The last of the free agents

March, 5, 2009
With the last big fish finally hauled into the boat, I thought it might be fun to review the list of remaining free agents who are, well, at least interesting for some reason or another:

Catcher: Ivan Rodriguez

We've addressed this subject not so long ago, but it still seems rather astounding that a (presumed) future Hall of Fame catcher, not so far removed from a pretty good season (2006), doesn't seem to have elicited much interest this winter. Maybe it's because teams were paying attention when he flopped as a Yankee. Or maybe it's because teams aren't thrilled with Rodriguez's new, skinnier look. Mostly, though, I think they're just not convinced that he's ever going to hit a lick again.

First basemen: Richie Sexson, Frank Thomas


Second basemen: Ray Durham, Mark Grudzielanek

At 34, Durham enjoyed perhaps his greatest season. At 35, Durham suffered through his worst season. And at 36, he bounced back with a solid season, first with the Giants and then (particularly) with the Brewers. He seems to have plenty left in the tank; last year he earned $7.5 million and was actually worth something like $12 million. I doubt if Durham is looking for a raise, and at this point I suspect he'd be happy with a serious cut. Yet a month ago he said, "I haven't even had an offer to turn down this winter. If I had something to think about, I could at least weigh my options one way or another. I haven't even had anything to say no to."

Grudzielanek's not as good as Durham, but then again it probably wouldn't take as much to get him signed. Grudzielanek earned just $4.5 million last season, and thus represented pretty good value. He'll turn 39 this summer, but he's been an average hitter in the American League in each of the past two seasons and still plays solid defense.

Shortstops: None.

Third basemen: None.

Outfielders: Moises Alou, Jim Edmonds

Alou is 42, which obviously limits his opportunities (and I know how he feels, as our birthdays are just a couple of weeks apart). Did you know that when Alou was 40 he batted .341, and that when he was 41 he batted .347? It's true. Of course, that .347 came in only 15 games and wasn't accompanied by any power. But even at 42, if reasonably healthy, he's probably worth a National League roster spot as a righty bat off the bench.

I thought Edmonds was finished. After a lousy 2007 with the Cardinals and a pitiful few weeks with the Padres last spring, I thought we'd seen the last of him. Or should have. Then he slugged .568 in 85 games with the Cubs, so I have to admit that my reports of his demise were premature. Edmonds really doesn't have the range for center field at this point, but he can still throw and I can't believe there's not a role for him somewhere as a platoon corner outfielder.

Starting Pitchers: Paul Byrd, Pedro Martinez, Mark Mulder, Ben Sheets

Byrd's ERA's in the past three seasons: 4.88, 4.59, 4.60. Home runs, walks, strikeouts … they've all essentiall flat-lined. So there's not much doubt about what you're getting with this guy. Granted, we're not talking about a Cy Young candidate … but you give Byrd a rotation slot in the National League and he's going to give you 30 starts and a league-average ERA.

Except he's not interested in starting 30 games. Last month he told Fire Brand of the American League, "I have two boys who need their father home more and a wife who feels like a single mom for much of the year. So I know all families are different, but I need to take the first part of the year off."

It's not clear what Martinez is thinking these days, but he seems uninterested in pitching for the kind of money typically paid to creaky junkballers with 17 wins in three seasons.

Speaking of creaky, over the past two seasons Mulder is 0-3 with a sparkling 13.11 ERA. So you might understand if clubs aren't exactly lining up to spend a few million bucks.

And then there's Sheets. Remember earlier this winter when every baseball fan in the Metroplex was screaming for the Rangers to sign Sheets? That was before the elbow surgery that's going to keep him out of action until the second half of July. At best.

Relief Pitchers: Joe Beimel, Chad Cordero, Dennys Reyes, Rudy Seanez

Over the past three seasons -- all as a Dodger -- Beimel was 11-4 with a 3.04 ERA. He gave up seven home runs in 2006, but has allowed just one over the past two seasons and 116 innings. Oh, and he's a lefty. Either he's a lousy guy in the clubhouse or his agent's not having a good winter. Because for the past 50 years there's been a place in the majors for a guy like Beimel, and I expect there will be for the next 50.

Cordero just has to convince someone he's healthy. I don't think he'll ever be an elite closer again (if he ever was) because he gives up too many home runs. But he's 26 and he's got a 2.78 career ERA, and might make someone a fine setup man someday.

Reyes is sort of like Beimel without the fastball (and thus the innings). Last season, he got into 75 games with the Twins and somehow totaled only 46 innings. Which might be some sort of record. Funny thing is, he's not that bad against right-handed hitters. Anyway, if somebody's looking for a LOOGY and can't afford Beimel, Reyes is a solid choice.

And finally, I can't let the opportunity pass to mention Seanez, who has pitched in the majors since 1989 (with a couple of enforced breaks) with nine different teams (including the Padres for three stints). He's 40, but pitched effectively in each of the past two seasons and picked up a World Series ring with the Phillies last year. I'm not convinced yet that he's not the new Jesse Orosco.


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