A Preview of This Year's Free Agent Class: Part One - The Hitters
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.
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.
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:
PLAYER OPS+ YEAR AGE TEAM G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO AVG OBP SLG 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.
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 Baseball-Reference.com Play Index.