AL Central Free Agents: Who To Keep And Who To Let Go?

Now it’s time to cover the AL Central free agents.

As of this post, the Indians have already accepted Fausto Carmona’s club option for 2012, so I won’t be talking about him. However, they have declined Sizemore’s club option, so…

Grady Sizemore (club option) – Cleveland played in 71 games, posting just a .224 batting average with 10 homers and 32 RBIs. He suffered a number of injuries this year, including two to his right knee, and required a sports hernia surgery in September. Had his club option been picked up, he would have been paid $8.5 million, with incentives that would have allowed to earn him an additional $2-2.5 million.

Thoughts/Prediction: Sizemore certainly has a lot of talent. While his ability to hit for contact is average, he possesses some power in his bat, the ability to steal bases, and is probably the best center fielder defensively. The problem is that he seems to get injured every year. His oft-injured status is a big risk to any team that’s interested. He’ll get a multi-year contract, for sure, but it should be somewhat low ($5 million a year?). Also, in a similar vein to Carlos Beltran, interested teams should think about moving him to one of the corner outfield positions as a way to minimize injury.

Kosuke Fukudome – Fukudome, earning $14.5 million this year, began with the Chicago Cubs. However, he was traded to the Indians in July. In a total 149 games, he batted .262 with 8 home runs and 35 RBIs.

Thoughts/Prediction: His contract, signed by the Cubs in 2008, has been largely a bust. He was not worth the $48 million he’s been paid in the four years in MLB. I don’t truly blamed the Cubs for signing him to a contract at the time, as he was doing so well playing for the Chunichi Dragons in Japan; he was nearly on par with Hideki Matsui at one point. However, his tenure in the majors has shown that he is a relatively average hitter. He draws a decent number of walks, but that’s about it. The Indians do not need him for 2012, as they have Shin-Soo Choo to play in right field (until 2014), as well as guys like Trevor Crowe and even Shelly Duncan to use. I don’t think there will be many teams interested him for 2012, compared to other Japanese players on the market, and I don’t think he’ll want to sign a minor-league contract. I think he’ll return to Japan to finish out his career.

Jim Thome – Thome was able to reach his 600th home run this year, while he was in Minnesota. He was then waivered to the Indians, his old team, and continued to play as their designated hitter. In 93 games, he batted .256 with 15 homers and 50 RBIs.

Thoughts/Prediction: Thome has been of the most popular, likeable guys throughout the course of his career. In an era marred with steroids and PEDs, Thome was one the clean power-hitters of the generation, alongside guys such as Frank Thomas and Jeff Bagwell. And you know what? Even though, he’s 41, he can still play as a DH. Despite playing in less than 100 games, he was still able to manage good numbers. Thome wants to still play, and Indians fans love the guy. Let him finish out his career with at least one more year of service on a “hometown discount” contract.

Chad Durbin – Durbin signed a 1-year, $800,000 deal with the Indians. In 56 games, he recorded a 5.53 ERA over the course of 68 1/3 innings. He allowed the most home runs in his career as a reliever (12) and opponents’ batting average was a high .306.

Thoughts/Prediction: Durbin, like some other relievers in this free-agent class, has the ability to serve in a variety of roles, including setup and closer. But his continually fluctuating ERA has to make some GMs feel that he’s not worth it. He was good with Philadelphia in 2008 and last year, but then you look at his number this year, with Detroit in 2007, and in Cleveland/Arizona in 2004, and it’s a whole different story. I see him signing a minor-league contract, and but will probably make the roster out of Spring Training.

 

As of this post, Joe Nathan’s option was declined; however, the team is still interested in resigning him. As for the Twins themselves, I find it very surprisingly that they finished last in the division and with almost 100 losses. Though they don’t have many free agents this year, you do have to wonder who they’ll be able to sign/resign, with Joe Mauer making $23 million and Justin Morneau making $15 million for another two more years.

Joe Nathan (club option) – Nathan began the season with Matt Capps taking over the closer position, after blowing two saves. He reassumed the closer position in July. In 48 appearances, Nathan posted a 4.84 ERA over 44 2/3 innings. In 17 save opportunities, he saved 14 times.

Thoughts/Prediction: As I said before, Nathan declined his club option, which would have been worth $12.5 million if it was picked up. They’re still interested in him, but they also have Matt Capps, who’s a free agent to-be this year, as well. Nathan has more experience, but suffered a season-ending injury last year and would likely be worth more. Capps, though he relinquished his position this year, did decent for the Twins last year, after being traded from the Pirates (he earned an All-Star appearance for his efforts), and would likely be the cheaper option. I think they eventually go with Capps. The Mets have shown interest in Nathan over the past week, so I think he’ll end up there.

Matt Capps – Capps appeared in 65 games, posting a 4.25 ERA over 65 2/3 innings. He saved 15 out of 24 times, before relinquishing his closer position back to Nathan.

Thoughts/Prediction: As I’ve said before, Capps is younger, injury-free, did very well the year before, and is likely to be less expensive. Though his ERA seems to be a bit high, it’s really because he tends to walk batters; he doesn’t give up as many hits as one would think. Capps stays with the Twins, I would think (however, if Nathan resigns, I think he’ll be let go then).

Michael Cuddyer – The Twins picked up his $10.5 million club option for this year. He earned his first All-Star appearance as a pick by Ron Washington. In 139 games, he posted a .284 batting average with 20 homers and 70 RBIs. He also stole a career-high 11 times.

Thoughts/Prediction: Though he doesn’t pack as much power as Pujols or Fielder, Cuddyer has the ability to hit 20-25 homers a year and is capable of hitting around 90 RBIs a year. Also, he is a pretty speedy first baseman, capable of not only getting the occasional steal here or there, but also to hit for extra bases (and the ability to get into scoring position is always good!). As an added bonus, not only can he play first base, but also right field, a la Lance Berkman. A definite resign, in my opinion; his value should be worth around $11-13 million a year, for 3 or 4 years.

Jason Kubel – As with Cuddyer, the Twins picked up his club option this year, worth $5.2 million. He played in 99 games, before hurting himself. He recorded a .273 batting average, with 12 homers and 58 RBIs.

Thoughts/Prediction: You think that Kubel would be gone after this year, especially considering that his new contract will be a lot more expensive and they can use the cheaper and defensively better Ben Revere. Not so fast, Kubel still has use as a designated hitter, especially now that they don’t have Jim Thome. Similar to Cuddyer, he’s a guy who can put up 20-30 homers and 80-100 RBIs a year. The injury this year will hurt his overall value, but his ability to hit and the fact that he’s only 29 (which means he should be in his prime) should allow for him to be resigned nonetheless for 3 years and $25-28 million.

Mark Buehrle – Though he failed to pitch a complete game in 2011, the first time since 2000, he did post a 13-9 record in 31 starts for a mediocre White Sox team, with a 3.59 ERA and 109 strikeouts.

Thoughts/Prediction: The White Sox are the only team this guy has ever played for, and I can’t see why he would want to change anytime soon. Problem is, can the White Sox afford him? They have Peavy for another year and $17 million, Alex Rios (who is garbage) for three years and $38.5 million, Adam Dunn (who was even more garbage… at least this year) three years and $44 million, and Paul Konerko for two years and $25.5 million. They may have to work in some offseason trades, but I still see them resigning Buehrle. Odd? Yes. But I can’t imagine him elsewhere, he represents the heart and soul of this organization right now.

Juan Pierre – In 158 games for the White Sox, Pierre batted .276, stealing 27 bases, and hitting 175+ hits for a second straight year.

Thoughts/Prediction: Pierre is your prototypical leadoff hitter. Gets you on base, steals a lot, and hits few (if any) homers. He gets to home instead of getting other people home. Though he didn’t have as many steals this season as he normally does (often a 40-45 base stealer), the rest of his stats remained the same, though his number of sacrifice flies increased considerably. He’s 34, but there’s no one else that’s perfect to put at the top of the lineup. He should be resigned, but is not nearly worth the $8.5 million he made this year (thanks to the 5-year contract extension he had with the Dodgers back in 2007); instead, he’s a $4-6 million kind of guy, who can probably continue to steal and hit well for 2 or 3 years.

Jason Frasor (club option) – Frasor began the 2011 season as a member of the Blue Jays, before being a part of that big three-team trade with the Cardinals and White sox, that included Colby Rasmus and Edwin Jackson. Over 64 appearances, he posted a 3.50 ERA in 60 innings. He also failed to save in 2 opportunities.

Thoughts/Prediction: His club option isn’t too much, worth $3.75 million. However, despite his salary not worth a whole lot, I think the Sox will be too busy trying to keep Buehrle and Pierre to bother giving him a contract. However, Frasor will find work, possibly under the setup role. I can see him moving to the Angels, as a replacement for Fernando Rodney. A return to the Blue Jays may also happen, especially considering they recently declined closer Jon Rauch’s club option.

Omar Vizquel – Can you believe Vizquel is still playing in this league, after 22 years? He served mainly as a backup to guys like Gordon Beckham, Dayan Viciedo, Brent Morel, and Mark Teahen (before being traded). In 167 at-bats, he hit .251 with 8 RBIs, and had a steal as well.

Thoughts/Predictions: Despite being 44, Vizquel is still one of the better defensive shortstops in the league and still looks so physically fit. So yeah, even with the influx of youth, I still think the White Sox should resign him to a veteran-minimum contract. Maybe it’s because I have a soft spot for guys like Vizquel, but his defensive abilities still make him a more-than-decent substitution in big, late-inning games. Yes, his glove is what keeps him in this league, but he’s so good with it – even though he’s in his 40s – that he’s worth the low-key contract.

 

As of this post, closer Jose Valverde’s $9 million club option has been picked up. He led the American League in both saves and appearances. He is definitely worth the option.

Carlos Guillen – Guillen was hit with injuries for the third straight year, playing in even fewer games than he did in 2009 and 2010 (28 games).

Thoughts/Predictions: He’s gone, no doubt about it. His contract has been a bust, mostly due to his oft-injured status. However, even when healthy, he hasn’t been up decent numbers; he had pop in his bat but the ability to get on base was diminished considerably. Plus, the Tigers have Scott Sizemore and Will Rhymes to play at second base as cheaper replacements. A waste of money and roster space.

Magglio Ordonez – Like Carlos Guillen, Ordonez was marred by injuries. Like Carols Guillen, he played a limited amount of time (though more than Guillen). In 92 games, he batted .255 with 5 home runs and 32 RBIs.

Thoughts/Prediction: Like Carlos Guillen, Ordonez is not only expensive but is also surrounded by younger outfielders on the depth chart. But here’s the difference between Ordonez and Gullen: Ordonez still has value. The power, for the most part, appears to be gone, but can still be a .300 hitter, as he has done all but twice in his career. However, seeing as how he as fractured his knee for the second time in two seasons, it might be best if he were to be used as DH or a platoon role with a right fielder in the American League. Provided Ordonez’s value drops considerably, the Rays could be an option.

Brad Penny – The Tigers signed him to a 1-year deal worth $3 million last offseason. The results were… well, mixed. He posted a 11-11 record in 31 starts with a 5.30 ERA.

Thoughts/Prediction: The Tigers took a shot at him after doing a decent job in the first half last year for the Cardinals (before falling to an oblique injury). It didn’t pan out to what they were expecting. He went from the #2 guy in the rotation, behind Justin Verlander, to the #4 by season’s end, and that’s what he is now these days. A veteran guy to put in the back of the rotation. Penny’s services are no longer needed with the Tigers though, as most of the rotations is already set (depending on what happens with additional free agent to-be Rick Porcello). Where does Penny end up? Not sure, as he appears to be one of those journeymen that just pops up from team to team each year.

Rick Porcello – And speaking of Porcello, his 2011 club option (worth $1.536 million) posted a 14-9 record in 31 starts,with a 4.75 ERA. His 2012 club option is worth $1.344 million.

Thoughts/Prediction: In what I find to be odd, his club option is actually worth less than his 2011 club option. His numbers are somewhat similar to Penny, though he is more capable of eating up innings than Penny. Plus, he’s only 22 has plenty of time in his career to improve, unlike the 33-year old Penny. Most of all, he’s cheap. No doubt his option gets picked up.

Joel Zumaya – He failed to appear in a game this season, as a screw in his right elbow had to be replaced.

Thoughts/Predction: Zumaya throws heaters like no other in the majors. unfortunately, that’s what keeps getting him injured. Is his future still with the Tigers? Hard to say. Despite being injury-prone, will his ability throw heaters and strikeout, earn him a higher salary than the $1.4 million he earned this year? Probably, but not by much. Plenty of interested teams will look for a potential, low-money, high-reward player ni Zumaya. But only time will tell if he can actually remain healthy.

Wilson Betemit – Betemit began the 2011 season in the minors for the Royals, but was then recalled. After 57 games, he was then traded to the Tigers, playing in another 40. His combined totals for the season came out to a .285 batting average with 8 home runs and 46 RBIs.

Thoughts/Prediction: Still not much more than a backup. Has decent pop, and can play at both first and third base (the latter being the primary position), but his defensive abilities still leave much to be desired.

 

Joakim Soria – Though playing for the Royals, Soria still managed to record 28 saves. However, over 60 appearances, his ERA was an abnormally high 4.03 ERA.

Thoughts/Predictions: Despite this off-year, Soria is still one of the better closers in the MLB and would probably save 40-45 games on a regular basis, if he were on a better team. The Royals have three club options, starting with $6 million in 2012, and $8-8.75 million for 2013 and 2014. They’ll pick up at least the 2012 option, but I think they will likely trade him for prospects either during the trade deadline (depending on what happens to other closers/setup men) or next offseason (though he has limited no-trade protection; can’t be traded to Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, Dodgers, Rockies, or Braves).

Jason Kendall – Kendall missed the entire 2011 season, due to a tear in his rotator cuff.

Thoughts/Prediction: Kendall is age 37 and with a tear in his rotator cuff, may not have the arm that he once had, which is what made teams like him so much in the first place. I believe his career is done.

Bruce Chen – Chen signed a 1-year, $2 million contract with the Royals. He started the season very well, but fell into a no-decision spell midway through. He finished with a 12-8 record, a career-low 3.77 ERA, and 97 strikeouts.

Thoughts/Prediction: Chen has arguably the best season of his career since 2005 with Baltimore. Unlike in the past, he hadn’t given up as many hits this season, which is nice to see. Though 34, Chen will certainly get some looks. Could service as a decent #3 guy worth around $3-4.5 million.

Jeff Francis – The Rockies couldn’t take Francis’ mediocre pitching after 6 years, so he went to the Royals for a 1-year, $2 million deal. He slightly improved – in fact, like Chen, was doing really well in the opening months – but in the end, faltered to mediocrity. In 31 starts, he recorded a 6-16 record and a 4.82 ERA over 31 starts.

Thoughts/Predictions: As of this post, Francis elected free agency. Not sure how many teams will be interested in a team that posts mid-to-high 4 ERAs, and hasn’t won more than 6 games since his breakout year in 2007. Minor-league deal at best for him.

 

And that’s it for the AL Central. Next up is the AL East.

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About Michael Desjardins

I am a sports writer for The Quinnipiac Chronicle, a panelist for the Q30 television show, "Bobcat Blitz" and a men's soccer beat writer for the newly-founded Quinnipiac Bobcats Sports Network. I am currently a junior at Quinnipiac University and am pursuing a degree in Broadcast Journalism.
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