MLB Free Agents 2012: 1 Huge Risk to Avoid at Every Position
With over 200 free agents ready to hit the open market after the conclusion of the World Series, the late fall and winter will certainly be frenzied in most major league offices. Scouts will present their assessments of available players, multiple meetings will be held to decide on which players each team should prioritize and presentation offers will be submitted for review.
However, there are some cases in which offers shouldn’t be presented at all.
Within each position, there are players who ultimately could be a huge risk, either because of injury history, age, off-field issues or any number of other reasons. Ultimately, at least one or two teams will get suckered in to making an offer on these players anyway, and end up paying a big price down the road.
Here is a list of at least one player at each position that every MLB team should avoid signing.
First Base: Lyle Overbay
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For the past two seasons, first baseman Lyle Overbay has seen his offensive production steadily decline. In 2011 Overbay hit just .234 with nine HR and 47 RBI between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Pirates obviously saw the decline, bringing in Derrek Lee at the trade deadline to replace Overbay, and Lee’s production has been in steady decline as well, giving an indication that Overbay should be avoided by all GMs at any cost.
Second Base: Aaron Hill
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Arizona Diamondbacks second baseman Aaron Hill recently announced that he was switching agents, transferring from the Beverly Hills Sports Council to Greg Genske.
The D-Backs hold club options for Hill totaling $26 million for the next three years, which they will almost certainly decline. GM Kevin Towers has indicated that he would like to negotiate a new contract for Hill, but my question is: Why?
Hill essentially has had two good seasons during his career (2007, 2009) and while he has the ability to put up nice numbers each season, he hasn’t shown the ability to do that consistently.
Towers would be smart just to decline the option and go looking for another second baseman. There was clearly a reason that Toronto Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos dumped Hill, and Towers clearly isn’t seeing that reason.
Shortstop: Jose Reyes
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I know this selection will stir up a bit of controversy, and of course Jose Reyes will be signed, but is he really worth risking all that money for?
Reyes has shown a history of injury over the past three seasons, and hamstring injuries again reared their ugly head this season, leading to two stints on the disabled list.
No question that when Reyes is healthy, he is one of the elite players in the game. However, to commit what will likely be well over $100 million and at least five years to a player who has issues staying on the field to me is a huge risk.
However, teams will salivate over Reyes’ availability and one will snap him up, even at that price.
Third Base: Mark DeRosa
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Let’s face it—the San Francisco Giants literally threw away $12 million for third baseman Mark DeRosa. He played exactly 73 games for the Giants in his two seasons by the Bay, meaning he got paid an average of $164,383 for every game played. Projected out to a full 162-game season, and that’s A-Rod money right there.
There are quite a few teams looking for third base help, including the Los Angeles Angels, Colorado Rockies, Detroit Tigers and Chicago Cubs (assuming Aramis Ramirez doesn’t return).
Here is a memo to those teams—don’t even think about DeRosa. Unless of course, you call Lloyd's of London and take out a nice fat insurance policy on the contract.
Left Field: Ryan Ludwick
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I have never bought into the idea that Ryan Ludwick is an impact player. It certainly seemed like a lot of teams felt that way about him, considering all of the rumors flying about at this past season’s trade deadline.
Here are the facts: When Ludwick was traded to the San Diego Padres last season by the St. Louis Cardinals, Ludwick hit just .211 for the rest of the season. However, the Padres saw fit to give Ludwick a nice $1.3 million raise over his 2010 salary, bumping up his salary to $6.775 million.
Ludwick was again the subject of much trade talk this past season, and was eventually dealt to the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he hit a robust (ahem) .232.
I wonder how much of a raise he’ll get this time around?
Center Field: Grady Sizemore
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The Cleveland Indians have yet to make a decision on whether or not they will exercise the option year on center fielder Grady Sizemore, which calls for $9 million for 2012. Sizemore has played barely over a season’s worth of games the last three years, in fact appearing in just 47 percent of his team’s games during that time.
Several teams are said to be interested in Sizemore if in fact Cleveland does decline his option, including the San Francisco Giants, who threw away $12 million on Mark DeRosa, who appeared in only 22.5 percent of Giants games in his career.
Whoever does sign Sizemore should offer an incentive-laden contract with milestones attached for games played. Sizemore went under the knife again right after the 2011 season ended to get his knee scoped, so how much more evidence does a team need to know that this guy could be damaged goods for the rest of his career?
Right Field: Kosuke Fukudome
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The Chicago Cubs dumped…er…traded right fielder Kosuke Fukudome to the Cleveland Indians at the trade deadline, finally ridding themselves of Fukudome’s $48-million contract. Fukudome never drove in more than 60 RBI and hit .262 for his career in Chicago.
I’m still trying to figure out how that equates to $48 million.
Fukudome will be a free agent, and no doubt there will be teams out there who'll be interested. Fukudome won’t come anywhere close to his prior contract, and at 34 years of age, Fukudome isn’t going to morph into a superstar anytime soon.
Catcher: Ryan Doumit
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The Pittsburgh Pirates have already announced that they were planning on declining the option years for catcher Ryan Doumit, totaling $7.25 million next season and $8.25 million in 2013.
Smart move, considering Doumit has been on the disabled list at least once each season since 2006.
While Doumit can clearly hit (.271 lifetime average), his injury history and lack of elite defensive prowess make him a big risk for any team looking to fill a vacant starting catching position on their roster.
Starting Pitcher: Edwin Jackson
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While St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Edwin Jackson’s 2011 numbers look decent enough—12-9, 3.79 ERA—he’s a .500 pitcher over his career with a 4.40 ERA and is still prone to inexplicable fits of wildness. He didn’t exactly shine in the NLCS or the World Series either, walking seven Rangers in Game 4.
It’s unclear whether or not Jackson will be offered a contract by the Cardinals, but whoever goes after him will certainly be taking a risk, as Jackson has been a Jekyll and Hyde-type pitcher for most of his career.
Relief Pitcher: Jonathan Papelbon
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Boston Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon certainly went into the offseason with a sour taste in his mouth, giving up the winning run to the Baltimore Orioles in the final game of the regular season, knocking the Red Sox out of the playoff race and completing their epic September collapse.
Papelbon made a nice bounce-back in 2011, dropping his ERA down almost a full point below his 2010 season mark to 2.94, and increased his strikeout-per-nine-innings ratio back up to 12.2.
However, Papelbon made $12 million last season, and will likely be looking for that again as an average per year in a multi-year contract. Will Papelbon continue to be dominant over the life of that contract? Could he regress again back to 2010 form?
I’m not so sure I’d be willing to fork over what could be $50 million for a four- or five-year deal.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle. Follow Doug on Twitter, @Sports_A_Holic.