2006-2007 Free Agency Preview (Part Three)
Our free agent series concludes today with The Best of the Rest, a smorgasbord of mid-level and second-tier hitters and pitchers not featured in the first two parts. Teams should be looking to fill specific needs and round out rosters by giving such players one- and two-year deals, yet market forces will bestow three- and four-year contracts on many of these fortunate souls.
The following free agents are presented in alphabetical order as we believe the average annual salaries will prove to be virtually indistinguishable when it's all said and done.
Moises Alou - 40 - OF - 2006: San Francisco Giants
.301 AVG/.352 OBP/.571 SLG | HR 22 | RBI 74 | 28 BB/31 SO
Alou signed a one-year, $8.5M deal with the New York Mets more than a week ago. He seems like a perfect fit for the NL East champs. The 15-year veteran should be able to give his club 120 quality starts in left field, sitting out against certain righthanders and in day games following night contests. Endy Chavez can also replace Alou for defensive purposes when the Mets have late-inning leads.
How good is Alou? Well, Felipe's son slugged 22 HR in fewer than 100 games last year. He has over 2,000 career hits and a lifetime batting average of .301. Moises has tattooed lefties to the tune of .330/.395/.556 over the years. Still not convinced of his place in baseball history? OK, try this on for size: Alou's OPS+ of 128 is the same as Jim Rice, the man who garnered the second-highest vote total in the 2006 Hall of Fame balloting.
Ray Durham - 35 - 2B - 2006: San Francisco Giants
.293 AVG/.360 OBP/.538 SLG | HR 26 | RBI 93 | 51 BB/61 SO
Durham set career highs in HR and RBI last year. His SLG was more than .050 better than his previous single-season best. You would think he could really cash in on his numbers, but the problem is that nobody knows how much an aging second baseman with limited defensive skills should be paid.
Projection: If Durham is willing to settle for a one-year deal, he could probably command upwards of $10 million. But no GM is going to pay him that kind of money for anything beyond a year. Grab the money, Ray, and worry about next year next year.
Adam Eaton - 29 - SP - 2006: Texas Rangers
W-L 7-4 | ERA 5.12 | WHIP 1.57 | 65 IP | 43 K/24 BB
What goes around comes around. The Philadelphia Phillies drafted Eaton in the first round of the 1996 amateur draft, then re-signed him as a free agent ten years later. The two sides reached a three-year, $24 million deal yesterday, including a mutual option for a fourth season that could bring the overall package to more than $33 million.
Long on potential and short on results, a healthy Eaton will be counted on to give the Phillies 30 starts next year. Just don't look for him to beat his career 4.65 road ERA pitching half of his games at hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park.
Kei Igawa - 27 - SP - 2006: Hanshin Tigers
W-L 14-9 | ERA 2.97 | WHIP 1.10 | 209 IP | 194 K/49 BB
Igawa, who has a career mark of 86-60 in Japan, had his finest season in 2003 when he went 20-5 with a 2.80 ERA, leading the Central League in wins and ERA. He won the Sawamura Award, given to the top pitcher in Nippon, and was selected as the Central League's MVP. The fifth-fastest pitcher in Nippon history to strike out at least 1,000 batters, Igawa led the league in Ks in 2002, 2004, and 2006.
According to ESPN's Keith Law, Igawa has a "below-average fastball in the 84-88 mph range with a little run, and a plus 74-79 mph curveball with a late two-plane break." He is likely to be placed at the back-end of the rotation but could wind up as a LOOGY if righthanded batters feast on his soft offerings.
Projection: Igawa became the third Japanese player posted this offseason. Bids were due by 5 p.m. ET on Monday. The Yankees, Mets, and Cubs were rumored to have shown an interest in the lefthanded starter.
Update (11/28) - Yanks win Igawa rights with $25M bid
Akinori Iwamura - 28 - 3B or LF - 2006: Yakult Swallows
.311 AVG/.389 OBP/.544 SLG | HR 32 | RBI 77 | 70 BB/128 SO
Projection: Tampa Bay paid $4.5 million to win the right to negotiate with Iwamura. I have no idea what the terms of any contract will look like. Just put me in the skeptical camp.
Julio Lugo - 31 - SS - 2006: Tampa Bay Devil Rays/Los Angeles Dodgers
.278 AVG/.341 OBP/.421 SLG | HR 12 | SB 24 | 39 BB/76 SO
Will the real Julio Lugo please step forward? The TB version hit .308/.373/.498 with 12 HR in 289 AB while stealing 18 bases in 22 attempts. Meanwhile, the imposter who played for the LAD hit (so to speak) .219/.278/.267 with 0 HR (yes, ZERO) in 146 AB and 6 SB/5 CS.
Maybe the Devil (Rays) made him do it. If Lugo had performed at that level all year, he might be looking at something approaching Rafael Furcal's 3x13 contract in a market as lucrative as this year's. On the other hand, the guy who played for the Dodgers should be thankful if a team offers him an Alex Gonzalez three-year, $14M deal.
Projection: The truth of the matter will fall somewhere between what Furcal and Gonzalez are making. Call it 4x8 with Boston but not until Theo & Co. unloads Manny Ramirez to free up the needed cash to sign Daisuke Matsuzaka, J.D. Drew, and finally Lugo.
Greg Maddux - 41 - SP - 2006: Chicago Cubs/Los Angeles Dodgers
W-L 15-14 | ERA 4.20 | WHIP 1.22 | 210 IP | 117 K/37 BB
Maddux had a much lower ERA (3.30) and WHIP (1.09) with the Dodgers than the Cubs, but his strikeout rate dipped to less than 1 K per 2 IP while pitching for LA. The 4-time Cy Young Award winner still throws strikes but now needs a big ballpark and a strong defense in order to succeed. The San Diego Padres fit the bill although I suspect that Kevin Kouzmanoff could become a minor problem at third base should he win that job.
Projection: One or two years, at or near $8M per season.
Gil Meche - 28 - SP - 2006: Seattle Mariners
W-L 11-8 | ERA 4.48 | WHIP 1.43 | 186.2 IP | 156 K/84 BB
A first-round draft pick in 1996, Meche has never lived up to the hype that surrounded him in the early years of his career. A victim of two shoulder surgeries, he missed the entire 2001 and 2002 seasons and has only been a shadow of what was once expected of him.
From 2003-2006, Meche has posted single-season ERAs ranging from 4.48 to 5.09 despite starting nearly half his games at pitcher-friendly Safeco Field. His road ERA during this period has been 5.41. Don't say you weren't forewarned.
Projection: 4 x 8. The Cubs seem to have the inside track on Meche. Blame Lou Piniella for hanging onto yesteryear's hopes and dreams rather than paying attention to his actual performance the past four years.
Jeff Weaver - 30 - SP - 2006: St. Louis Cardinals
W-L 8-14 | ERA 5.76 | WHIP 1.51 | 172 IP | 107 K/47 BB
My, how things change. Weaver turned down a multi-year offer from the Dodgers a yaer ago, then signed a one-year contract with the Angels last spring, only to find himself DFA'd in late June to make room for his younger brother Jered, traded to the Cardinals by the ASG, and finally becoming one of the most unlikely postseason heroes for the World Series champs.
Projection: Weaver is likely to sign the biggest contract in the history of the game for a pitcher coming off a season with a 5.76 ERA. If he pitches like he did in the playoffs (when he won a game in each of the three series), Weaver will be a bargain at a 3x8-type deal. On the other hand, if Jeff reverts to his in-season form, he won't be worth the piece of paper he signs.
Randy Wolf - 30 - SP - 2006: Philadelphia Phillies
W-L 4-0 | ERA 5.56 | WHIP 1.69 | 56.2 IP | 44 K/33 BB
A native of Southern California, Wolf has reportedly agreed to a one-year contract with the Dodgers that guarantees him a minimum of $8 million ($7.5M salary plus a $500K buyout if the $9M team option for 2008 isn't exercised).
Wolf threw a total of 136.2 innings in 2005-2006 and hasn't pitched a full season since 2003. Apparently fully recovered from Tommy John surgery on July 1, 2005, the southpaw figures to earn a spot in the rotation next spring. A gamble for sure but a relatively low-risk one, given the short-term nature of the contract.
Other Position Players
C: Rod Barajas, Mike Lieberthal, Bengie Molina, Mike Piazza, Gregg Zaun (TOR, 2/7.25)
SP: Tony Armas, Miguel Batista, Bruce Chen, Orlando Hernandez (NYM, 2x6), Rodrigo Lopez, Jason Marquis, Mark Mulder, Tomo Ohka, Chan Ho Park, Mark Redman, Steve Trachsel, Woody Williams (HOU, 2/12.5)
The above lists are not meant to be all inclusive. For a full report, be sure to visit ESPN's Free Agent Tracker.