Now we’re starting to see some bigger names. Here’s the fifth of six columns looking at the winter’s top 111 free agents. Nos. 30-11 are featured below.
30. Lance Berkman (Yankees - Age 35) - Berkman’s worst OPS in 10 full seasons was an 896 mark until he plummeted all of the way to 781 this year. He only truly got hot in July, when he clubbed six homers. Perhaps he would have continued to improve his numbers from there as an Astro, but after being traded to the Yankees and accepting a lesser role, he hit .255/.358/.349 with just one homer in 106 at-bats. Berkman has always had an old player’s skill set, and it remains to be seen whether he’ll remain effective in his upper-30s. On the plus side, he’ll likely command just a one-year deal after his poor season. He’ll also probably be willing to settle for less money to play somewhere he’s comfortable.
29. Adam LaRoche (Diamondbacks - Age 31) - The Diamondbacks got what they needed from LaRoche. His 788 OPS was a bit low, considering that his career mark was 834, but he was more valuable than that suggests because he came in at 924 with RISP, allowing him to drive in 100 runs for the first time in his career. Still, it apparently wasn’t quite good enough for Arizona, as the team is expected to decline its half of a $7.5 million mutual option, paying him a $1.5 million buyout instead. Consistent throughout his career and still relatively young, LaRoche is the safest choice among the first basemen available this winter. The team that signs him for $6 million or so will know what it’s getting.
28. Orlando Hudson (Twins - Age 33) - Luis Castillo excepted, second basemen tend to have a difficult time in free agency. Hudson overplayed his hand each of the last two winters and was forced to settle for modest one-year deals as spring training was starting up. He had something of a down 2010 with the Twins, but it wasn’t so significant after accounting for the fact that offense was down as a whole and Target Field was a tough scoring environment. Hudson has definitely lost some range through the years, but he remains an above average regular and he’s the top second baseman on the market right now. Perhaps he’ll finally get his first multiyear deal at age 33.
27. Johnny Damon (Tigers - Age 37) - If Damon can keep plugging along at 140 games per season, he’s three years away from reaching 3,000 hits. The decline in his production this year was largely the result of him moving from a ballpark that was ideally suited for his power stroke to one that wasn’t. He went from 24 homers to eight, but his OBP stayed right at his career mark and he delivered 36 doubles, matching his high mark since 2000. With the way his defense has eroded, Damon isn’t worthy of a multiyear deal. Still, he remains a perfectly useful left fielder and top-of-the-order hitter. He’ll find a team willing to give him another $7 million-$8 million for 2011.
26. Scott Downs (Blue Jays - Age 35) - Downs will be made one of the game’s highest-paid setup men after another exceptional year in Toronto in 2010. Left-handers hit just .152 off him, and he finished with a 0.99 WHIP in 61 1/3 innings. Not just a specialist, Downs has held right-handers to a sub-.250 average each of the last four seasons. Both the Red Sox and Yankees could be involved here, and it’d be a surprise if Downs doesn’t end up receiving at least $15 million for three years.
25. Derrek Lee (Braves - Age 35) - Lee and Berkman are the same age, but while Berkman has the superior career OPS by about 90 points, Lee will probably be viewed as having more left in the tank. He’s the more agile defender at first base, and he has been the better player the last two years. Also, Lee improved as 2010 went on, hitting .287/.384/.465 in 129 at-bats after joining the Braves. Whether that gets him a multiyear deal remains to be seen. Like Berkman, he’ll be pretty picky about where he plays, and he’ll probably be willing to accept less money for the security of a two- or three-year contract.
24. Manny Ramirez (White Sox - Age 38) - Is the ability still worth the hassle? Ramirez didn’t play a lot for the Dodgers this season, but when he was in the lineup, he hit .311/.405/.510, making him one of the NL’s top performers over the course of his 196 at-bats. The White Sox looked at that and figured it was worth taking a chance on him, but while he didn’t cause any problems in Chicago, he drove in just two runs while hitting .261/.420/.319 in 69 at-bats. Ramirez is currently lobbying to play in Toronto after the Jays hired former Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell as their new manager. The Jays do have an opening for him, and if he’s willing to sign for $6 million-$8 million, perhaps they’ll give him a try. However, if Ramirez tries holding out for $10 million or more, he’ll likely go unsigned into spring training.
23. Brian Fuentes (Twins - Age 35) - Fuentes was injured and ineffective early, but from June 22 onward, he allowed runs in just two of 30 appearances. He ended up with a 2.81 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP in 48 innings. He’s still in line for a paycut after finishing up a two-year, $17.5 million deal, but he should find another multiyear deal either as a closer for a middle-market club or a setup man for one of the big spenders.
22. Magglio Ordonez (Tigers - Age 37) - A broken ankle suffered in July not only cost Ordonez the rest of the 2010 season but also a chance to have his $15 million option for 2011 vest automatically. The Tigers, of course, will decline the option now, but it sounds as though they’d like to have Ordonez back at a reduced price tag. He was hitting .303/.378/.474 in 323 at-bats before getting hurt, and while he’s not exactly fleet of foot these days, he’s still a viable right fielder. He’d probably be an asset at half of the option price.
21. Jon Garland (Padres - Age 31) - Signing up to pitch in Petco was the smartest thing Garland could have done last winter. He threw his usual 200 innings and posted a career-best 3.47 ERA with the league’s top pitcher’s ballpark helping him along. That said, he was perfectly solid on the road as well, finishing 7-7 with a 4.01 ERA. Garland figures to decline his half of a $6.75 million mutual option for 2011 and seek a multiyear deal in free agency. With few quality starters available, he’d make sense on a two-year, $15 million contract.
20. Aubrey Huff (Giants - Age 34) - A bargain after signing for $3 million last winter, Huff was an MVP candidate for four months in 2010 before fading. Fortunately, even as he declined, he never stopped being productive, and he finished 10th in the NL with an 891 OPS. He didn’t help himself so much in the postseason, hitting a mediocre .268/.339/.357 with one homer in 56 at-bats. Still, the Giants won anyway and they figure to make a strong bid to re-sign him after he led the team in average, homers, runs and RBI. He could get two years and $14 million-$16 million.
19. Javier Vazquez (Yankees - Age 34) - Maybe the toughest call in free agency this winter. Vazquez was one of the NL’s top five pitchers in 2009, and he’s been remarkably durable. However, his down 2010 wasn’t simply a matter of him being unable to handle the pressure of New York; he lost his fastball in the second half of the season and never recovered it. Vazquez never complained of an injury or spent time on the disabled list, but he didn’t resemble a quality major league starter at any point after mid-July. For that reason, Vazquez may have to take a one-year deal in an attempt to rebuild his value.
18. Vladimir Guerrero (Rangers - Age 36) - It was a brutal postseason for Vlad, as he hit just .220/.242/.271 with no homers in 59 at-bats. He also had a down second half following his terrific start and finished with a modest 841 OPS. While he had the sterling triple crown line (.300-29-115), both his walk and doubles rates have declined, leaving him a less effective player. The Rangers should still exercise their half of a $9 million mutual option, but it’s no given that Guerrero would do better on the open market.
17. Jake Westbrook (Cardinals - Age 33) - Westbrook took a little while to get going in his first year back from Tommy John surgery, but he finished nicely, going 4-4 with a 3.48 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP in 12 starts after a trade to St. Louis. The Cardinals are focused on re-signing him, probably to a two-year deal. In this market, though, Westbrook might be able to get three years if he shops himself around. He’s a pretty good bet to stay healthy now that his elbow is once again sound, and with his sinker, he can pitch in any ballpark in the league.
16. David Ortiz (Red Sox - Age 35) - It’s amazing how Ortiz has reverted to form after horrible starts the last two seasons, but one of these years, he’s going to fail to find the one switch. It’s that thought that surely has the Red Sox worried as they have to decide whether to placate Ortiz with another multiyear deal, pick up his $12.5 million option for 2011 or set him free. If he weren’t Big Papi, the smart play would be to let him test the market. He’s probably worth $10 million for 2011 or $15 million for two years, but it’d cost them more than that to re-sign him now.
15. Rafael Soriano (Rays - Age 31) - Sure Mariano Rivera is a free agent as well, but since no one believes he’s going anywhere, Soriano is the top closer available this winter. Once one of the game’s most injury-prone pitchers, Soriano has been healthy four of the last five seasons, and he amassed a 1.73 ERA and a 0.80 WHIP on his way to 45 saves in 48 opportunities this year. He likely priced himself out of Tampa Bay with his performance, but the Braves, Nationals and Angels are among the teams that could come calling. He’ll probably seek $21 million-$24 million for three years.
14. Carlos Pena (Rays - Age 32) - Pena’s 2010 season was the best ever for a sub-.200 hitter, but that’s not saying a lot. Since he hit .282 during his MVP-caliber 2007 season, Pena’s averages have dropped to .247, .227 and now .196. He still hits plenty of homers and draws a ton of walks, but he’s not going to stay in a major league lineup it he can’t reverse that trend. Had Pena been a free agent a year ago, he likely would have been in line for around $30 million for three years. Now, after the down year and with plenty of competition at first base, he may need to take a one-year deal. He does offer more upside than the other first basemen in his price range.
13. Andy Pettitte (Yankees - Age 38) - Two possible outcomes here: Pettitte will either accept another one-year deal to remain with the Yankees or he’ll opt for retirement after flirting with it these last several offseasons. From a performance standpoint, Pettitte is coming off his best season since 2005 and one of the very best of his career. However, he was limited to 21 starts by a groin strain, his first significant injury since 2004. If Pettitte returns, it will probably be for something close to the $11.75 million he made this year.
12. Carl Pavano (Twins - Age 35) - The Twins decided Pavano was worth $7 million after he finished 2009 with a 5.10 ERA, and he rewarded them with a 17-win campaign. Now he’s probably going to want a three-year deal and at least a modest raise. Pavano was a true workhorse this year, finishing with a 3.75 ERA in 221 innings. He tied for the AL lead with seven complete games. The Twins will make a bid to retain him, but they may bail out if someone else is willing to go to $30 million for three years.
11. Jorge De La Rosa (Rockies - Age 29) - The team that signs De La Rosa will be gambling that his best days are still ahead of him. He’s been inconsistent but still often effective in going 24-16 for the Rockies the last two seasons. His 4.31 ERA over that span is nothing special, but he was dealing with Coors Field half of the time and he struck out 306 batters in 306 2/3 innings. Don’t be surprised to see him get at least $27 million in a three-year deal this winter. Even a four-year pact is a possibility here.