Baseball Beat/WTNYNovember 08, 2005
Free Agency Preview (Part Two)
By Rich Lederer & Bryan Smith

With the Hot Stove League about to begin, we are previewing this year's top 30 free agents in a three-part series. We covered #s 1-10 yesterday and continue with our second ten today. We start off with a certain former Boston Red Sox All-Star shortstop:

11. Nomar Garciaparra - 31 - SS - 2005: Chicago Cubs

.283 AVG/.320 OBP/.452 SLG | HR 9 | RBI 30 | 12 BB/24 SO

This was not supposed to happen. In fact, Nomar was never supposed to reach free agency. After hitting .372 in 2000, Nomar was a hero in New England to a Tom Brady degree. He was supposed to stay a Bostonian for life. And then, his wrist hurt. And it stayed hurt, and he was never the same. His days in Chicago were mediocre at best, and Garciaparra's health prevented North Siders from seeing his true colors, whatever they might be.

No longer is Nomar an asset at shortstop. Instead, he's better suited moving down the defensive spectrum to third base or left field. No longer is he a good bet to have a .360 OBP or even the .342 OBP that had been his career low before the 2005 season. No longer is Nomar a threat to slug over .500. But, he still has the potential to hit .280/.330/.470. Look for a team to give him one last shot to handle SS with the knowledge that he could be switched to 3B, if necessary. An infielder who can post an .800 OPS has value, although teams shouldn't expect him to play a full season.

And yes, he's a public relations department's dream. Or, at least has the potential to be.

Projection: 2 years, $15 million. However, you can bet there will be enough incentives and options in the contract to drive its potential value through the roof. We're just not optimistic he'll meet any team's demands.

12. Jeff Weaver - 29 - SP - 2005: Los Angeles Dodgers

W-L 14-11 | SV 0 | ERA 4.22 | WHIP 1.17 | 157 K/43 BB

Weaver throws two fastballs (a low-90s four-seamer as well as a high-80s two-seamer that runs and sinks), a hard slider, a slurve, and a mediocre change-up. At 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds, the lanky right-hander is long and comes at hitters with a low angle of delivery. Jeff's make-up is questionable and his body language on the mound when things go against him leaves a lot to be desired.

Weaver's splits show he is tough on RHB (.208/.241/.345) and at home (.237/.290/.385). On the other hand, he is less than ordinary against LHB (.297/.356/.511) and on the road (.277/.320/.489). After a rough April and May, Jeff settled down and posted a 3.60 ERA in the final four months of the season. Weaver is durable (224 IP in 2005 and has never been on the DL during his seven-year career) and has nearly impeccable control (one walk per five innings). However, he needs to drastically reduce the number of gopher balls (35, tied for the second most in MLB) to become anything more than a 4.00 ERA, middle-of-the-rotation pitcher.

Projection: 3 or 4 years @ $8-9M per. Seems like a lot of money but isn't that what these guys are now commanding?

13. Jarrod Washburn - 31 - SP - 2005: Los Angeles Angels

W-L 8-8 | SV 0 | ERA 3.20 | WHIP 1.33 | 94 K/51 BB

Washburn is the best southpaw in a thin market for starting pitchers. Jarrod throws the standard pitches but no longer relies on his heater the way he once did. He works the outside corner, throwing sliders to LHB and change-ups to RHB in addition to his two fastballs. Washburn has become less of a flyball pitcher in 2004-05 than he was in his first six seasons. The lefty is quick to home and rarely allows runners to steal bases (0-for-6 in 2005 and 37 SB with 38 CS since 2000). He consistently pitches better on the road than at home.

Jarrod's won-loss record and ERA were both misleading last year. He deserved to win more than eight games for a division champ but didn't pitch as well as his fourth-ranked ERA might indicate. Washburn, in fact, had the highest DIPS/ERA ratio in the league last year, suggesting that he benefited from strong defense and luck more than anything else. Wash also gave up more hits than innings, had a K/BB ratio under 2.0, and his 4.77 K/9 was the lowest of his eight-year career.

Projection: 3 years, $25+ million. Teach your kids to pitch left-handed.

14. Tom Gordon - 37 - RP - 2005: New York Yankees

W-L 5-4 | SV 2 | ERA 2.57 | WHIP 1.09 | 69 K/29 BB

It looked like at the age of 28, Tom Gordon was washed up. Fresh off signing a contract with the Boston Red Sox, Gordon had a 5.59 ERA in 1996. In 215.2 innings, Gordon allowed 249 hits, 105 walks and 28 home runs. He looked finished. The next season, the Red Sox converted Gordon in midseason to the bullpen. He has yet to look back.

For the last three seasons, Gordon has been one of the best relievers in baseball. In each, he has appeared in more than 60 games, with an ERA never higher than 3.16. Some worry that his K/9, which dropped to 7.70 this year, is a sign for future failure. However, Flash still shows the stuff that put him at the top: the mid-90s fastball, the devastating hammer curve, and the solid slider.

Projection: 3 years, $18 million. Likes Giles yesterday, he's a great bet for two seasons. However, some team will likely add a third year in order to secure their next closer.

15. Ramon Hernandez - 29 - C - 2005: San Diego Padres

.290 AVG/.322 OBP/.450 SLG | HR 12 | RBI 58 | 18 BB/40 SO

There was one change in the style of Ramon Hernandez at the plate in 2005: he stopped walking. Instead, Hernandez increased his batting average, this time to a career high .290. We can partially attribute this to Ramon showing the best contact skills of his career: 40 strikeouts in 369 at-bats. His on-base percentage was right near his career average, even if his tiny walk rate was his worst ever.

Hernandez has the potential to be a very good investment. If he could continue to show the same contact skills, while reverting to his past walk and power rates, he has .290/.350/.450 potential. He is also serviceable behind the plate, although few catchers were run on as much as Ramon last season. However, there is no question that Hernandez has a few obstacles to overcome before he reaches his ceiling, if that time has not already passed.

Projection: 4 years, $22 million. His position and youth will be enough to convince a team this contract is worth it. We don't advise a four-year deal with very many catchers, but the price should be low enough to make him a worthwhile bet.

16. Bengie Molina - 31 - C - 2005: Los Angeles Angels

.295 AVG/.336 OBP/.446 SLG | HR 15 | RBI 69 | 27 BB/41 SO

Molina had a career year at the plate in 2005, setting personal highs in AVG/OBP/SLG, as well as HR and BB. He slugged three HR in the first three games of the ALDS, fell back to Earth in the ALCS (2-for-17 with no extra-base hits), and ended up with overall numbers in the postseason that weren't distinctly different than his seasonal averages. Bengie rakes against lefties (.393/.430/.648) but has never been platooned despite his shortcomings vs. righties (.253/.294/.361). He is a contact hitter first and foremost, but his lack of speed causes him to hit into an inordinate number of double plays.

The oldest Molina brother is no longer the catcher he was in 2002-03 when he earned Gold Gloves by throwing out nearly 45% of base stealers. After a poor season in 2004, Bengie threw out an acceptable 31% last year. He is still an asset behind the plate and pitchers like working with him. However, Molina is a risky proposition for any team because of his age, weight, and poor conditioning.

Projection: 3 years, $20 million. An extra year or a few million more than prudence dictates.

17. Paul Byrd - 35 - SP - 2005: Los Angeles Angels

W-L 12-11 | SV 0 | ERA 3.74 | WHIP 1.19 | 102 K/28 BB

Every rotation could use a guy like Byrd. Although not a hard thrower, the veteran right-hander is effective because he throws strikes and changes speed. Paul is an old-fashioned pitcher in terms of his over-the-head windup and his style of painting the black with nothing more than average stuff. He is a nibbler and is much more comfortable working the outside, rather than the inside, part of the plate.

Byrd is much tougher on RHB (.234/.257/.382) than LHB (.306/.339/.473). The OPS differential has been about .200 over the past three years and his strikeout and walk rates are like night and day. To wit, Byrd's K/BB ratio over the past three seasons has been 9.05 vs. RHB and 1.58 vs. LHB. If Paul's not careful, he may end up being a ROOGY before his career is over.

Projection: 1 x $6 million with an option for a second year if the Angels sign him or 2 years, $12+ million should he go elsewhere. A serviceable pitcher when healthy.

18. Matt Morris - 31 - SP - 2005: St. Louis Cardinals

W-L 14-10 | SV 0 | ERA 4.11 | WHIP 1.28 | 117 K/37 BB

Morris is a fastball/curveball pitcher who throws strikes. His fastball topped out in the low-90s during the first half of the season and the high-80s in the second half. His overhand curve was once among the best in the game and his heavy sinker is primarily responsible for his above-average G/F ratio (1.60). Matt can be guilty of being around the plate too much and his HR rate has jumped to 1.22 per 9 the past three years vs. 0.58 from 1997-2002.

The big right-hander, who has had a history of struggling as the season progresses, posted an ERA of 3.10 prior to the All-Star break and 5.32 after. He gave up 113 hits (including 16 gopher balls) in just 88 innings and his K/9 plunged to 4.50. Morris is no longer the elite pitcher from 2001 when he was striking out nearly eight batters per nine and getting 2x the number of groundballs vs. flyballs.

Projection: 2 years, $13-15 million. Incentives, options, and buyouts likely to factor into his next contract.

19. Jacque Jones - 30 - OF - 2005: Minnesota Twins

.249 AVG/.319 OBP/.438 SLG | HR 23 | RBI 73 | 51 BB/120 SO

There is no question that other outfielders on the free agent list had better 2005 seasons or have had superior careers. None, however, are as young as Jones or play the outfield as well as he does.

Terry Ryan and the Twins have always been very stubborn regarding Jones. They should have realized a long time ago that Jones could not hit left-handers. In a continuing tradition, Jones hit poorly (.201/.247/.370) against southpaws. However, he continued to hit right-handers well, to the tune of an .814 OPS. He also is historically better away from the Metrodome (.822 OPS vs. .742).

Given the right context, Jacque Jones could succeed. He needs to stay away from Minnesota, preferably in a hitter's park. He also needs a good platoon partner, so he can avoid ever facing a southpaw again.

Projection: Last year, Jermaine Dye signed a 2-year, $10.15 million contract with the White Sox. The last $1.15 million is the buyout for a potential third season. Look for Jones to sign a very similar contract this winter.

20. Kyle Farnsworth - 29 - RP - 2005: Tigers/Braves

W-L 1-1 | SV 16 | ERA 2.19 | WHIP 1.01 | 87 K/27 BB

Few players are more frustrating to watch than Kyle Farnsworth. At times, he is as dominating as anyone. He mixes a fastball that can hit triple digits with an inconsistent slider and splitter. When Kyle gets the latter two over the plate, he is fantastic. However, he often falls into the trap of throwing these pitches too much, even when they aren't under control.

We have seen in the past what type of influence Leo Mazzone has on a pitcher. Mazzone had only a half-season with Farnsworth, but the results were sparkling: a 1.98 ERA, 32 strikeouts in 27.1 innings, and just 22 baserunners. Basically, we saw Mazzone bring out Farnsworth's ceiling. Kyle has always been close to breaking out, and there should be some closer openings that are willing to risk that he already has.

Projection: 3 years, $15 million. There is a lot of risk involved with Farnsworth, which will keep his next contract low. However, if he pitches like 2001 or 2005, this could be one of the winter's best deals.

* * * * *

Check back tomorrow for part three of this series, the final ten players on our list, as well as several honorable mentions. As for now, feel free to list your own projections -- and problems with our rankings -- in the comments section.

[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]


Sure, he's 37 and his peripherals are declining, but I would think Trevor Hoffman would be a more attractive FA than Farnsworth, if not Gordon as well.


Considering his experience in the role, there is no question that having Hoffman as your closer sounds better than Gordon or Farnsworth. But, does that mean that it is better?

Frankly, I'm just worried that Hoffman might be a time bomb. People are worried about Gordon's K/9 from 2005, but what about Hoffman, who has been under 9.00 for two years. And three years ago he missed most of the season with injury.

Again, bringing in Hoffman to pitch the ninth sounds better than Farnsworth or Gordon. But having Hoffman on your payroll for the next 2-3 seasons sounds considerably worse than the two we have on this list, if you ask me. Risk v. reward.

I'd like to take a stab at that one, too. I think Hoffman is the surest thing of the three, at least as it relates to next year. Farnsworth, in my opinion, has the most upside. And Gordon is somewhere in between the two but more like Hoffman than Farnsworth.

As far as which one of the three is the best bet, I believe that it comes down to a combo of certainty, upside, and money. At the same price, I would probably take Hoffman, if my need was for a traditional closer for a year. But I might gamble with Farnsworth if I could get him at a big discount to whatever it takes to sign Hoffman.

Where is jeff weaver going?

Weaver turned down the Dodgers' offer of arbitration a couple of days ago. L.A. has until January 8th to sign him. If the Dodgers don't ink Weaver by that date, he will be unable to negotiate with the team until May 1st.

My guess is that Weaver will wind up elsewhere. Look for him to get a Jarrod Washburn-like four-year contract for more than $9M per season.