MLB Free Agency: 15 Players Who’ll Still Be Unsigned by Spring Training
Carl Crawford, Cliff Lee and Jayson Werth have grabbed all the headlines with their lucrative nine-figure contracts, but many of this offseason's free agents remain unsigned.
For some players like Adrian Beltre and Rafael Soriano, their big day is a foregone conclusion, but others won’t be so lucky. Whether due to age or declining skills, many players may have to wait until spring training to sign a contract—that is, if they can find work at all.
With that in mind, let’s examine 15 players who could have to wait until March before finding a new home for the season.
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By all means, there should be interest in Johnny Damon. Despite his advanced age, Damon still batted .271 with eight home runs and 11 steals last season. His good eye and patience at the plate make Damon a valuable asset, but he has multiple factors working against him.
At 37, Damon is way past his prime. Damon no longer has the speed or power of years past and is a liability in the field. If Damon can no longer play the outfield, he will be limited to serving as a designated hitter, which immediately cuts his list of potential teams in half.
Considering the quality of most DHs, Damon could struggle to find a roster spot and may be forced to retire.
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The ultimate wild card this offseason is Manny Ramirez. The former $20 million-a-season outfielder has tons of skill, but many things going against him. Ramirez is viewed as a clubhouse cancer, who at age 38 has seen his skills greatly decline.
Man-Ram will likely be limited to serving as a designated hitter, which restricts his choice of teams. Ramirez can still be effective and actually posted above-average numbers last season with a .298 average and nine homers in just 265 at bats.
Still, Ramirez will likely be asking for a high salary and actually saw his numbers decrease after being traded to the AL. Eventually Manny will lower his asking price and sign an incentive-laden deal, but that may not happen until the beginning of spring training.
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Don’t get me wrong, Jason Frasor is a solid pitcher and would make a nice addition to any bullpen. After posting a 2.50 ERA in 2009, he recorded another respectable season with 14 holds and a 3.68 ERA.
However, Frasor was designated a Type A free agent, meaning that whoever signs him will have to surrender a first-round pick in next season’s MLB draft. Will many teams want to dole out their top pick in addition to whatever monetary demands Frasor has? Not likely.
Grant Balfour is in a similar situation, which is in dire need of a change. Second-tier players that earn Type A free agent status actually see their value decrease, which makes it difficult to sign a contract.
My feeling? The player should be able to overturn his status as a Type A free agent if said player is unable to sign a contract before February. The rule was meant to help out teams that had lost key players to free agency, but some undeserving players have been getting punished.
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Just a season ago, Jim Thome has a terrific year, smashing 25 home runs in only 276 at bats. That projects to 50 if you extrapolate those numbers over a full season, yet still Thome could be waiting a while for a contract.
Thome can only be utilized as a DH, but could struggle to find work. Returning to Minnesota remains an option, but Michael Cuddyer could steal his at-bats with Justin Morneau back and healthy. The White Sox brought in Adam Dunn to DH, and Vladimir Guerrero is still available for teams seeking DH help.
At 40 years old, Thome seems primed for retirement and could easily sail off into the sunset without playing another game.
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Young always seemed to have mediocre stuff, yet flourished on occasion with the San Diego Padres. The gigantic pitcher posted three straight seasons with an ERA under 4.00, but much of that was due to the inflated dimensions of Petco Park.
Reportedly, the Mets have expressed interest in signing the former Princeton standout, but could be troubled by his recent injury problems. Young has thrown fewer than 100 innings over the last two seasons due to shoulder problems, and presents a great risk for any interested ballclub.
No question Young will eventually sign a contract (most likely a one-year, make-good type deal), but health concerns could bump that signing late into the offseason.
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At a certain age, you have to wait a long time to be tendered a contract. Teams typically don’t covet aging players with declining skill sets, which can lead to job offers right around the time spring training begins.
Last season, Hall filled in all around the diamond, playing both infield and outfield positions. The 31-year-old did blast 18 home runs last season in just 344 at bats, but it would take a desperate team to sign Hall.
Although not really a free agent, Hisashi Iwakuma will almost assuredly be unsigned before spring training. Viewed as the second-best Japanese pitcher behind Yu Darvish, Iwakuma will likely have to wait a full season before joining the majors as a free agent.
The Oakland Athletics won the rights to negotiate with Iwakuma after offering a $19.1 million posting fee. The deal fell through when the two sides could not agree on a contract, and it’s unlikely negotiations will continue.
Iwakuma is eligible for free agency next season, and could command a salary in the neighborhood of $8 million annually.
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Throughout his career, Marcus Thames has had a very defined role. The 6’2" masher is a lefty specialist who typically plays as a part of an outfield platoon. Thames received twice as many at-bats against lefties last season and has batted 28 points higher against southpaws on his career.
Thames still had plus power, but could be limited by his narrowly defined job. Some team will eventually add Thames, but as a last-minute plan B.
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I keep waiting for teams to stop signing Kevin Millwood, but it never seems to happen. Year after year, Millwood turns in subpar seasons yet earns surprisingly lucrative salaries. It’s bizarre.
Hopefully after posting a 5.10 ERA in 2010, teams will finally realize that Millwood does not deserve a job in the majors, let alone a spot in the rotation.
Millwood will turn 36 later this month, and could retire if he fails to receive any offers before spring training.
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Last season the 33-year old Chen recorded an impressive 12-7 record with a 4.17 ERA, and is now looking for a big payday.
Reportedly the 6’1” lefty is seeking a multi-year contract, but it’s hard to envision many teams being interested in adding Chen to their rotation, let alone offering him a multi-year contract.
Although I’ve never liked Chen as a pitcher, he would have a handful of suitors if he was seeking a one-year deal, but his contract demands will likely keep him unsigned until spring training.
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Is Rick Ankiel still a passable fourth outfielder? Last season the converted pitcher batted .232 with six home runs between Kansas City and Atlanta in the role, but could find it difficult to find work this season.
Ankiel has struggled recently against off-speed pitches and has transformed into a purely fastball hitter. Teams looking for a fourth outfielder have far better options (Brad Hawpe, for example) and would likely only turn to Ankiel for his superior glove.
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I’ve always been fond of Johnson as a player, but it doesn’t seem the former Yankee prospect can stay healthy. Johnson played just 24 games last season with a .167 batting average. This after missing the entire 2007 season and playing just 38 games in 2008.
Johnson is a patient hitter with a good eye, but he’s on the wrong side of 30 with injury problems and waning production. It’s tough to imagine many teams being interested in his services any more.
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To this day Dave Bush is a legend in my circle of friends. Back in 2006, my fantasy baseball team was fighting for their playoff life, but the prognosis did not look good. Despite a stacked roster, I was losing 8-4 with just a day remaining.
Needing a miracle, I added Milwaukee junk-baller Dave Bush, who threw a complete-game shutout with just five hits, no walks and 10 strikeouts. The win tied up the category, his 10 Ks won the category, and his ERA of 0.00 helped me win that as well, for a 6-5 victory.
Even back then I realized what Dave Bush was: a weak pitcher with subpar stuff who occasionally throws a fluke gem.
Last season, Bush went 8-13 with a 4.54 ERA and 1.51 WHIP for the Brewers, but don’t expect the 31-year-old righty to duplicate those results, as his best-case scenario is winning a long relief job out of the bullpen.
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A former 40 home run hitter, Glaus is now just a shell of his former self. Last season for the Braves, the first baseman batted a paltry .240 with only 17 home runs and 100 Ks.
The 34-year old is on a steep decline and will likely remain a free agent until spring training unless he accepts a minor league deal.
Glaus’ bat speed is noticeably slower and very few teams have use for an aging first baseman with a negligible WAR (0.5 Wins Above Replacement).
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After a hot start made Andruw Jones look like a comeback player of the year candidate, the 6’1" centerfielder went on a prolonged cold streak. Jones finished the season with 19 home runs but just a .230 average and 73 strikeouts in 278 at-bats.
Although some team could take a flier on Jones, he is more of a last-case resort at this point in his career.
He lacks the incredible defensive range he was formerly known for and may need to be relegated to being a designated hitter.