MLB Rumors: 15 Unsigned Free Agents Who Could Be in the NL West in 2011

Bleacher ReportSenior Writer IDecember 16, 2010

MLB Rumors: 15 Unsigned Free Agents Who Could Be in the NL West in 2011

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    That man is smiling because Adrian Beltre is currently the "hottest" item left on the Major League Baseball winter stove now that Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth, Victor Martinez and Adam Dunn have found greener pastures.

    Or more luxurious estates with more elegantly manicured lawns amidst a community with higher gates.

    You say potato, I say potato...

    The point is that the prize of the offseason is now a 31-year-old third baseman who's proven to be underwhelming unless surrounded by an elite supporting cast, working in a hitter's yard and/or playing for a new contract.

    Oh, and he's represented by Scott Boras.

    What you just heard was the sound of 30 major-league teams shuffling through the deck for more efficient options or a more pleasant negotiating partner (which shouldn't be hard unless this human Porta-John is the only name in their contacts).

    And the first ones to pass were likely out near the Left Coast.

    Based on the free-agent doings in the National League West, you can bet the Arizona Diamondbacks, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies never even saw Beltre's tires. Forget about kicking them.

    The former Dodger seems priced out of each club's budget and superfluous based on existing options at the hot corner.

    So no, Adrian Beltre almost certainly won't be in the division next year.

    But there are other players who could help and Spring Training is still months away so the dealing's not done. With that in mind, here are 15 players (really 12) who might be competing in the NL West come 2011:

Arizona Diamondbacks—Current State

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    Arizona is one NL West team that's doing some superficially screwy things this offseason.

    The Snakes moved third baseman Mark Reynolds, acquired lefty Zach Duke, were reportedly shopping Justin Upton and have signed three curious free agents. They grabbed third baseman Melvin Mora from the Colorado Rockies (one year at $2 million), third baseman Geoff Blum from the Houston Astros (two years at an average of $1.35 million per year) and reliever J.J. Putz from the Chicago White Sox (two years at an average of $5 million per year).

    For a team that needs pitching to compete, spending $10 million on a late-inning reliever seems a little odd as do the acquisitions of Blum and Mora. It's not like those guys are clear upgrades over the strikeout-prone Reynolds.

    Defensively? Yeah, and it'd be impossible to not be an improvement in the contact department. But that dude could BOMB when healthy so at least he brought power to the table; I'm not sure what either newbie brings to the table.

    Nevertheless, Arizona might be a key cog or two away from convincing itself it could be relevant again in the West.

    They've got a decent back-of-the-rotation collection going in Duke, Ian Kennedy, Joe Saunders, Daniel Hudson and Barry Enright. The problem, of course, is that two of them are currently slated to take their turns at the front end.

    Which means the offense better be ready to score some runs.

    With catcher Miguel Montero, first baseman Brandon Allen, second baseman Kelly Johnson, shortstop Stephen Drew, center fielder Chris Young, and Upton in right, the Snakes have the raw material for some explosive nine innings.

    All they really need are consistency and an ace.

Arizona Diamondbacks—Possible Targets

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    Unfortunately, neither consistency nor an ace is available on the open market, but that doesn't mean Arizona won't try to find them.

    And anyone who is remotely familiar with the D-backs knows they can never have too many relief options:


    Johnny Damon

    Many baseball people equate 'consistency' with 'veteran' and 'inconsistency' with 'youth.'

    If any of those people are pulling levers for Arizona, then Damon would be a fairly attractive piece. The 37-year-old is probably best suited to be a designated hitter at this stage of his career, but he played about a quarter of the season in the outfield for the Detroit Tigers in 2010 so he's still a viable option as half a platoon or a spot starter.

    The questions are whether he'd accept that role and at what price (not to mention whether he'd move to the Senior Circuit for the first time in his long career). If Damon could bite that bullet and do so at a discount, he'd make good sense for a young team with the talent to do most of the heavy lifting yet seems to be missing too much of the mental side of the game.


    Scott Podsednik

    Here's another guy who doesn't do much exceptionally, but can still contribute in ways not necessarily reflected in the box score.

    Podsednik can still steal you a base on most occasions and all that speed helps him hit get on base, but he's an absolute void in the power department. Furthermore, a 34-year-old who relies on fresh legs to be an asset probably isn't suited for everyday duty anymore.

    Which again, makes his a provocative profile for the Snakes.

    He made less than $2 million in 2010 and isn't due a raise in 2011, which means he'll be cheap. Plus, the table-setter has a proven track record in the Show and that makes him a valuable commodity even when he's not on the field.


    Jon Rauch

    Given how the Diamondbacks' pen exploded in dazzling fashion on almost a nightly basis (or at least nights when Arizona managed to take a late-inning lead), they might be reconsidering letting Rauch go to Minnesota in the first place.

    The 6'11" monster is by no means a sure thing as the door-slammer, but he was a hell of a lot better in 2010 than anyone the Snakes trotted out there. The on-again-off-again closer earned $2.9 million in '10 so he's probably out of Arizona's price range if he's trying to stay in that neighborhood (who wouldn't), but there's a glut of relievers still left on the market and that might bring his dollar amount back into their reach.

Los Angeles Dodgers—Current State

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    The Bums have been strangely busy thus far in the offseason—I say strangely because they've been adding several players from the bargain bin, which generally isn't the MO in Tinsel Town.

    Granted, the McCourt divorce promises to fester in Chavez Ravine for the foreseeable future, with ownership of the club currently split between Frank and Jamie.

    A December 7th ruling invalidated the post-nuptial agreement that purported to give Frank sole ownership, but this baby's not over by a long shot. The story is that the couple's Bingham McCutchen attorney  changed the agreement to give sole possession of the team to Frank (originally, it was split) and told neither individual because it was in accordance with their intent.


    Got that?

    An attorney from one of the biggest, most prestigious firms in the world is allegedly guilty of a cardinal and egregious sin every first-year law student would know to avoid. Namely, you must support any material change to a contract after the fact with evidence of the contracting parties' knowledge and consent.

    Otherwise, this happens.

    And all that was at stake was the OWNERSHIP OF A PROFESSIONAL SPORTS FRANCHISE!

    Nope, something stinks down in La La Land and it ain't just los Doyers.

    Regardless, the Boys in Hideously Beautiful Blue have re-signed right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (one year at $12 million), catcher Rod Barajas (one year at $3.25 million) and right-hander Vicente Padilla (one year at $1 million).

    They grabbed right-hander Jon Garland from the Padres (one year at $5 million), outfielder Tony Gwynn, Jr. also from the Friars (one year at $675K), catcher Dioner Navarro from the Tampa Bay Rays (one year at $1 million for their former prospect), utility infielder Juan Uribe from the Giants (three years at a $7 million per year average) and middle man Matt Guerrier from the Minnesota Twins (three years at a $4 million per year average).

    Those pieces get inserted into a roster that still boasts James Loney at first base, Rafael Furcal at shortstop, Casey Blake at third base, Matt Kemp in center field and Andre Ethier in right field.

    Meanwhile, the starting rotation features left-hander Clayton Kershaw, right-hander Chad Billingsley, and southpaw Ted Lilly while the bullpen stalwarts are closer Jonathan Broxton and lefty set-up man Hong-Chih Kuo.

    Translation: The Bums don't have much left on the shopping list.

Los Angeles Dodgers—Possible Targets

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    The Dodgers won't be looking for any splashy acquisitions.

    They've already spent a good deal of cash, they're pretty much covered offensively and the starting rotation is full. If anything, they'll be nosing around for an upgrade in left field or another reliever to shore up the bullpen.

    So don't be surprised if these guys are in Los Angeles next year:


    Brad Hawpe

    The former Colorado Rockie is a familiar face in the NL West where he enjoyed his best years. Those weren't so long ago and Brad was extremely useful as recently as 2009—.285/.384/.519 with 23 HR and 86 RBI. Nevertheless, he fell of a freakin' cliff in 2010 (.245/.338/.419 with 9 HR and 44 RBI) so he remains available and could probably be signed for a song.

    Combine that with the potential for a bounce back from a suddenly motivated 31-year-old outfielder with a cannon and he seems right up the Bums' alley.


    Lastings Milledge

    Milledge is staggeringly well-traveled considering he's a multi-talented 25-year-old; he's played for the New York Mets, Washington Nationals and Pittsburgh Pirates in his young career. That can either be considered a fatal red flag or just the product of unreal expectations and growing pains. Either way, the kid has athleticism oozing from his pores and has shown flashes of brilliance for stretches in the Big Leagues.

    This would be all about the cost-benefit ratio—the fleet-footed outfielder can be had on the cheap and that means he's a low-risk/high-reward gamble for anyone willing to pony up the cash.


    Bobby Jenks

    There are two basic schools of thought on Jonathan Broxton (5 BS and 7.19 ERA after the All-Star break)—you either believe (A) he's always been overrated and last year was inevitable; or (B) it was all Joe Torre's fault because he wore the closer down to a nub in the first half of the season.

    If the Dodger brass is in the first class, they might be exploring safety nets a bit more reliable than the surgically repaired Kuo or the untested Guerrier.

    Rumor has it that Jenks will be returning to the Chicago White Sox despite the non-tender, but if he's not, LA could be interested. He'd have to be available at a discount, motivated to reverse his decline at the age of 29 and willing to pay his dues before assuming the job.

    But he's a proven commodity and should still have some good years in the tank.

San Francisco Giants—Current State

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    Yep, Big Time Timmy Jim has the right idea.

    The current state of the San Francisco Giants is precisely that, No. 1.

    The defending World Series Champions have been quickly overshadowed by the big offseasons hatched by the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies, but those two usurpers will have to wait until next October before they can actually wrest the title away from the Gents.

    Until then, San Francisco looks content to bring most of the key players back from 2010 and roll the dice one more time.

    Though Juan Uribe turned Benedict Arnold (just kidding...kind of) and Edgar Renteria was optioned out of a job, the rest of the primary suspects from the title run will be back.

    Buster Posey is preparing for his first full year behind the dish, Aubrey Huff should be taking ground balls in preparation for more reps at first base, second baseman Freddy Sanchez went under the knife (what else is new?), third baseman Pablo Sandoval has dedicated to trimming those excessive inches of his midsection (again, what else is new?), Miguel Tejada was brought in to plug the hole at shortstop (one year at $6.5 million), corner outfielder Cody Ross is headed to arbitration, center fielder Andres Torres is ready to reprise his improbable breakout campaign and the other corner figures to be a grab bag featuring Nate Schierholtz, Aaron Rowand and Pat Burrell.

    And don't forget about Mark DeRosa who will presumably be filling Uribe's jack-of-all-trades role.

    Of course, all that is somewhat beside the point because the pitching is what won the '10 Fall Classic and it will be the key to any dreams of repeating.

    The Freak is the national ace and, remember, he had a down year last season. Matt Cain is the local ace and he's gotten stronger every year to date in his career. Madison Bumgarner arrived with insane expectations in '10 and exceeded them, as absurd as that sounds. Meanwhile, Jonathan Sanchez and Barry Zito both had their moments before fading in the postseason (or not even making the roster in Baked Zito's case).

    Last but not least, there are the firemen.

    No small ingredient in The City's first World Series title, the boys will be back in 2011 with closer Brian Wilson thoroughly enjoying his new-found celebrity and the set-up men ready to follow their leader. Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez, Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo and Ramon Ramirez are all in the fold for '11 while southpaw Dan Runzler begins the transition to the starting rotation.

San Francisco Giants—Possible Targets

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    More so than any team in the division, los Gigantes have reason to feel comfortable.

    With the Sawks and Phils kicking up so much dirt over the winter, some of the attention will be off the champs as they begin their title defense. That should alleviate some of the pressure while simultaneously serving as a motivational kick to the pants—much like the ruckus caused by the Dwyane Wade Bunch did for the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA.

    If you listen closely, you can already hear those same whispers about the Orange and Black starting—they won't have enough offense to compete, they need a big bat, etc.

    In reality, the only additions San Francisco is likely to make before Spring Training starts are back-up pieces:


    Edwin Encarnacion

    Believe it or not, Encarnacion is one of the youngest third basemen available via free agency. That threw me for a loop because it seems like the 27-year-old has been floating around the all-or-nothing ranks of MLB forever now. He's not a wonder with the glove, but he did enjoy his best offensive campaign last year since his infamous 2008 season convinced everyone he was the next great superstar at the hot corner.

    Of course, that might be what keeps him from joining San Francisco—after knocking 23 home runs and a .787 OPS, Encarnacion might be angling for a deal worth approximately what he made last year (over $5 million).

    Since he'd only be an emergency plan in the event Sandoval can't find his rookie-year form, that sort of price tag would be laughable to SF.


    Brian Fuentes

    You can never have too much left-handed relief and Fuentes is still a handful when used correctly in small doses (.128/.222/.149 against lefties in 2010). His days of being a premier closer are covered in about three inches of dust, but that means he should've come to terms with the reality by now.

    A prerequisite to the Giants even flirting with him, considering he took down $9 million last season. San Fran is already paying Affeldt excellent money to be a set-up man so it's unlikely the brass would shell out too much coin for a second option.


    Hideki Okajima

    San Francisco developed an affinity for ex-Boston relievers as the team came down the stretch in 2010—both Javier Lopez and Ramon Ramirez got some enormous outs (though Ramirez gave a few back as well). They worked out so well, why not grab another ex-Sock who happens to be a filthy southpaw to boot?

    The Japanese lefty will be 35 before Opening Day, but that's not a prohibitive age for a one-inning specialist. True, he got knocked around last season, but the NL West is not the AL East and Okajima had been suffocating the three prior years.

    He only made $2.5 million in 2010 so he figures to be a bargain and that makes him low-risk/high-reward.

San Diego Padres—Current State

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    If you're asking yourself, "who is that?" you're probably not alone.

    Sadly, now that Adrian Gonzalez has been shipped off to Boston, third baseman Chase Headley is the offensive face of this ball club. Nothing against Headley, but that's tough.

    It's almost too depressing to talk about, but San Diego will try to replace their beloved and now-former first baseman with the addition of Cameron Maybin and a full year of Ryan Ludwick (of course, I wouldn't count on that). Granted, the Fathers stand to get a big boost from internal progress made by the likes of Headley, catcher Nick Hundley and possibly outfielder Max Venable.

    But none of that will ease the sting of losing arguably the best all-around first baseman in the game (yeah, I'm counting Albert Pujols).

    What might be able to do the trick is the rotation—Mat Latos will be back and a year wiser, ditto Clayton Richard and ditto Wade LeBlanc. The addition of Aaron Harang doesn't inspire much confidence, but the bullpen does.

    Topped off by closer extraordinaire Heath Bell, the Friars are one of the few clubs that doesn't need to waste its time messing around with the unpredictable relief market. They're all squared away in at least one regard.

San Diego Padres—Possible Targets

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    The Padres have one profile left on their shopping list and it reads the same regardless of position—dirt cheap players who can be dropped without repercussion, but who might give a tenfold return on the investment if the proverbial lightning is caught in a bottle.

    What splurge room SD might've had in the budget had to have been used up by the $4 million guaranteed to Harang. Given the Cincinnati Reds play in a bandbox and the Friars play in the exact opposite, that contract might not be as asinine as it looks.

    Nevertheless, it almost certainly forecloses the chance of the Pads making any more interesting moves this offseason. But let's pretend:


    Derrek Lee

    Nobody will make San Diego fans forget about Adrian, but Lee would at least give the impression that the front office is trying to replace him. Lee doesn't hit or field as well (and he's 35), but he does both better than a lot of guys plying the same trade. Additionally, his horrible—by his standards—2010 season might be partially explained away by nagging injuries, a dysfunctional environment (hello Chicago Cubs) and the transition to a new one (when he got traded to the Atlanta Braves).

    Obviously, the $13.25 million Lee banked in 2010 and the fact that the Washington Nationals are targeting him scuttle the idea before it need be discussed by practical minded people.


    Adam LaRoche

    Here's another non-starter because of the San Diego budget, but an otherwise seductive possibility.

    LaRoche can't boast the same leathery credentials as either Gonzalez or Lee and he can't hang with Gonzo offensively, but that is hardly a damaging indictment. Especially because the 31-year-old can bang better than Lee these days.

    Further sweetening the pot is the fact that the elder LaRoche did much of his damage in 2010 (25 HR and 100 RBI) against the rugged arms boasted by the NL West. True, he called Chase Field home and that's one of the only live yards in the division, but he still had to face the San Francisco, San Diego and Colorado pitching staffs—that's no picnic.


    Orlando Hudson

    OK, forget trying to plug the hole at first base; let's talk the keystone.

    With Everth Cabrera now occupied at short consequent to the departure of Miguel Tejada, San Diego's depth chart on ESPN offends athletic sensibilities by listing David Eckstein—who will be 36 before pitchers and catchers report, and is also a free agent last time I checked—as the starting second baseman.

    That won't do.

    Neither will O-Dawg since he doesn't figure to be dirt cheap, but would you rather be reading about Kevin Frandsen or Argenis Diaz?

    Besides, Hudson fits perfectly with the Padre modus operandi—pesky hitter, great glove and a peach in the clubhouse. He's on the decline and never was a power threat, but San Diego makes its living on the backs of such players fortified with super-green youth.

Colorado Rockies—Current State

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    This is the team that scares me as a die-hard San Francisco Giant fan.

    Yeah, yeah, the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies look impregnable on paper—those teams exist every year and they rarely are the ones left standing when the dust and confetti settle. Wall-to-wall talent creates oppressive expectations and there's something about that pressure that doesn't mesh well with the psychological demands of professional baseball.

    Shoot, the New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays and Red Sox were virtual All-Star teams last year and none of the trio even made it to the World Series.

    On the other hand, wall-to-wall talent left to itself, free to gel far from the harsh glare of the spotlight? Uh oh.

    Now take a look at the Rox, who will probably enter the 2011 season without the considerable hype that's burdened them recently, thanks to the fuss on the East Coast.

    They have one perennial MVP candidate in shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, they have a second such player emerging in center/left fielder Carlos Gonzalez, they have two possible breakout candidates in third baseman Ian Stewart (25) and center/left fielder Dexter Fowler (24), catcher Chris Iannetta could make good on all that hype at any moment and they recently added second baseman Jose Lopez (as well as Ty Wigginton).

    He had a brutal 2010 campaign, but we're talking about a guy who once hit 25 taters while calling Safeco Park home.

    And Lopez now gets to work in the rarefied air of Coors Field. That could be trouble.

    Then there's the matter of the pitching staff.

    If ace Ubaldo Jimenez continues to develop at this rate, he and Tim Lincecum might just give the NL Cy Young a permanent home in the NL West for the foreseeable future. Their No. 2, Jorge De La Rosa, is officially back in the Colorado barn, having been re-signed for two years at $21.5 million. Meanwhile, the back of the rotation isn't too shabby—Jason Hammel proved valuable at times, Jhoulys Chacin will mystify a lot of people next year and Aaron Cook is the No. 5 after holding down the No. 1 spot for years.

    The bullpen is the only real question mark.

Colorado Rockies—Possible Targets

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    But bullpen help is in ample supply via free agency.

    If Colorado is so inclined, they can pay for plenty of assistance:


    Taylor Buchholz

    Buchholz won't get many pulses racing, but he's intimately familiar with Coors Field and his numbers indicate he's one of the few hurlers who thrives there. In 2008, he boasted a 0.95 WHIP and a 2.17 ERA in 66.1 IP before an injury cost him all of 2009 and most of 2010. There's no guarantee he'll ever be the same pitcher again, but he'd be well worth the gamble if he ever made a full recovery.


    Dan Wheeler

    Here's more proven help for the firemen. Wheeler is another name that doesn't have much sex appeal, but he's been sneakily effective for the Tampa Bay Rays during the last several years. He's maintained a WHIP near 1.00 and an ERA around 3.30 for the last three years, which is no small accomplishment while seeing the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox about 40 times a year.

    Granted, he's more of a fly-ball pitcher than a ground-ball guy and that doesn't bode well for the mile-high air.

    But any pitcher who can thrive in the modern AL East is worth at least a look.


    Rafael Soriano

    The Rockies have excellent hitting, excellent speed, excellent defense, excellent chemistry and excellent starting pitching. Their bullpen is the one glaring weakness and that includes the closer, Huston Street.

    Though his numbers weren't awful in 2010, five blown saves are too many if you want to make the postseason and survive deep into it. Additionally, the 27-year-old has never been the most durable option at the end of games and simply isn't that intimidating of a presence looming over the ninth inning.

    Soriano solves all of these problems except the durability issue.

    In his first year as the unquestioned stopper from Opening Day through Game 162, Rafael didn't disappoint. He saved 45 games with only three blown saves and posted a 0.80/1.73 WHIP/ERA combo.

    The chances of Soriano dethroning Street as the last line of defense in a win are remote, especially since the move would thrust the Rox right back into the limelight.

    But it would close the last gaping chink in Colorado's armor.

    And that might make it worthwhile.

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