spring training is just under way, there are still a number of quality free agents available who could have a big impact with a team.
The latest news yesterday was the huge contract that Michael Bourn signed with the Cleveland Indians. Bourn is one of the most dangerous leadoff hitters in baseball, and in spite of a relatively down year for him, he still hit .274 with 42 stolen bases. Bourn was perhaps the top free agent still available, and his signature arguably turns the Indians into serious contenders for their division.
Even with the signing of Bourn, there are many talented players still unsigned, primarily with pitching.
Here are the latest talks on a few of the top players:
Lohse had an incredible 2012 season with the St. Louis Cardinals, going 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA, 109 WHIP and 211.0 innings pitched.
Lohse turned down the Cardinals’ qualifying offer of $13.3 million to become a free agent.
However, as recently as early January, Lohse had not received a single offer from a team. But he is still far and away the best free agent available, and one of the top pitchers in this league.
The lack of an offer is, in large part, because a team that signs him would lose a valuable first-round draft pick to the Cardinals. Lohse is in amazing form, but at 34 he cannot be expected to pitch this well for much longer. He is also a Scott Boras client and he will want Lohse to command top-dollar.
One team that remains an option is the division rival Milwaukee Brewers. GM Doug Melvin stated recently that there is a chance the Brewers could pursue Lohse, and the loss of their first-round pick (No. 17) is not as big a deal for them as it is for other teams.
The most intriguing destination is the Washington Nationals.
But if found guilty, he could face a 50-game suspension, and the Nationals would need to quickly replace their ace and the player who finished third in the Cy Young voting.
The Nationals were linked to Lohse soon after the recent allegations. Even more, the team already forfeited its first-round pick to sign Rafael Soriano. They are already serious contenders, and the addition of Lohse would only add to that recognition.
But nothing will happen with the Nationals until the allegations with Gonzalez get resolved.
As it stands, the first-round compensation is the biggest obstacle for Lohse, much like it was with Bourn.
The Nationals and Brewers seem the most likely landing spots, but a team could certainly swoop in unexpectedly and sign him, just as the Indians did with Bourn.
The normally dependable Valverde, who will turn 35 this season, finished 2012 with 35 saves and a 3.78 ERA for the Detroit Tigers.
Valverde had a solid year on paper but completely imploded during the playoffs and was eventually replaced as the closer by Phil Coke. He is seen as a player on the decline.
However, according to Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald, the report was shot down by the Marlins. The Marlins would be wise not to sign Valverde, as they are rebuilding and also have a good closer in Steve Cishek, who had 15 saves, a 2.69 ERA and 68 strikeouts in 63.2 innings.
The false rumor, according to Spencer, was actually agent Scott Boras garnering attention for Valverde and trying to create a market that isn’t there. Boras rarely has done business with the Marlins.
The most likely option for him is the New York Mets.
If signed, Valverde would likely replace Frank Francisco as the closer, who struggled all last season with injuries and inconsistency.
Valverde is also on their radar, according to Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com. He reports that a deal with the Mets would likely be similar to the one they gave Shaun Marcum this offseason, which was a one-year deal worth $4 million plus incentives. According to Spencer’s Miami Herald article, Boras is demanding about $4 million to $7 million for Valverde.
Valverde has not played himself into an enviable role, as he pitched terribly down the stretch last season. Although the Marlins rumors seem to be very false, Valverde does appear to have a good shot at being signed by the Mets.
They could very much use the bullpen help, but it is worth noting that the Mets rumor was published before the recent signing of Brandon Lyon.
Rodriguez, who turned 31 in January, had a somewhat down year.
He finished 2012 with a 4.38 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 72.0 innings with the Milwaukee Brewers. But Rodriguez also recorded 31 walks and only three saves in 10 save opportunities.
His final record was 2-7.
The market for Rodriguez has also been quiet due to a domestic abuse charge filed by his girlfriend in early November.
It is his second domestic violence arrest, but in this case no one appeared to testify against him, the charges were eventually dropped, and the girlfriend admitted Rodriguez did not cause the injuries.
Despite the dropped charges, Rodriguez has not been too hotly pursued.
Almost a month ago, a rumor went around that the Toronto Blue Jays were seeking a late-inning reliever and Rodriguez’s name was included. Jon Heyman of CBSSports Tweeted of the Blue Jays’ interest. The New York Mets are rumored to be interested in a potential reunion. Rodriguez had a successful two-plus seasons with the Mets before being traded, but Valverde seems the more serious candidate for the Mets.
K-Rod is also another Scott Boras client, and Boras will try to command as much money as possible.
The Mets have signed a flurry of cheap, low-risk relievers recently. Right now the market is quiet for K-Rod, but the Mets seem the most viable option of any teams.