With a plethora of free agents all finding new homes, the amount of players on the free agent list is dwindling fast.
Players now off the board include: Jim Edmonds (Brewers), Miguel Batista (Nationals), Randy Winn (Yankees), Chad Tracy (Cubs), Tim Redding (Rockies) Fernando Tatis (Mets), Xavier Nady (Cubs) and Josh Fogg (Mets), Orlando Cabrera (deciding between Reds and Rockies).
There are still some intriguing names on the market. Let’s take a peek at three, plus where they could be a fit.
JOHNNY DAMON, LF
Damon’s plight has been well-chronicled recently. At the beginning of the offseason, Damon and superagent Scott Boras badly misread the market, asking for a salary in eight figures annually, over three years. As the market moved forward, Damon’s price dropped — but not at a rate that spurred a signing. Finally, the Yankees “gave up” (still not convinced they actually have a budget) and signed Randy Winn. With most teams set in outfield, homes for Damon are now in short supply.
The 36 year old cranked 24 home runs last year in homer-happy Yankee Stadium, putting up a .376 wOBA. While his -12/1 UZR/150 in 2009 indicates he was a bad left-fielder, UZR typically should be evaluated over the past three years, which indicates Damon was at worst, an average left fielder. His offense was undoubtedly aided by the new Yankee Stadium, but even his road numbers indicate he can still contribute — he posted slash lines of .284/.349/.446 over 278 road at-bats.
What teams could — or should — be a fit for Damon?
The Seattle Mariners are one. Right now, it looks as if the DH position will be shared by Milton Bradley and Ken Griffey, Jr. with left field split between Milton Bradley and Michael Saunders. All due respect to Griffey and his illustrious career, but he should be a strict bench player at this point in his career, as his 2009 .323 wOBA indicates. In addition, Michael Saunders has great promise to evolve into an above-average outfielder, but should really get extensive playing time in Triple-A as to not waste on the bench. With the departure of Russell Branyan and the importing of Casey Kotchman at first, the Mariners are lacking in power potential — even gap power. Signing Damon using him along with Bradley in a left-field/DH position would give significant value.
Another fit could be Cincinnati, who currently have a bunch of candidates to man left field. Frankly, none of them are appetizing. The Detroit Tigers could also be a potential fit, although it would push Ryan Raburn to the bench and extend their budget, something that the Tigers are unwilling to do by all indications. Then you have the Rays, who have been linked to Damon lately. Having Damon as the Rays’ DH instead of Pat Burrell would create a roster crunch, but aside from that, the upgrade would be clear.
YORVIT TORREALBA, C
Yorvit Torrealba is not a bad catcher. He is, by all indications, a “tweener” — a great backup who is stretched when asked to start. As a result, he hasn’t found any team willing to guarantee him extended playing time. The 31-year-old veers between solid plate discipline (8.7 percent in 2009) and poor (4.6 percent in 2008). He’s not a great defender, but he’s not a poor one either. Torrealba best fits on a team that has no clear-cut option at catcher, allowing multiple players to battle for the job. While fellow free agent catcher Rod Barajas has better power, he’s likely to come at a higher price and has absolutely no plate discipline to speak of. (The last four years, Barajas’ OBP is .289 with a whopping 75 walks… or one less than Joe Mauer in 2009.)
Seattle and the Mets jump immediately to mind. I’m not sure why the Mariners haven’t been linked to any catchers of consequence and seem to content to move forward with Rob Johnson and Adam Moore. Johnson and Moore, both completing their age 25 years, have a chance to stick as backup catchers or more in the future, but their current value shouldn’t preclude GM Jack Zduriencik from seeking out improvements. If he can bring in Torrealba on a one-year deal worth $2 million, they should jump at the opportunity.
The Mets also have a bunch of unimpressive names vying for the spot. Unlike Seattle, most of their catching candidates are old: Chris Coste and Omir Santos are on the wrong side of 30. They possess slightly more offensive upside than the Mariners trio, but also are stretched into starting spots and are at bigger risk for injury or attrition. They have youngster Josh Thole, but Thole is best off getting a full year in Triple-A with an eye towards becoming the full-time catcher in 2011. Stretching Thole into a significant 2010 role seems like a liability. (I mused on this recently, thinking Chris Snyder could be a fit for the Mets.)
Toronto has John Buck and Raul Castro as its current top two catchers. With names like those atop the depth chart, Torrealba would easily break the Opening Day roster. Having a platoon/battle between Torrealba and Buck might be the best thing for the Jays.
ORLANDO HUDSON, 2B
Poor Hudson. He’s been one of the best defenders in the game for years now, although he’s slipped recently. With the bat, he still contributes despite losing his job to Ronnie Belliard late in the 2009 season. Hudson is currently he key to the whole middle infield market, with Felipe Lopez, Adam Kennedy and Melvin Mora all waiting for Hudson to drop off the board. He’s been closely linked to the Nationals, although latest word is that Washington isn’t ready to bow into O-Dog’s salary demands, which are probably around the two-year, $5 million annually range.
Hudson’s numbers in 2009 with Los Angeles were surprisingly close to his career slash stats of .282/.348/.431 and entering his age-32 year indicates a steep decline certainly isn’t around the corner. Hudson, much like he was last year, figures to be a bargain for whatever team can snap him up for one year. One such team could be the Chicago Cubs, and it’s surprising the team hasn’t been more strongly linked to the former Diamondback and Blue Jay. The club seems content to move forward with Mike Fontenot and Jeff Baker battling for time at second in what would essentially amount to a platoon. Chicago has been perhaps one of the more disappointing teams this offseason, opting for largely lateral moves and not getting creative in actually improving the team. While Fontenot and Baker are good players in their own right, adding someone of Hudson’s caliber would mark a significant upgrade.
The Twins are a more logical landing spot, however. The club has been searching for a third baseman to no avail, and the names are fast dwindling into replacement-level options, of which they have plenty. Currently, it seems the arrangement would have Nick Punto at third with Brendan Harris at second. Alexi Casilla and Matt Tolbert would figure in the equation there as well. It’s a bunch of underwhelming names, and adding Hudson would instantly boost the team both defensively and offensively. It jampacks players together to battle for third between the names above, but when you have those uninspiring names, it’s best to have them limited to one position battle. Minnesota already is going to have its hands full trying to get Jim Thome and Jason Kubel in the lineup, but it’s far better to have a problem getting good players enough at-bats rather than hoping one bad player can get into a hot streak.