Baseball BeatNovember 28, 2006
2006-2007 Free Agency Preview (Part Three)
By Rich Lederer

Part One: Top Ten Hitters
Part Two: Top Ten Pitchers

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

Iwamura, an eight-year veteran of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows of the Central League and a member of Japan's World Baseball Classic championship team, has been known to slug home runs and strike out a lot. The soon-to-be 28-year-old throws right and bats left. He has won five Gold Gloves at third base in Japan, yet may find himself playing left field for the Devil Rays (who have B.J. Upton and minor league sensation Evan Longoria waiting in the wings to man the hot corner).

If you're looking for some predictions as to how Iwamura might do here in the States, then check out Jeff Sackmann's recent article for The Hardball Times.

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)
1B: Sean Casey (DET, 1x4), Shea Hillenbrand, Craig Wilson
2B: Ronnie Belliard, Mark DeRosa (CHC, 3/13), Adam Kennedy, Mark Loretta, Jose Valentin (NYM, 1x3.8)
3B: David Bell, Pedro Feliz, Wes Helms (PHI, 2/5.45), Aubrey Huff, Scott Spiezio (STL, 2/4.5)
SS: Alex Gonzalez (CIN, 3/14)
UT: Craig Counsell
OF: Frank Catalanotto (TEX, 3/13), Cliff Floyd, David Dellucci (CLE, 3/11.5), Luis Gonzalez, Jose Guillen, Kenny Lofton, Trot Nixon, Jay Payton, Dave Roberts, Preston Wilson

Other Pitchers

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)
RP: Danys Baez (BAL, 3/19), Joe Borowski, Chad Bradford, Keith Foulke, Eric Gagne, LaTroy Hawkins, Dustin Hermanson, Roberto Hernandez, Dan Kolb, Arthur Rhodes, David Riske, Justin Speier (LAA, 4/18), Mike Stanton (CIN, 2/5.5), Jamie Walker (BAL, 3x4), Kerry Wood

The above lists are not meant to be all inclusive. For a full report, be sure to visit ESPN's Free Agent Tracker.


I'm intrigued by Igawa. I don't know if his big curve will translate into big strikeout numbers in America. If it doesn't, I would imagine he'd be in a good deal of trouble.
Whatever pressure he might have felt coming to the U.S. has to have been somewhat alleviated due to the massive spotlight on Matsuzaka. I'm getting a kick out of the idea of the Yankees signing Igawa and the dueling Japanese pitchers been thrown into the rivalry. I don't think that there are good odds on this, but can you imagine the repercussions if the Yankees sign Igawa and he has a better year than Matsuzaka?

I don't understand the Kevin Kouzmanoff reference. Please elaborate.

"The above lists are not meant to be all inconclusive"
"all-inclusive" was probably meant.

Yes, I meant to write "all inclusive." Good catch. I will make that edit. Thanks.

With regards to Kouzmanoff, I meant to suggest that he may be a less-than-capable defensive 3B and could be a liability for a groundball pitcher such as Maddux.

Law is just flat wrong in his diagnosis of Igawa's fastball. Any YouTube video of Igawa features a fastball 87-91, though I do agree it has a little run. He doesn't have great control of the pitch, however, which should determine whether he's Zito or Ishii.

Love the curve and change, though.

With respect to Igawa, here is what Jose Reyes and David Wright had to say about his fastball:

"He has good stuff," Reyes told Newsday. "He throws hard and has a good changeup."

Wright, however, gave Igawa mixed reviews.

"I just don't know," Wright told Newsday. "I'd have to see him when he's in midseason form. You send a guy up there after a month layoff and you can't get a handle on a guy. But as far as a lefty goes, he has a sneaky fastball. I thought he threw, for a lefty, an average to above-average fastball, an above-average changeup, and his slider was a little flat. But with a month off, who knows? Could be any number of reasons."

Based on the above, I would venture to say the 87-91 that Igawa-Sawa quoted in the comment above is probably accurate.

Yeah, it's right, still confused where Law got his numbers. In the Youtube videos, Igawa even touched 93 a couple times. With control, it would be a plus pitch.

Must not have been in midseason form when Wright saw him, because the curve wasn't mentioned - it really is his best pitch. The change is solid-ave, the slider isn't very good.

A lot for the Yankees to pay, but he's worth it in terms of baseball talent and b) for the Yankees to keep an upper hold on the Red Sox in terms of Japan marketing. I wouldn't be shocked if Igawa posts numbers very similar to Zito at a fraction of the cost in 2007. And, as mentioned, old Kaz Ishii numbers wouldn't surprise me either.

$25 million seems like an awful lot for a back-of-the-rotation guy with a questionable arm. The general consensus on Matsuzaka was that he's a #1 in waiting, but Igawa's being mentioned as a possible lefty specialist and a #3 at the very best. I guess what I'm saying is that the $51 million doesn't look nearly so absurd as it did a couple weeks ago.

Jeff Weaver. Is it true he started on Ritalin after joining the Cardinals, or did I glance too quickly at somebody's on-line joke?

I can't figure out how to make $25 for Igawa work. Let's say the Yankees get 3/15. They're paying $10 a year for three years of what's likely to be profoundly mediocre starting. If they give more years, they can spread out the cost of the posting fee, but I wouldn't want to be on the hook for five or six years of this. The shorter they go, the more they paid for not a lot of innings. It's Matsuzaka writ small and with zero upside.

Oh Lord, the Igawa justifications are running rampant throughout the online world. Everything written by anyone who matters has been not impressive, but of course, a YouTube video shows him hitting 93 or whatever, when we don't even know if the gun is accurate or how often he does it. I've seen games on TV where Eric Milton hit 94, I don't know if these guns just lie or what but maybe an occassional 94 doesn't get you what it used to.

Some of these figures seem like lowball numbers to me. Gil Meche, 4 years, $32 million? It's easy to some fool team offering him 4/40.

Signing Igawa to $5M/yr even with the signing bonus is good for the Yankees because they don't pay luxury tax on the posting fee. Tax on a $40M/4yr is a lot. Tax on a $20M/4yr contact isn't.

Even if they get him for as little as $20M/4 yrs, it's still a $45 million investment in a pitcher who no one expects to be much more than average (and who could be much worse). $10M/yr is the going rate for average these days, and I guess they figure Igawa's as reliable as the Weaver/Suppan/Lilly types who are going to cost about the same. But what's $25 million to the Yankees?

Interesting that Kouzmanoff is considered below average defensively here but that Jeff Sackmann rates him as the fourth best defender at third base in the minor leagues. Either way, Maddux isn't as much of a concern as current Padres starter Clay Hensley, who was a more extreme ground ball pitcher last year than Maddux. On another note, here's hoping Durham lands in San Diego...

Hi Geoff. My comments re Kouzmanoff were as much based on reputation, his body, the fact that he also plays 1B/LF as anything else. Call me skeptical of the numbers in this case. I would feel more confident in my stance if I had the luxury of watching him play. Maybe he will be serviceable in a Jim Thome way for a few years, then move to 1B as he ages, gets bigger, and slows.