MLB Free Agency: The One Player Every Team Cannot Afford to Lose
The thing about free agency is that it is an open market. No matter how many years a player has spent with an organization, in almost every case, he can be pursued by the other 29 MLB teams. However, in many cases, teams will make an attempt to re-sign a player that has entered free agency, usually involving a change in contract.
Today, we'll take a look at the remaining free agents and where they came from, seeing the player each team cannot afford to lose.
For some, it could be a star player that wanted to test the waters of free agency. For others, it might be a key bench player who they would like to have back.
No matter what, here is a look into the free agent each team needs to bring back.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Aaron Heilman, RHP
The Arizona righty posted an awful 6.88 ERA in 2011, so the question you might be thinking is, "Why should they bring him back?"
It's become almost common knowledge that in order to be a complete team, you must have a deep bullpen. Heilman might not put up the prettiest numbers, but he has a career ERA two and a half runs lower than his 2011 rate and he throws a lot of innings. He's the type of reliever that a team like Arizona should bring back.
Atlanta Braves: Scott Linebrink, RHP
In 64 games for the Braves last year, the veteran reliever posted a 4-4 record with a 3.64 ERA. It's not quite at Craig Kimbrel's level, but it isn't awful, either. In the event that one of Atlanta's stellar relievers has a regression from last year, bringing back a proven commodity in Linebrink might bring some stability to the Braves bullpen.
This is a team that is very much in win-now mode, so they probably won't mind overpaying slightly for Linebrink.
Baltimore Orioles: Vladimir Guerrero, Outfielder/DH
He may not be the monster he once was, but Vladimir Guerrero is a player that almost any team could use. He is a professional hitter despite his sometimes desperate hacking at pitching out of the zone. He hit .290 last year, a sign that he is still seeing the ball just fine. He'll be 37 on opening day, but you can expect at least one or two more productive seasons out of the vet.
He'll be a good person to have in Baltimore's lineup as the team attempts to regain some relevance.
Boston Red Sox: Jason Varitek, C
It may seem like bringing back Varitek has no benefit for the Sox, especially considering their current crop of catchers. Between Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Kelly Shoppach and Ryan Lavarnway, Boston seemingly has their catching situation under control. But despite Varitek's age and lack of productivity, he should be brought back for his experience, wisdom and what he means to the team.
Though this is unlikely, Boston re-signing their captain would have more benefits than many think.
Chicago Cubs: Kerry Wood, RHP
If last season showed anything for the Cubs, one takeaway is that 34-year-old Kerry Wood still has plenty left in the tank. Once believed to be a lost cause, the hard-throwing righty has become a very effective reliever. He threw in 55 games last year with a 3.35 ERA. He could be a key component in an otherwise uncertain bullpen.
Aside from the fact that he wants to pitch in Chicago, the Cubs really could use his arm.
Chicago White Sox: Juan Pierre, Outfielder
It seems like Juan Pierre has been around forever, doesn't it? Believe it or not, the speedy outfielder is just 34 and, judging from his production, is still very much a valuable commodity. The White Sox are, contrary to what anyone may believe, in rebuilding mode, so why bring back a somewhat expensive veteran like Pierre?
Mainly, he'll provide consistency and stability at the top of the Chicago lineup. He'll be a good veteran presence on the team as the White Sox start to transition in some young talent.
Cincinnati Reds: Edgar Renteria, SS
Another guy who seems like he's been around forever, Edgar Renteria is 36 years old and a consummate professional. He is not going to put up huge numbers, but it seems like whatever team Renteria is on performs well, especially once the playoffs roll around. He played under 100 games for the Reds last year, but he's a great presence and a quality player no matter how he's used.
Cleveland Indians: Chad Durbin, RHP
You're starting to catch on to the trend, right?
Well, if you haven't gathered by now, the free agent crop remaining is far from exciting, and many of these re-signing suggestions are simply teams plugging holes with veterans. Such is the case with Chad Durbin, a righty who pitched decently for the Indians in 2011. His 5.53 ERA is somewhat misleading, and he's the type of pitcher who can turn that into 3.53 relatively easily.
Colorado Rockies: None
After making a flurry of moves, the Rockies seem to be in pretty good shape. Ryan Spilborghs is an option, but an un-needed one in my opinion.
Detroit Tigers: Carlos Guillen, Utility
It's been years since Carlos Guillen has played a full season, but that means that the Tigers won't have to pay much for this versatile player to come back. He's been injured a lot, but even if Detroit doesn't get a full season out of him, a minor-league contract might be worth offering. They might get a very, very good bench player and injury replacement if he has recovered from injuries as expected.
Houston Astros: Jason Michaels, Outfielder
With a spot in the NL Central cellar reserved for the 'Stros, the team clearly is in no position to spend big and bring in a blue-chip free agent. However, re-signing a player like Jason Michaels could be good in terms of filling gaps and transitioning the team into its American League play next year. Michaels is hardly an All-Star, but he will give at-bats and a good glove.
For the right price, he's a good fit to bring back.
Kansas City Royals: Jeff Francis, LHP
The fact that Francis hasn't been plucked up yet is pretty much a sign that the Royals need to resign him. He is a better pitcher than his career 4.78 ERA indicates, and his 16 losses last year were not entirely his fault. At worst, he'll be a placeholder for some of Kansas City's young arms. At best, he could potentially be a very effective starting pitcher.
Los Angeles Angels: Fernando Rodney, RHP
Fernando Rodney wants to close. Rodney is not a closer. In fact, I'd barely trust him in anything after the seventh inning.
However, he has almost zero leverage in negotiations, so the Angels might be able to bring him back for mop-up duty for relatively cheap. He's a hard thrower and, if he gets his control back in sync, could actually return to being a fairly effective pitcher.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Hiroki Kuroda, RHP
As difficult as it may be to bring back Kuroda from a business standpoint, it makes a lot of sense for the baseball team. The Dodgers aren't quite sure who they are—they have a great core of players, but the supporting cast is iffy at best. Bringing back a proven pitcher like Kuroda will continue to give the Dodgers a very solid rotation as they get their offense figured out.
Miami Marlins: Greg Dobbs, Utility
For a team that's been spending like madmen this offseason, bringing back a low-cost, valuable player like Greg Dobbs makes perfect sense. It not only balances out the heavy spending, but it gives Miami a fantastic option off the bench. Dobbs can hit, field and play many positions. Depending on what happens with Hanley Ramirez, he might even be an everyday player.
Milwaukee Brewers: Craig Counsell, Infielder
Just like Edgar Renteria, many teams that have Counsell seem to do very well. He's also a similar player in that he can remain productive and a good clubhouse presence throughout the years. The Brewers can have him back very cheap, and there aren't many better bench options for his price. No matter what kind of year this is for the Brewers, Counsell can provide some good, cheap at-bats.
Minnesota Twins: None
With Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel both gone, the Twins don't have a whole lot of decisions left to make as far as who to bring back. There may be more moves, but in terms of resigning players, the Twins will stand pat.
New York Mets: Tim Byrdak, LHP
The Mets are absolutely a team in transition, but that doesn't mean they have to cut ties with all of their free agents. Namely, keeping a reliever like Tim Byrdak would be a smart move. Solid lefty relievers don't exactly grow on trees, and the Mets would love to have his arm coming out of the bullpen in 2012. He was very effective last year, so provided he doesn't get much more expensive, Byrdak would be a great signing.
New York Yankees: Andruw Jones, Outfielder/DH
The Yankees love Andruw Jones. His still-effective bat and glove combined with a great clubhouse presence makes him a very attractive option to bring back for 2012. Obviously, he isn't going to be an everyday player for the Yankees, but he showed in 2011 that he is quite effective off the bench and filling in for injured or resting players.
If the Yankees want to make a good value signing, they'll ink Jones.
Oakland Athletics: None
With the current fire sale going on in Oakland, it makes little sense for them to re-sign any of their current free agents. With most of the good players on the team gone (likely including Andrew Bailey, pictured), the A's will rely more on draft pick compensation and building from within.
Philadelphia Phillies: None
Had this article been written a few weeks ago, I would have said the Phillies need to re-sign Jimmy Rollins. Now that they have, the Phillies don't have many more needs to address, especially not in the form of re-signing some of their current free agents.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Ross Ohlendorf, RHP
After an epically horrendous 2011 season for Ross Ohlendorf, the Pirates declined arbitration and sent him to free agency. However, this doesn't have to be the end of his stint in Pittsburgh. If the Pirates want, they could sign him to a minor-league deal and give him another shot. He's shown that he can potentially be an effective pitcher, which the Pirates need. It's a low-risk gamble.
San Diego Padres: Jorge Cantu, Infielder
The Padres need all the offense they can get, so why turn to a guy who hit .194 last year? Well, Jorge Cantu is a better player than that and, especially for the price he will command, is a no-lose signing that could provide some good at-bats off the bench. With Yonder Alonso now on the team, he probably won't be playing much first base, but Cantu is a versatile player.
San Francisco Giants: None
The Giants have already done some good work this offseason, resigning Javier Lopez and Guillermo Mota. Beyond that, there weren't many Giants free agents that would have been smart resignings. In my opinion, the remaining free agents should be sent on their way.
Seattle Mariners: None
Another team with a major question mark as to the direction of the team, the Mariners don't really have any free agents that are "must-keeps." They will make a big-time run at Prince Fielder, but aside from that, the Mariners just have bits and pieces to sign, none from within.
St. Louis Cardinals: None
In effect, the biggest signing of St. Louis' offseason will be getting back RHP Adam Wainwright next season. Beyond that, though, there aren't many Cardinals free agents that are worth bringing back. Many of the role players in this year's World Series run are still on the team, so John Mozeliak and company will probably stand pat.
Tampa Bay Rays: Casey Kotchman, 1B
Last year, the Rays signed Kotchman to a minor-league deal that ended up being the best move of the offseason. Kotchman had a terrific year for the AL Wild Card winners both offensively and defensively. He deserves a pay raise, but the Rays should be willing to take on that salary just by how valuable Kotchman was to the team last year.
If he has a similar year in 2012, the Rays will have all the production they need from their first baseman.
Texas Rangers: Brandon Webb, RHP
This isn't to say that the Rangers cannot afford to lose Webb, rather that there is absolutely no-risk in inviting the righty back to spring training and giving him a minor-league contract. He is a few years removed from his last full season, but if he can get healthy again, he could prove to be a very valuable and very surprising signing.
Toronto Blue Jays: Shawn Camp, RHP
The Blue Jays are going to be in an absolute dogfight in the AL East, so they need all the guns they can get. That said, they need to bring back Camp, a reliable and solid righty reliever who has been very good for the team the last few years. He will come relatively cheap, as he isn't an All Star, but he gets the job done nearly every time out. Toronto would be smart to re-sign him.
Washington Nationals: Rick Ankiel
After a disappointing 2011, the Nationals seem to have soured on Ankiel a bit. However, it still would be wise for them to re-sign the outfielder, as he would make an excellent fourth outfielder. The Nats are a team that are clearly serious about making a run at contention, so building a strong bench is imperative. Signing Ankiel would be the first step in doing just that.