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MLB Free Agents 2012: Predicting Heath Bell and 3 Other Free Agents

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MLB Free Agents 2012: Predicting Heath Bell and 3 Other Free Agents
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Heath Bell

2011 Stats: 2.44 ERA, 3.23 FIP, 3.67 xFIP, 1.15 WHIP, 7.32 K/9, 3.02 BB/9, 0.5 WAR

Despite having a 2.44 ERA this season, Bell’s 2011 campaign might have been his worst since joining the San Diego Padres in 2007. The 34-year-old closer saw his strikeout rate decline to a career worst 7.32 K/9 (11.06 K.9 in 2010), and his xFIP of 3.67 was the second worst of his career.

His strikeout decline was not an aberration, as his swinging strike rate decreased from 10.6 per nine innings in 2010 to 8.3 per nine innings this past season. His dramatic drop in strikeouts did not come from a decrease in velocity.

His average fastball speed of 94 miles per hour in 2011 was identical to 2010, but an inability to get opposing hitters to swing and miss at his curveball. He had a swinging strike rate of 18.2 percent with the pitch in 2010 compared to a 10.3 percent rate in 2011.

Bell’s ERA was helped by his .261 BABIP, which was extremely low, especially considering his 21.3 percent line drive rate. Additionally, he has been able to keep his home run rate down, helped by the fact he has pitched in Petco Park for the last five seasons.

Dan Hayes of the North County Times reported that he wants a three-year deal close to $30 million. I would be worried about Bell’s decline in strikeouts, but I feel that could have been an outlier, and it would have been more troublesome if there was a decrease in his velocity.

The Padres would like to retain Bell, but I bet the Florida Marlins give him three years, and he might sign there, considering he has a home in Florida.

Prediction: Marlins

 

Rafael Furcal

2011 Stats: .231/.298/.348, 8 Home Runs, 84 wRC+, .288 wOBA, .117 ISO, 9 Stolen Bases, 0.5 WAR

Furcal had his worst season in 2011 while spending time with the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals last season, due in large part to health.  The 34-year-old shortstop spent time on the disabled list with a broken thumb and a strained oblique muscle.

He amassed only 150 plate appearances with the Dodgers before being traded to the Cardinals before the trade deadline, and those injuries affected his time with the Dodgers. Furcal is blessed with one of the best arms in baseball, but his defensive range at shortstop was down this season.

I still thing he is slightly above average at the position, and I think the injuries and smaller sample size hurt him in the field in 2011.

His overall production was mostly hurt by a .240 BABIP, 73 points below his career average. His career high ground ball rate of 54 percent in 2011 hurt his batting average, but it the numerous injuries likely played a role in that respect. He has maintained his power, as his HR/FB ratio of 10.4 percent was the second best rate of his career.

In his prime, Furcal had 4-5 win type of seasons and he could still be a 2 win type of player if he can stay healthy by producing 8-10 home runs with a .265/.335/.415 line.

The Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cardinals are interested in him playing shortstop, and the Detroit Tigers, Toronto Blue Jays and Colorado Rockies have been linked to him at second base. I’m sure he still wants to play shortstop, and the Cardinals seem like the best fit.

Prediction: Cardinals

 

Johnny Damon

2011 Stats: .261/.326/.418, 16 Home Runs, 109 wRC+, .328 wOBA, .156 ISO, 19 Stolen Bases, 1.5 WAR

At 38, Damon still has some value to a team looking for a left-handed bat as a part-time designated hitter and occasional left fielder. He still has some power from the left side of the plate, does not struggle against left-handed pitching and is a 10-20 stolen base threat.

However, Damon’s walk rate declined from 11.3 percent in 2010 to 7.9 percent, his worst since 2005 and fourth worst rate of his career. He saw the same amount of pitches out of the strike zone in 2011 as he did in 2010 (56.2 percent), but he chased 31.3 percent of those pitches (a career high).

Additionally, his swinging strike rate has increased in each of the last three years, as he finished with a career high 8.1 percent rate.

Damon’s approach at the plate might be an aberration, at this point, but there is no doubt that he has lost some bat speed. His infield fly ball rate, which has always been high, was calculated at 17.5 percent, his highest since 2004, but he did produce a line drive rate over 20 percent.

One could probably expect a .270/.345/.415 line with 13-15 home runs in 2012. Damon only played in the outfield for 16 games. While he does not have great range anymore, a club could get away with playing him there for 30 games. The Tampa Bay Rays have said to be interested in retaining him, and the A’s, Minnesota Twins and Baltimore Orioles could possibly make a run.

Prediction: Rays

 

Ramon Hernandez

2011 Stats: .282/.341/.446, 12 Home Runs, 111 wRC+, .339 wOBA, .164 ISO, 2.0 WAR

There is no weaker position on the free agent market this winter than catcher, and the 36-year-old Hernandez is the best available. While he has only appeared in 188 games in the last two seasons, he collected a 4.4 WAR in that span. Despite his age, Hernandez ranked eight in wRC+ and OPS among catchers with more than 250 plate appearances in 2011.

In terms of defense, Hernandez is not considered a good catcher. He ranked towards the bottom in Mike Fast’s catcher’s framing piece, but he does have an above average arm behind the plate. I would be worried about the increase in his swinging strike rate, but any team looking for a catcher via free agency can’t be too picky, and it should not be a problem on a one-year deal.

He struggled during the second half of the season producing a line of .220/.287/.305 and hit just four home runs. He would benefit from a move to the AL, where he could spend some time as a DH or play with a club who has another decent catching option like the Cincinnati Reds.

If the Reds offer him arbitration, I don’t believe he would be able to sign anywhere else because of the loss of a second round pick if Hernandez declines. However, if the Reds don’t offer, the Seattle Mariners could use any offensive upgrade, especially at catcher.

Prediction: Reds or Mariners 

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