MLB Free Agency: Top 12 35-Plus Players on the Market and Where They'll Go

Ari KramerSenior Analyst IINovember 15, 2011

MLB Free Agency: Top 12 35-Plus Players on the Market and Where They'll Go

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    While many teams focus their offseasons on acquiring young talent, some scour the free agent market for veterans who can contribute and mentor the younger players.

    Who are those veterans in the 2012 MLB free agent pool?

    This list looks at the 12 best players who will be at least 35 years old on Opening Day of 2012.

12. Joe Nathan

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    In his first six seasons as a full-time closer, Joe Nathan amassed 246 saves while posting a 1.87 ERA.

    At 36 years old, Nathan returned from Tommy John surgery but clearly couldn't dominate like he had. The free agent had a 4.84 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 2011.

    The Minnesota Twins might try to re-sign Nathan, but the closer's name has also surfaced in association with the New York Mets and Toronto Blue Jays.

11. Derrek Lee

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    Every time Derrek Lee appears to be on his way toward retirement, he has a resilient stretch to temporarily silence the critics.

    It happened in 2010 when he hit .287 after the Chicago Cubs dealt him to the Atlanta Braves; and again in 2011, when Lee hit .337 with the Pittsburgh Pirates after hitting .246 with the Baltimore Orioles.

    So, there's still reason to believe in the 36-year-old Lee.

    The Pirates are the only team to have shown serious interest in the first baseman.

10. Javier Vazquez

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    Javier Vazquez went 15-10 with a 2.87 ERA and 1.03 WHIP with the Atlanta Braves in 2009, but only went .500 with a bloated 5.32 ERA and 1.40 WHIP with the New York Yankees in 2010.

    In 2011, he posted a 13-11 record, 3.69 ERA and 1.18 WHIP.

    Go figure—historically, Vazquez is more effective in the NL.

    According to Ken Rosenthal, he is on the fence of retirement but Joe Capozzi thinks the Florida Marlins could re-sign their starter, who went 6-0 with a 0.60 ERA in his final six starts of 2011.

    You'd have to think Vazquez receiving the $10 million offer Capozzi suggested is contingent on the developments with Jose Reyes, Albert Pujols and Mark Buehrle.

9. Johnny Damon

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    Even at 38 years old, Johnny Damon is still a reliable hitter—his .261 average, 52 extra-base-hits, 73 RBI and 19 stolen bases in 2011 were quite respectable.

    With a formidable pitching rotation, the Tampa Bay Rays should be a contender in 2012, but they'll need a DH. Damon could re-sign with the Rays.

8. Vladimir Guerrero

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    While Vladimir Guerrero's power dropped in 2011 to 13 home runs, 63 RBI and a career-low .416 slugging percentage, the former MVP still hit .290.

    His fielding days appear to permanently be in the rearview mirror, but Guerrero could still be a reliable DH for many teams.

    So far, there haven't been any rumors involving Guerrero, but the Seattle Mariners, Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians could all use a DH. 

7. LaTroy Hawkins

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    Discarding his injury-plagued 2010, LaTroy Hawkins has posted a 1.97 ERA since the New York Yankees dealt him midway through 2008.

    Hawkins, who will turn 39 in December, has not announced whether he will suit up in 2012, but he could be a valuable addition to any bullpen.

    Thus far, the Milwaukee Brewers are the only team rumored to consider signing the veteran reliever.

6. Brad Lidge

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    In 75 games since his abysmal 2009 campaign, Brad Lidge has posted a 2.49 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 10.4 K/9.

    The Philadelphia Phillies declined their 2012 option on the former All-Star, but Philadelphia remains an option for Lidge. According to this report by Andy Martino of the NY Daily News, the New York Mets could also court the former closer.

5. Darren Oliver

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    Darren Oliver might be 41 years old, but he has grown more effective with age. Over the past four seasons, his ERA has steadily declined from 2.88 in 2008 to 2.29 in 2011.

    He's a veteran left-hander who can serve not only as a reliable arm but also as a mentor for younger pitchers, making him even more valuable.

    Oliver indicated he'd like to return in 2012, and it would be fitting for him to finish his career where he started—with the Texas Rangers.

4. Francisco Cordero

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    Francisco Cordero has had an underrated career. The 36-year-old has 327 saves, a 3.17 ERA and 1.33 WHIP over 13 seasons, and he bested his career numbers in 2011—37 saves, 2.45 ERA and 1.02 WHIP.

    The Cincinnati Reds want to re-sign their closer, and Cordero wants to return. Several other teams have contacted Cordero, but he'll probably spend 2012 in Cincinnati.

3. Takashi Saito

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    There's no definitive word on whether Takashi Saito will play in 2012, but he's one of the better relievers on the market.

    In six MLB seasons, Saito has a 2.18 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and .199 BAA. He returned from a first-half injury in July, but didn't show any signs of debilitation, as evidenced by his 2.03 ERA.

2. Hiroki Kuroda

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    Hiroki Kuroda's 13-16 record reflects the quality of the Los Angeles Dodgers more than his own ability. The 36-year-old held an impressive 3.07 ERA and 1.21 WHIP.

    While the Arizona Diamondbacks have shown interest and the New York Yankees could make an offer, Kuroda will most likely return to the Dodgers or bolt for Japan.

    In October Jim Bowden tweeted a reminder that Kuroda vetoed trades to the Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox during the season, an act he claims bodes well for the Dodgers.

1. David Ortiz

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    David Ortiz will be 36 years old on Friday, but the left-handed slugger can still rake at the plate.

    In 2011, Ortiz hit .309 with 29 home runs and 96 RBI, earning a Silver Slugger award along the way.

    Ortiz seemed irked by the Boston Red Sox's decision to withhold an offer during their exclusive negotiating period, but Boston is still probably the frontrunner to re-sign the All-Star designated hitter.

    Boston GM Ben Cherington told reporters he wants Ortiz to stay with his club.