Hank Blalock: Free Agent at the End of the Season
If I could sum up Hank Blalock's career in a word, there's no doubt that I'd choose "disappointing."
It's disappointing to see a player of Blalock's ability fail to live up to his potential (in large part because of injuries).
You have to remember just how great Blalock's first two seasons were with the Rangers; he tore the cover off of the ball, looked like a guy who could hit 40-plus home runs a year, and become the Rangers' third baseman for at least the next decade.
But then, for some unexplained reason, Blalock's numbers began to decline. Sure, his numbers in 2005 and 2006 were still good, but Blalock went from being an elite offensive third baseman to simply being above average.
And then, the injuries hit.
Blalock failed to play in more than 65 games in each of the next two seasons, and before you know it, Blalock was labeled as injury prone. It's a label that Blalock is still trying to shed today, as he attempts to reestablish himself as a consistent presence at the plate.
What exactly could Blalock be worth on the open market? Let's take a look:
The Case for Blalock
Power: There are a lot of question marks surrounding Blalock these days, but his ability to hit for power is not one of them. In 407 at-bats this season, Blalock already has 23 home runs to go along with 18 doubles.
Defense: For years, Blalock has been ranked by fangraphs as one of the worst defensive third basemen in baseball. Not much appeared to change last season when Blalock moved over to first base, but this season he's been a revelation defensively.
Blalock's UZR/150 this season is a stunning 7.3, which would make him one of the better defensive first basemen in baseball. But is he a true everyday first baseman? He's only played first base in 53 games this season...
The Case against Blalock
Average: The most concerning part about Blalock's struggle this season has been the massive drop in batting average. Blalock went from hitting .291 last season against RHP to hitting .239 against RHP this season.
In addition, in recent seasons Blalock has hit for a respectable average against left handed pitching (.270/.290), but this year, the average has bottomed out to .229.
Those are not good signs.
Decline: Make no mistake about it, even though Hank Blalock is a name player, he is nothing close to the player he once was. His offensive skills have been on the decline and one has to wonder if he will ever be able to turn it around.
Walk Rate: Even in his best seasons, Blalock was never much of a walker. However, this season Blalock's inability to walk is especially concerning. Last season, Blalock walked 19 times in 258 at bats. This season, Blalock has walked 21 times in 407 at bats.
Obviously, that ratio is very unproductive especially for a "power hitter". As a result, his OBP has bottomed out this season to .276 and his OPS currently sits at .745.
The pool of free agent first basemen is quite deep this offseason. While this group is not top heavy, the reality is that it is quite similar (Russell Branyan, Aubrey Huff, Adam LaRoche, Nick Johnson, and Blalock).
The best thing that Blalock has going for him at this point is his age, because he will be only 29 when the 2010 season begins. However, you have to remember that Blalock is a relative "newbie" at first base, so his inexperience go against him on the open market.
I predict Hank Blalock will get a one-year deal worth around $4.5 million.
Here Are Some Comparable Contracts
Russell Branyan (one-year/$1.4 million)
Jason Giambi (one-year/$4 million)
You can say that Blalock is in a category all by himself. Even though Blalock is a young guy, I get the feeling that he is not in a position to receive a long term contract. Blalock still has a ways to go before he's back to his 2003-2004 self, so I can see a team taking a chance on Blalock for a year hoping that he rediscovers his old form.
Given his "potential," ability to play first base, inability to get on base, and low OPS, I'm sure the Kansas City Royals will go all in to land Blalock.
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