Updated Stock Watch for Upcoming MLB Free Agents, Week 23
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport
With less than a month to go in the regular season, free agents-to-be are running out of time to leave a lasting impression on potential suitors. Some of the bigger names, including Robinson Cano, have remained near the top of the free-agent market with steady performance while several others have risen and fallen from month-to-month.
Players who have disappointed up to this point can still boost their stock by having a big month in September. On the flip side, those who have been terrific for most of the season could see their value fall substantially with a poor finish.
Here are 10 players who have gone in all different directions throughout the season, but find themselves in a similar position with a few weeks to go. Their value could rise or fall significantly based on their end-of-season performance.
Bronson Arroyo, SP, Cincinnati Reds
At age 36, with a pedestrian fastball that averages 87 miles per hour, according to FanGraphs, Bronson Arroyo isn't going to be the first pitcher who comes to mind when pondering which free-agent starter your favorite team should sign.
But the track record speaks for itself. In 10 full seasons as a big league starter, Arroyo has a 4.08 ERA and a 61 percent quality start (at least six IP, no more than three ER) rate. He's also one of the most durable pitchers in baseball. He's NEVER been on the disabled list, which has to be one of the most amazing feats of this era.
Just because he's getting it done by keeping hitters off balance with an array of off-speed pitches doesn't mean he's not a valuable starting pitcher. And he appears to be getting better, as evidenced by a 3.62 ERA and a career-high 71 percent quality start rate. But how much is he worth for his age 37, 38 and possibly 39 seasons?
Arroyo's margin for error is minimal, yet he's only allowed more than seven hits in eight of his 28 starts this season. But every once in awhile, he won't have his best command, and he'll get knocked around as has happened just a few times this season.
As long as he can avoid having a couple of those in September, it's almost a guarantee that a few teams would be willing to give him three years in the $10 million-per-season range.
Scott Baker, SP, Chicago Cubs
Scheduled to make his first start of the 2013 season on Sunday, according to Bruce Levine and Jesse Rogers of ESPNChicago.com, it's a case of "better late than never" for Cubs pitcher Scott Baker.
He's not exactly the kind of pitcher who could maintain a strong value after missing two seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery, so it should benefit him to pitch in major league games before he becomes a free agent after the season.
A very serviceable starting pitcher for the Minnesota Twins from 2005-2011 (4.15 ERA in 958 IP), Baker was expected to return early in the 2013 season, prompting the Cubs to sign the 31-year-old to a one-year, $5.5 million deal.
But multiple setbacks have pushed back his season debut, and now, he'll only have a few starts to prove he can still be the guy who posted a 3.14 ERA with a 2.1 BB/9 and 8.2 K/9 in 134.2 innings back in 2011.
As long as looks healthy, he'll draw plenty of interest. But if he has three or four really good starts in September, he should do better than the incentive-based, low salary deal he's likely to get otherwise.
Marlon Byrd, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
If you thought Marlon Byrd's terrific first half (.818 OPS, 15 HR) seemed a bit fluky, you're not alone. After all, he had appeared to reach the end of the line in 2012 when he posted a .488 OPS in 47 games between the Cubs and Red Sox before getting hit with a 50-game suspension for a positive P.E.D. test. He was 34 years old at the time.
A little over a year later, the now 36-year-old Byrd continues to build on his best season as a pro (.934 OPS in second half). While his performance will still have teams scratching their heads, he's likely to get paid in the offseason—expect a one- or two-year deal in the $8 million-per-season range—unless he completely tanks over the last few weeks of the regular season and in the post-season.
Stephen Drew, SS, Boston Red Sox
If Stephen Drew didn't have a hold of the top spot on the upcoming free-agent market for shortstops already, Jhonny Peralta's 50-game suspension made sure he did. Since, the 30-year-old is putting an exclamation point on his return to a position to land a big-money, long-term deal in free agency.
Prior to a devastating ankle injury in mid-2011, Drew was on pace to earn that big contract last offseason. But a lack of production upon his return in late June 2012 limited him to a one-year deal—he signed with the Red Sox for $9.5 million. He's made the most of his chance to rebuild his value before entering free agency again this winter.
Since a slow start to the season (.517 OPS in April), Drew has an .816 OPS with 12 homers and 23 doubles in 91 games. At the least, he's in line for a three-year, $36 million deal. A strong finish to the regular season, followed by an impactful postseason performance could propel him into the four-year, $60 million range.
Roy Halladay, SP, Philadelphia Phillies
Back when Roy Halladay was placed on the disabled list with a possible season-ending elbow injury in early May, there was question as to whether the two-time Cy Young award winner's career had come to an end. But he made it back less than four months later and now he's auditioning for teams prior to what will be the first time in his career that he's a free agent seeking a job.
The 36-year-old has pitched well in two of three starts since his return (12 IP, 3 ER, 7 H), although the seven walks and seven strikeouts in those two games won't convince any team that he's still capable of being a reliable top-of-the-rotation starter. He'll likely have another four starts, however, to prove that anything more than a one-year, incentive-based deal isn't a huge risk.
Phil Hughes, SP/RP, New York Yankees
Phil Hughes' last chance to prove to teams that he can string together four or five quality starts before the start of free agency came to an end when manager Joe Girardi removed him from the starting rotation earlier in the week.
As it stands, the 27-year-old is likely viewed as a talented, yet inconsistent, pitcher who'd probably be worth a one-year deal in the $4-6 million range.
But if he can take full advantage of his move to the bullpen—he tossed 1.1 innings of scoreless relief on Monday—maybe a team will be convinced that he's best used in a setup role as he was in 2009 when he posted a 1.40 ERA with 65 strikeouts and only 31 hits and 13 walks allowed in 51.1 innings pitched.
For the kind of production—a two-year deal in the $10-12 million range—the Cubs gave versatile pitcher Carlos Villanueva two years and $10 million last offseason—which might be more realistic.
Tim Lincecum, SP, San Francisco Giants
Tim Lincecum is no longer the dominant pitcher he was from 2008-2011. Let's get that out of the way. If he was, he could be in line for a mega-deal in the eight-year, $200 million range. He's still a very good pitcher, though, and will be just 29 years of age at the start of the 2014 season.
As of late May, however, there was a huge risk in offering him a multi-year deal of any kind. Through 11 starts, he might've been the most inconsistent pitcher in the game, allowing at least five earned runs five times and holding opponents to two earned runs or less four times.
But the poor starts have been few and far between since the start of June, and his value has increased significantly with each string of strong starts he's made. In his last 17 starts, he's allowed more than four earned runs just four times. He has a 4.11 ERA over that span with 38 walks and 104 strikeouts in 105 innings.
Given his age, recent success and amazing resume, he has to be in line to surpass Edwin Jackson's four-year, $52 million deal of last offseason. But considering the disastrous year-and-a-half leading up to his current run, there's still a chance his value can drop quite a lot if he finishes poorly.
Michael Morse, 1B/OF, Baltimore Orioles
If Michael Morse was going to have one 30-homer season during his career, it came three years too soon.
Had he reached free agency following the 2011 season when he finished with 31 homers and 95 runs batted in for the Nationals, he would've been in line for a deal in the four-year, $52 million range. But he'll reach free agency following a 2013 season in which he has a .690 OPS with just 13 homers.
The only way the 31-year-old can revive his value from the dead is to finish the season as he's started. Through April 11th, Morse had six homers and nine runs batted in in nine games. If he has another one of those in him, sometime in September would be the time to do it. It could push him back into a position to receive a multi-year deal in the $6-8 million-per-season range.
Dioner Navarro, C, Chicago Cubs
The Cubs' signing of catcher Dioner Navarro to a one-year, $1.75 million deal this past offseason came as a bit of a surprise, considering he only had a small sample of success in 2012 (.755 OPS, 2 HR in 24 games with the Reds) and, prior to that, hadn't been a productive major leaguer since 2008.
So how much will he get now that he's put up even better numbers on more than three times the number of games (.884 OPS, 12 HR in 75 games)? And with four consecutive multi-hit games, including a three-run homer in his last start, the 29-year-old doesn't appear to be slowing down.
Figure in that he's also a pretty good defender—he's thrown out 24% of attempted base stealers in 2013—and the fact that he's still relatively young (he'll be 30 next season), and the bidding could start at two years and $6 million per season.
Ervin Santana, SP, Kansas City Royals
After another strong start on July 6, Kansas City Royals pitcher Ervin Santana's ERA sat at 2.90. He had pitched at least six innings in all 17 starts. Thirteen of those were quality starts. The 30-year-old was quietly beginning to emerge as the top free agent pitcher on the offseason market.
While he hasn't fallen far in the pecking order of available starting pitchers, his price tag has very likely dropped some since that early July start . In his last 11 starts since, Santana has gotten knocked around in three of them.
His overall season has still been terrific, but there is a possibility he leaves a ton of money on the table if he has a couple more poor starts before season's end. On the other hand, if he finishes with four more really good starts, he jumps, from a likely four-year, $60 million deal to five years and $90 million.