Baseball BeatSeptember 04, 2007
A Preview of This Year's Free Agent Class: Part One - The Hitters
By Rich Lederer

As the baseball season enters the home stretch, I thought it would be a change of pace to take a look at this year's free agent class. Today's sneak preview focuses on position players. I will complete the two-part series tomorrow by concentrating on starting pitchers and relievers.

Depending on what happens with Alex Rodriguez and several players with club options, the free agent crop ranges from uninspiring to . . . well . . . inspiring. Here is a guide broken down position-by-position.


Brad Ausmus         HOU
Paul Bako           BAL
Michael Barrett     SD
Gary Bennett        STL
Ramon Castro        NYM
Wiki Gonzalez       WAS
Jason Kendall       CHC
Jason LaRue         KC
Paul Lo Duca        NYM
Damian Miller       MIL
Chad Moeller        CIN
Jose Molina         NYY
Josh Paul           TB
Jorge Posada        NYY
Ivan Rodriguez      DET
Yorvit Torrealba    COL
Javier Valentin     CIN

Two of the best catchers in the game could become free agents after the end of the season, as well as a number of serviceable backstops.

Jorge Posada (.329/.411/.528) is not only having what looks like a career year but perhaps the best offensive season by any 35-year-old catcher in the game's history. Although there is no doubt that the Yankees want to keep Posada and can afford to bring him back, I can't help but think there could be an issue as far as the number of years involved. The Yankees will probably offer two years with perhaps a club option for a third while Posada will undoubtedly want three years guaranteed.

The Detroit Tigers have a $13M club option on Ivan Rodriguez for the 2008 season. Given the $3M buyout, one could argue that the cost to bring back I-Rod is only $10M. Thanks to EIGHT walks in 442 plate appearances, the future Hall of Famer's .288 OBP is as low as it has been since his rookie season in 1991. That's not all. I-Rod's AVG (.274) and SLG (.415) are at 14-year lows. It's a tough call at this point but look for Rodriguez to spend one more summer in Motown.

First Basemen

Sean Casey          DET
Tony Clark          ARZ
Jeff Conine         NYM
Julio Franco        ATL
Kevin Millar        BAL
Olmedo Saenz        LAD
Mark Sweeney        LAD
Mike Sweeney        KC

Unless a club is looking for a veteran pinch hitter on the cheap, there's not much to choose from this year's crop of free agent first basemen. Don't be surprised if one or two retire while the others cross their fingers and hope they can prolong their careers for another season or two.

Kevin Millar's $2.75M option for 2008 is guaranteed with 475 plate appearances in 2007. Given that Millar is within 20 PA of the threshold, he is a virtual certainty of returning to the Orioles next season. His salary will increase based on the number of games played and additional plate appearances but is likely to be in the vicinity of $3M.

Second Basemen

Marlon Anderson     NYM
Craig Biggio        HOU
Luis Castillo       NYM
Damion Easley       NYM
Mark Ellis          OAK
Marcus Giles        SD
Tony Graffanino     MIL
Tadahito Iguchi     PHI 
Jeff Kent           LAD
Mark Loretta        HOU
Kaz Matsui          COL 
Luis Rivas          CLE
Jose Valentin       NYM

The list of second basemen is a bit thin, especially after accounting for the club options that are likely to be exercised. However, this is more the norm than not at a one of the most replaceable and affordable positions on the field.

The Oakland A's hold a $5M club option with a $0.25M buyout on Mark Ellis. Given his offensive production (.262/.322/.421 with a career-high 16 HR) and defensive excellence, it would be a surprise if the A's didn't exercise their option on the 30-year-old second baseman.

Marcus Giles was non-tendered by the Atlanta Braves a year ago. He signed a one-year contract for $3.25M with the San Diego Padres in December with the club holding a $4M option for 2008. Based on his disappointing performance (.229/.300/.322) to date, the Padres are unlikely to bring Giles back next season, especially at $4M. However, it's possible that the two sides could work out a deal to keep the Brothers Giles together for one more season but at a greatly reduced price in the case of Marcus.

Matt Antonelli, 22, is on the verge of becoming San Diego's everyday second baseman. He has hit .305/.402/.490 with 21 HR, 82 BB, and 28 SB in High-A and AA this season. The 17th overall pick in the 2006 draft, Antonelli has developed home run power that was unseen in his professional debut last year and throughout his collegiate career at Wake Forest. Craig Stansberry, who was called up to the big league club 10 days ago when Giles went on the DL with a knee sprain, could serve as an interim solution if Antonelli isn't ready next spring. Claimed off waivers by the Padres last December, Stansberry hit .273/.370/.446 with 14 HR and 70 BB in 124 games with Portland (AAA). Born in Saudi Arabia, the 25-year-old played for the World team in the Futures Game during All-Star weekend in San Francisco.

Tadahito Iguchi was signed as a free agent from Japan in January 2005. The White Sox exercised a club option last October, paying him $3.25M for 2007. It included a clause requiring the White Sox (now the Phillies) to extend the deal before the conclusion of the 2007 season or grant him his release, effectively making Iguchi a free agent after three years of MLB service. Iguchi filled in admirably for Chase Utley in August when the latter was on the DL but doesn't fit into Philadelphia's longer-term plans. He won't have any trouble finding a suitor for his services next season.

Kaz Matsui has the same clause in his contract as Iguchi. After earning $20M from 2004-06, Matsui re-signed as a free agent last November for $1.5M. Given his success with the Rockies, it's possible that a mutually acceptable deal could be reached to keep Matsui in Colorado for another year or two.

Jeff Kent inked a one-year extension in March 2006 that called for a signing bonus of $2M, a salary of $9M, and a club option for 2008 at $9M plus $2.35M in performance incentives and escalators or a buyout of $0.5M. His option becomes guaranteed with 550 plate appearances in 2007. With almost 500 PA through yesterday, Kent, who turns 40 next March, is almost a sure thing to be back with the Dodgers in 2008.

Here is a list of all the second basemen aged 40 and above who played in 100 or more games:

Joe Morgan   103  1984  40 OAK 116 365 50  89  21  0  6  43  66  39  .244  .356  .351 
Nap Lajoie    99  1915  40 PHA 129 490 40 137  24  5  1  61  11  16  .280  .301  .355
Craig Biggio  83  2006  40 HOU 145 548 79 135  33  0 21  62  40  84  .246  .306  .422
Nap Lajoie    79  1916  41 PHA 113 426 33 105  14  4  2  35  14  26  .246  .272  .312
R. Maranville 60  1933  41 BSN 143 478 46 104  15  4  0  38  36  34  .218  .274  .266
R. Maranville 59  1932  40 BSN 149 571 67 134  20  4  0  37  46  28  .235  .295  .284

The good news for Kent is that these players are – or will be – Hall of Famers. The bad news for the Dodgers is that only one of them had an OPS+ equal to or better than 100. But just maybe today's 40 is yesteryear's 35, giving Los Angeles and its fans hope that Kent can be productive for at least one more season.


David Eckstein      STL
Cesar Izturis       PIT
Ramon E Martinez    LAD
John McDonald       TOR
Neifi Perez         DET
Juan Uribe          CHW
Omar Vizquel        SF

This is your year if you like good-field, no-hit shortstops. Even steroids haven't helped one of the members of this punchless group.

Cesar Izturis is in the final season of a three-year, $9.9M contract. There is zero chance that the Pirates will exercise their $5.45M option for 2008. Juan Uribe is also at the tail-end of a three-year deal that paid him $9.75M. The White Sox have a $5M club option for 2008. Uribe brings solid defense and . . . gasp . . . some power to the position but, with an OBP of .263 in 2006-07, is a certified out machine as a hitter.

Ramon Martinez re-signed a one-year deal with the Dodgers last November for $0.8M with a $1M club option for 2008. He's not really needed but flip a coin as to whether Ned Colletti brings back one of his favorites next season.

Third Basemen

Russell Branyan     STL
Corey Koskie        MIL
Mike Lamb           HOU
Mike Lowell         BOS
Greg Norton         TB
Abraham O. Nunez    PHI
Alex Rodriguez      NYY 

OK, now we're talking. The player whose first name starts with an "A" and last name ends with a "z" holds all the cards. No, not Abraham Nunez. We're talking about Alex Rodriguez here. The Yankees third baseman has a 10-day window after the World Series to void his contract. The Texas Rangers are hoping and praying that A-Rod opts out of his agreement. Texas, which has already subsidized the Yankees to the tune of approximately $46M over the past four years, will no longer be on the hook for about $21.3M if the future Hall of Famer terminates the 10-year contract he signed in December 2000.

Under the current arrangement, the Yankees are only on the hook for $15.9M in 2008, $16.9M in 2009, and $17.9M in 2010. Should A-Rod opt out as expected, New York will most likely need to bump up its financial obligation by an average of roughly $13M for each of the next three years and add at least two more years to the back end of the contract at a minimum of $30M per season.

In the improbable event that Rodriguez chooses not to void his contract this year, he may opt out after 2008 or 2009 unless the club increases his 2009-10 salary by $5M/year or $1M more than the highest-paid MLB position player. You can check out additional details at Cot's Baseball Contracts.

The Milwaukee Brewers and Toronto Blue Jays will split Corey Koskie's $0.5M buyout. Look for the 34-year-old third baseman, who has been out all season with a postconcussion syndrome, to hang up his cleats for good. Greg Norton (.219/.343/.315) should follow Koskie's lead and retire as well. Suffice it to say that Tampa Bay will not exercise the $1M club option for 2008.


Bobby Abreu         NYY
Moises Alou         NYM
Barry Bonds         SF
Milton Bradley      SD
Mike Cameron        SD
Brady Clark         SD
Jeff DaVanon        OAK
Adam Dunn           CIN
Darin Erstad        CWS
Luis Gonzalez       LAD
Shawn Green         NYM
Eric Hinske         BOS
Torii Hunter        MIN
Geoff Jenkins       MIL
Andruw Jones        ATL
Bobby Kielty        BOS
Rob Mackowiak       SD
Orlando Palmeiro    HOU
Corey Patterson     BAL
Aaron Rowand        PHI
Reggie Sanders      KC
Sammy Sosa          TEX
Brad Wilkerson      TEX

Outside of Posada and the two Rodriguezes, almost all of the talent in this year's free agent class of hitters will come from the pool of outfielders. Counting Barry Bonds, there are seven players who will get the attention of more than one team. They will be expensive, especially in a market with too many dollars chasing too few players. Supply and demand will dictate that three or four players among Bobby Abreu, Mike Cameron, Adam Dunn, Torii Hunter, Andruw Jones, and Aaron Rowand will get deals that turn heads.

The Yankees have a $16M club option on Abreu for 2008. Although the 34-year-old right fielder's overall production (.284/.366/.443) isn't worthy of that salary, his second half numbers (.321/.393/.567) just might be enough to earn one more year in pinstripes. If New York passes, Abreu will receive a buyout of $2M.

Dunn will be contacted by several teams if the Reds choose not to exercise their $13M club option for 2008 that could escalate to $16M based on award bonuses. His agents should be fired for only negotiating a $0.5M buyout but that is another story. According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, "if club exercised 2008 option, Dunn receives full no-trade clause until 6/15/2008 and limited no-trade clause for the remainder of 2008 (allowing Dunn to specify 10 clubs to which he would accept a trade)."

Cameron, Hunter, Jones, and Rowand comprise a bountiful crop of center fielders. Cameron, who is putting up his usual offensive stats and chasing down flyballs in Petco, and Rowand, who is more than matching his previous career season in 2004, won't break the bank and could prove to be better values than the more highly touted Hunter and Jones.

Bonds is a special case. He earned $15.8M plus as much as $4.2M in performance bonuses this season. Other than the Giants, I don't see any team offering Bonds the opportunity to make $20M next year. If GM Brian Sabean has his way, San Francisco might not even be in the running for his services. However, owner Peter Magowan may give Bonds a chance to reach 3,000 hits by accommodating him for one more season unless he is indicted on tax evasion and perjury charges when the grand jury reconvenes later this month.

Kosuke Fukudome, who has played his entire career with the Chunichi Dragons in Japan, will be an unrestricted free agent not subject to the posting process. Nicknamed the Dome, the reigning Central League MVP has line-drive power, good on-base skills, and a strong arm. Mike Plugh at Baseball Prospectus has a more complete list of potential free agents and posting candidates from Japan.

Be sure to check back tomorrow for a discussion of the free agent pitchers about to hit the market.

Sources: Cot's Baseball Contracts and Play Index.


Good stuff, Rich. I see you are assuming (as am I) that the Padres will not pick up Mackowiak's option for '08. Also, slight correction: Branyan now plays for the Phillies.

A first-rate job as usual, Rich. If you like mediocrity and over the hill players, this free agent crop is your dream come true.

Actually, I believe Branyan was traded to the Cardinals (from the Phils) in the past week or so.

I'm not so sure A-Rod opts out. I know Boras will make noise like he will to have maximum leverage, but I think the Yankees sign him to an extension for 2 of 3 years (maybe with a signing bonus), and they leave his original deal alone.

This is an amazingly old and thin group of players except CF.

Why on earth would the giants give Bonds another $20mil when they could plug in league average hitters at every position and quite easily win 90 games next year with that top 10 pitching staff?

I agree with Mike -- I think it is a risky assumption that A-Rod will opt out of his contract. I think Boras will realize that he can maximize A-Rod's $$$ by extending the current contract, not voiding it. I can see A-Rod getting 3 more years at $30 million per year...

Giants need to let go of Bonds to AL and sign TWO of the FA outfielders with power, including a bona fide CF'er. Rotating Roberts and Winn then makes sense if the dollars work. Looks like their answer at first is a RH'd bat to platoon or compliment Klesko, who fielded well this year. And they need to look hard at 2B. Durham's season got to his head...his 2nd half '06 was monstrous.Ray's fundamentals are solid, but the pitcher's seemed to outthink him. He spins away from obvious strikes, staring at the ump in disbelief. Poor recognition of the low and in breaking ball. Should look for his pitch early and not guess.

Greg Tellis

As Rich pointed out, the Rangers are off the financial hook if A-Rod opts out of his contract.

That means the Yankess or any other team would have to pay him and unsubsidized $30 million a year or so by themselves. How many teams could afford that kind of cash for one player?

Thanks, Jeff and Mike, for pointing out that Branyan is no longer with the SD and PHI. I have made the correction.

As for A-Rod, he won't opt out if the Yankees extend his contract before or during the 10-day window. Given that New York will continue to be subsidized by Texas over each of the next three seasons, I believe Boras could extract a lot more out of the organization in the years beyond the length of the current contract.

To wit, I could see Boras negotiating a three-year extension for as much as $35M per year with the Yankees. That way, A-Rod would average almost $30M per season for the next six years, an amount that I believe he just might be able to get in the open market from a team such as the Angels. New York could justify such an extension because the club would "only" be on the hook for $156M or an average of $26M per season.

Hi Rich. I know you and your mates post tons of Red Sox material, but I really thought you might have a comment about Mike Lowell. What's he likely to fetch with the crazy season he's having? Or will teams just see it as that, a crazy, no-change-of-repeating campaign? When the Sox traded for him he was a $10 million albatross. But he's earned it, at least this year.

Pete: Outside of A-Rod and a number of outfielders, Lowell is arguably the best of the rest. The Boston-Florida trade is interesting in a number of ways. As you know, the Red Sox accepted Lowell and his contract only as a condition of getting Beckett. He has turned out to be a pleasant surprise and has earned every dollar he's made in 2006 and 2007.

In hindsight, it is pretty obvious that 2005 was nothing more than an anomaly rather than the beginning of the downside in Lowell's career. That said, I can't imagine a single GM who would sign him to a new contract expecting him to repeat the numbers he's put up this season. But there is no reason to think that he can't be better-than-average both offensively and defensively for another campaign or two.

I don't think anyone would have a problem paying Lowell the same $9M for one or two more seasons. However, I'm quite certain that he will be looking to sign a three-year deal at or near that salary. Whether teams are willing to go beyond two years for a player who will turn 34 next February remains to be seen. My guess is that he will indeed find a club willing to go three years for a total outlay of $24-30M. Importantly, I'm not suggesting that it will be a *good* deal for the team. Instead, I'm only speculating that he will find a suitor at that price.

With all the talk about A-Rod opting out, who's gonna replace him from that list? I just don't see the Yankees letting him get away.

I don't disagree. Maybe I should have been clearer in my comments. I expect A-Rod to opt out only if the Yankees don't offer him an extension similar to what I have proposed in the comments above. In other words, he will not return to New York under the current contract without an extension. He either gets extended OR he opts out. The ball is in the Yankees court right now.

I mostly believe Cashman when he says that he is willing to offer A-Rod an extension (presumably in the neighborhood of 3 years at $35M/year), but is not willing to negotiate with him if he opts out. The mostly part is because if A-Rod does opt out and finds that the best offer outside of NY is for a lot less than the Yankees already offered, Cashman might make another offer well below the first one rather than just letting him go.

I can't see the Yankees wasting that $21M in Texas money by not making their best offer before A-Rod decides whether to opt out.

I don't think anybody is going to go heavily after Lowell. He's a .380/1.000+ OPS hitter at Fenway and and below an .800 OPS away from Fenway.