Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Hitters Still Hunting For Jobs

Spring training is almost upon us, the Hot Stove has cooled, and teams are still finalizing their rosters.  Even so, there are still plenty of free-agent bats available on the market for bargain-hunting GMs looking to add some offense.  You'll notice that many of them were great players not too long ago but have declined due to age, injuries, or both.  I listed their current ages in parentheses, courtesy of ESPN.com's handy free agent tracker.

Orlando Cabrera (37)
You mean to tell me the guy who's played for nine teams in the past eight seasons hasn't found a home yet?  He bounces around the big leagues like he's a pinball, so he has to end up somewhere, right?  Seriously, though, if Jermaine Dye and Barry Bonds couldn't get signed than I don't see how he could find an employer willing to add an aging shortstop who barely bat his weight.

Eric Chavez (34)
Poor Chavy.  Not too many players as good as he was are done at age 28, but a never-ending string of injuries in the vain of Ken Griffey Jr. have sabotaged a career that was shaping up to be Scott Rolen-esque.  The hot-corner stud for Oakland's "Moneyball" squads hasn't been above replacement level in half a decade, and if I were him I'd probably call it a career.   

Carlos Guillen (36)
Guillen had some really nice years for the Tigers back in the mid-aughts, making three All-Star teams and batting .313/.377/.506 from 2004 through 2007.  Unfortunately, the lethal combination age and injuries caught up with him and eroded his skills. 

Johnny Damon (38)
JD's getting up there in age and is too old to play the field on a regular basis, but he's still incredibly durable (sixteen straight seasons of at least 140 games played) and would be a serviceable DH somewhere.  His .300 average/20 homer days are long gone, but he still has decent pop and should be good for double digit steals.  He seemed like  good fit in Tampa Bay, but they have no room for him after acquiring Luke Scott and Carlos Pena.

J.D. Drew (36)
Drew suffered through an injury-marred 2011, missed half the season and posted the worst numbers of his fourteen-year career.  His OPS has declined in three straight seasons and he's always been injury prone, but I think he should bounce back if someone takes a flyer on him in 2012 with a one-year, incentive laden deal (but a far cry from the $14 million he hauled in last year).  He can still play a capable rightfield, and if he can find a full-time gig I could see his numbers rebounding to 2010's .255/.341/.452 levels with fifteen or so home runs.

Vladimir Guerrero (36)
Like most of Baltimore's aging free agent additions (Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, Derrek Lee), Vlad the Impaler saw his numbers plunge with the Orioles; his slugging percentage fell 80 points from hi 2010 comeback with Texas and his HR/RBI totals were virtually sawed in half.  His plate discipline, which was usually better than people give him credit for, abandoned him altogether as he drew just 17 walks in nearly 600 plate appearances.  On the bright side, he still batted .290 and whacked 30 doubles, so he isn't totally helpless at the plate just yet.  If someone can get him as their DH for a one-year, five million dollar deal he could prove to be a massive bargain if he returns anywhere close to his 2010 All-Star form.

Brad Hawpe (32)
Was one of baseball's most underrated players from 2006 to '09, when he averaged 25 dingers and 93 RBI a year for the Rockies with a strong .288/.384/.518 line.  Then, kind of like Adam Dunn, he just lost it, almost overnight.  He fell off a cliff after turning 30 and getting traded out of Colorado didn't do him any favors either, but he's still young enough to have some bounceback potential.  Getting away from PETCO, a far cry from Coors Field, can't hurt.

Raul Ibanez (39)
Belted 20 home runs and knocked in 84 runs for Philadelphia last year, but regressed for the second straight season and posted his worst rate stats in over a decade.  He can't play leftfield or hit lefties (.585 OPS against southpaws in 2011) anymore, but the Yankees are reportedly close to signing him to fill the void at Designated Hitter left by the Jesus Montero/Michael Pineda swap.  He could benefit from taking aim at Yankee Stadium's short porch in right, buut would lose substantial playing time as he would undoubtedly platoon with Andruw Jones, who dominated lefties last year with a .923 OPS.  New York can only hope he doesn't fall apart the way Jorge Posada did in 2011.

Jason Kendall (37)
Apparently, aging catchers who can't hit aren't in high demand these days.

Derrek Lee (36)
Lee struggled to adapt to life in the American League with Balitmore last year, but once the O's shipped him to the Pirates at the deadline he started hitting like it was 2005.  Admittedly those 28 games represent a small sample size and his torrid hitting was probably just a flash in the pan, but it's tough to ignore an Adrian Gonzalez-esque .337/.398/.584 line.  The three-time Gold Glove winner probably be better suited to a DH role, but he's so comfortable in the Senior Circuit that it doesn't make much sense to move him.  Someone might take a chance on him and hope to catch lightning in a bottle, even though his numbers have dipped the last two years.

Ryan Ludwick (33)
Ladies and gentlemen, your 2011 San Diego Padres home run leader--with a whopping total of eleven through 101 games.  The Padres didn't even let him stick around to make a run at 20; a midseason trade sent him to the Pittsburgh Pirates.  that means San Diego finished the season without a player who hit more than nine home runs. 

Hideki Matsui (37)
Godzilla just hasn't been himself since leaving the Yankees, and he tanked last year as Oakland's DH.  He hit significantly better outside of the Oakland Coliseum (road OPS 66 points higher and twice as many home runs) and settled in after the All-Star break, batting .295/.353/.425 in the second half with an OPS 162 points higher than his first half figure, indicating he still has something left in the tank.  He can still hit lefties (but struggled against righties), so take him out of that ballpark/lineup and he could be a useful piece somewhere.

Magglio Ordonez (38)
The 2007 AL MVP runner-up to Alex Rodriguez pulled a J.D. Drew by missing half the season and finishing with the worst numbers of his career.  Tough luck for Mags, who was always one of the game's most underrated hitters but lost two prime years to injuries and couldn't stay healthy in his mid-30s.  He'll miss out on the Miguel Cabrera-Prince Fielder fireworks show in Motown next season.

David Ortiz (36)
He's quarreling with Boston's front office over a multi-year deal, which he deserves based on the contract Derek Jeter signed last winter, but I really can't see Big Papi playing anywhere else.  The Sox would be foolish to let him go after the rejuvenated slugger batted .309/.398/.554 and narrowly missed the 30 home run/100 RBI benchmarks.

Juan Pierre (34)
You know what you're getting with Pierre; a healthy outfielder who will provide lots of singles, steals, and little else.  A poor man's Ichiro Suzuki.  The thing is, he only swiped 27 bags last year after stealing 68 in 2010, and he was nabbed a league leading 17 times.  His other stats mirrored 2010, though, so it seems as though his skills are still intact.  Stolen bases are overrated, anyways (as Billy Beane pats me on the back).

Manny Ramirez (39)
The only person dumb enough to sign Manny Ramirez is, well, Manny Ramirez.

Ivan Rodriguez (40)
See Kendall, Jason.  Pudge has had a heck of a career, but he's really overstaying his welcome here.

Jason Varitek (39)
I made my thoughts pretty clear here.  The Red Sox have invited their captain back, but he's considering retirement.  It would be very fitting if he leaves the game along with Posada.

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