Ranking the 10 Biggest Land Mines Left on MLB Free-Agency Landscape

Aaron Leibowitz@aaron_leibCorrespondent IFebruary 14, 2015

Ranking the 10 Biggest Land Mines Left on MLB Free-Agency Landscape

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    The MLB free-agent market is running thin, which means you can count on teams to make a few desperation offers to fill out their rosters. While there are still valuable players to be had, there are also some guys who simply aren't worth the risk.

    In this list of the 10 biggest land mines left in free agency, the rankings are based on risk versus reward—in other words, which decisions have the greatest potential to blow up in a team's face while also creating the largest explosion?

    Reliever Brian Wilson, for example, is only at No. 7 because the Dodgers are paying his 2015 salary and he can be signed at the league minimum. Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada, on the other hand, is near the top of the list because of the huge investment required to sign him.

    After reading these names, just don't say I didn't warn you.

No. 10: RP Joba Chamberlain

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Chamberlain is one of several "conditional" land mines on this list. According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, he was initially seeking a two-year deal, but he's turned down offers from multiple teams he didn't want to join.

    Chamberlain had a solid 2014 and could certainly contribute for some team in the late innings in 2015. But it sounds like he may be overvaluing his own services somewhat—though Rosenthal does say Chamberlain is now aware that getting a multiyear deal is unlikely.

    He made $2.5 million with the Tigers last season, and a deal like that, or one with a lower base salary and incentives, would seem much more reasonable than two years.

    In 2014, the 29-year-old posted a 3.57 ERA in 63 innings, and advanced stats suggest his ERA should have been even lower. But his second half was ugly: a 4.97 ERA, 1.50 WHIP and a dramatic drop in strikeouts. Rosenthal notes he was dealing with the illness of his mother, which couldn't have helped.

    Chamberlain is indeed a land mine, but since his asking price has dropped, he's relatively low on this list.

No. 9: SS Everth Cabrera

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    Cabrera has a jury trial set for April 13 and faces up to a year in prison if convicted on a charge of resisting arrest. So, yeah, teams may want to wait and see how that one plays out.

    Even if he is cleared, he still belongs in the land-mine category. He was terrible offensively last season, posting a slash line of .232/.272/.300 in 391 plate appearances. He stole just 18 bases after stealing 44 and 37 in 2012 and 2013, respectively.

    The bright side, of course, is what Cabrera did in 2012-13, swiping bags, getting on base at a respectable rate and proving to be an above-average defensive shortstop. 

    But then there's another negative: Cabrera was implicated in the 2013 Biogenesis scandal. It all adds up to a lot of baggage for a guy with a career .652 on-base plus slugging (OPS).

No. 8: RP Rafael Soriano

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Soriano is a land mine if he's asking for closer money, though as I wrote last month, he's a potential bargain if a team signs him as a middle-relief man and then he grabs the closer's role.

    The trouble is that his track record is so good that he will likely ask to be paid like a closer, even though he lost the Nationals' job to Drew Storen late last season. After a dominant first half, Soriano's second-half numbers were unsightly: a 6.48 ERA and 1.60 WHIP.  

    Instead of paying Soriano like a closer, a team may be better off taking a chance on a younger, less proven reliever who could be just as reliable as Soriano in 2015. 

No. 7: RP Brian Wilson

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    The Dodgers did most of the detonating on Wilson, which is why he's only at No. 7. Los Angeles released him in December and now owes his $9.5 million salary for 2015, per NBC Sports. That means any team can sign him at the pro-rated league minimum.

    Still, clubs should at least learn from the Dodgers' mistake. Wilson missed most of 2012 and 2013 due to his second Tommy John surgery, and he hit the disabled list with an elbow injury in April of last season after just two appearances.    

    He's only 32, and he did strike out more than 10 batters per nine innings in 2014. But he gave up a ton of hits (9.1 per nine) and walks (5.4 per nine). Sure, give him a shot—but don't expect much.

No. 6: Brandon Beachy

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Beachy has had two Tommy John surgeries and pitched in just five games since 2012. That would appear to make him a low-risk, high-reward option. But he boasts a career 3.23 ERA in four years with the Braves and is just 28, which means someone might consider signing him as a back-of-the-rotation starter.

    That would be a dangerous decision. As Anthony Castrovince of Sports on Earth notes, "The Rangers and Braves reportedly cooled on Beachy around the time he threw for teams," which suggests he may still need more time to build up his arm strength.

    Bouncing back from one Tommy John surgery is admirable; it takes a rare breed to do it twice and still succeed in the majors. Don't count on Beachy to hold down a rotation spot.

No. 5: RP Francisco Rodriguez

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Here's another one, like Soriano, that hinges on what Rodriguez is asking for and what you're expecting out of him. Plenty of teams still need a closer, and K-Rod saved 44 games for the Brewers last year. 

    But as Mike Axisa of CBSSports.com points out, the right-hander is hardly a sure thing to lock down the ninth inning in 2015: "[H]e was shockingly homer prone [in 2014] (14 HR in 68 innings) and that will make some teams nervous. Especially since he no longer has a big fastball at age 33 and relies on changing speeds and hitting corners to get outs."

    Rodriguez's four-seam fastball velocity in 2014 was a tick above 90 mph on average, according to FanGraphs. That's OK if he can locate, but if his velocity continues to dip and his homer rate stays elevated, K-Rod may not be worth the asking price.   

No. 4: RP Kyle Farnsworth

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    "I've still got it," the 38-year-old righty told Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle at the winter meetings in December.

    The numbers suggest otherwise: Over the past three seasons, he has posted a 4.40 ERA, 1.45 WHIP and 1.82 K/BB. 

    Farnsworth qualifies as a land mine precisely because he can still throw 95 mph. That alone will be enough to convince someone to give him a chance. Beyond that, though, there's no real reason to believe he can still be effective.

    After the Mets released Farnsworth last May, the Astros gave him a shot. It wasn't pretty. In nearly 12 innings, he had more walks than strikeouts and allowed eight runs on 14 hits.

    Unless Farnsworth discovers a new way to make his fastball move, he's probably not worth more than a minor league deal.

No. 3: SS Rafael Furcal

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    It's been sad to see Furcal's career get totally derailed by injuries over the past several years. Mark Townsend of Yahoo notes that Furcal has appeared in 50 games or less five times since 2007. His most recent setback was a torn hamstring in December, which ended his Dominican Winter League season. 

    Prior to that injury, Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com reported that the Phillies were kicking the tires on Furcal. At this point, though, there's no telling when he'll be back on the field again. The 37-year-old simply cannot be relied on to contribute regularly.

    Furcal is three years removed from an All-Star season in St. Louis. Since then, he's appeared in a grand total of eight games. It's best for teams to steer clear. 

No. 2: IF Yoan Moncada

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    There's no question the switch-hitting Cuban defector is a stud, but Moncada is only 19 and is going to cost a large chunk of change—all up front. Mike Axisa wrote, "[B]ecause his bonus is expected to be massive ($30 million or so based on some estimates), it will be taxed at 100 percent for exceeding MLB's spending pools regardless of who signs him. That means we're talking about a potential $60 million payout, all up front."

    This guy could be a franchise player. He could also, you know, not be. Sixty million is a mind-boggling amount to pay for a prospect, and it would likely prevent a team from spending on any more international free agents for some time.

    The Dodgers, Red Sox, Yankees and Padres are among Moncada's suitors, according to Steve Adams and Mark Polishuk of MLBTradeRumors.com, and he hopes to sign by Feb. 23, per Jerry Crasnick.

No. 1: SP Chris Young

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    Chris Young earned his American League Comeback Player of the Year Award for 2014. After missing all of 2013, he had a 3.65 ERA in 29 starts for the Mariners. He won 12 games for the first time since 2005.

    But there were lots of red flags from the 6'10", 35-year-old righty. His fielding-independent pitching (FIP) mark was 5.02. At Seattle's Safeco Field, he had a 2.48 ERA with eight home runs allowed; on the road, his ERA was 5.03 with 18 homers allowed. 

    That's not to say another decent season is impossible, but he'll almost certainly regress big-time from his 2014 performance. Young throws his fastball in the mid-80s and pitches up in the zone to induce fly balls. As Axisa notes, "Small-ballpark teams need not inquire." 

    As for big-ballpark teams? Young could be worth a try, but don't expect him to log 165 innings or hold down a middle-of-the-rotation spot again. 

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