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

Considering that Albert Pujols is the biggest free agent in a long time, it’s time to take care of him and the rest of the AL Central free agents. And so, it’s time to start with the Cardinals…

Albert Pujols – Pujols, whose club option was picked up for this year, continued to deliver. Though he didn’t .300 for the first time in his career, he still he hit 37 home runs and 99 RBIs. He suffered a fracture in his left wrist in July, but it didn’t stop him from tearing it up. In the postseason, he continued to be effective, blowing the Brewers when up to the bet and setting records in the World Series

Thoughts/Prediction: Love him or hate him, Albert Pujols isn’t  just the face of the Cardinals, but the face of baseball, period. Fans, players, and coaches are intimidated yet in admiration for a player such as him, a player that only comes around once in a generation. Just about every team with money will, or at least rumored to try getting him; that includes the Cardinals, Cubs, Yankees (despite Teixeira), Red Sox (despite Gonzalez/Ortiz), and even teams like Toronto and Washington. There’s not doubt in my mind that he should, and will, make the most money in MLB. If he is not making $28-30 million or more a year, I will honestly be shocked. However, here’s the problem: He’ll be making $28-30 million. If the Cardinals resign him for that much money over a 8-10 year contract, you have to wonder how the front office will be able to spend on signing and resigning free agents in the future., especially when you consider the other players they have locked up. Matt Holliday will be making $17 million a year until 2016 (plus 2017 if they use their club option). Carpenter and Wainwright are each being paid $21 million over the next two years. Lance Berkman was signed for an additional year for $12 million. Yes, Pujols is the main reason Cardinals fans come to your games, but at what cost, in terms of sacrificing other pieces to the whole roster? That being said, I can’t see Pujols moving elsewhere. Pujols is St. Louis, and as interesting a story it will be to see him in a Cubs or Yankees (or some other team) uniform next year, I don’t think it will happen.

 

Love him or hate him, Albert Pujols IS the face of baseball, and should make more money than anyone else in this sport. Only problem is: How much will he cost, both in terms of money and being able to acquire future players?

Rafael Furcal (club option) – Furcal continued to spend time on the disabled list in 2011. He only played in 37 games with the Dodgers before being traded to the Cardinals. He played in another 50 games and played in the postseason, winning his first championship ring.

Thoughts/Prediction: Furcal has been getting injured often throughout the past couple of years. In addition, his 2012 club option is worth $12 million. He’s not worth it, especially when you consider’s Pujols soon-to-be huge jump in salary, and having Ryan Theriot, Tyler Greene and/or Nick Punto as cheaper, viable replacements.

Edwin Jackson – Jackson began with the White Sox. Despite the White Sox’s poor first half, he managed to record a 7-7 record in 19 starts with a 3.92 ERA. He was then traded to the Blue Jays, only to be traded a couple of hours later to the Cardinals. He started in another 12 games, going 5-2, with a 3.58 ERA.

Thoughts/Prediction: Jackson, this year, made $8.75 million, and you have to wonder if he’s worth that much or more to the Cardinals. Most of the rotation is already set with Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Kyle Lohse, and the much cheaper Jaime Garcia. If they are somehow able to resign him, their rotation is set for several years, but the price will come at a cost for getting free-agent position players. Jackson is a great pitcher, but gives up way too many hits, as evidenced against the Brewers in the NL Championship series.

Gerald Laird – He served as backup to Yadier Molina for the Cardinals this year, after 2 years in Detroit. He played in 37 games with a .232 batting average.

Thoughts/Prediction: He continues to play as a backup catcher, as is not worth more than that. His place is not with the Cardinals, though, with Yadier continuing to be one of the best catchers currently in baseball, and guys like Tony Cruz and Bryan Anderson waiting on the depth chart.

Corey Patterson – Patterson began as a backup in the Blue Jays, hitting 6 homers in 89 games. He was then traded with Edwin Jackson to the Cardinals, playing in another 44 games, serving mainly as backup to Matt Holliday.

Thoughts/Prediction: He has a decent pop in his bat for someone who serves as a backup. However, he has had defensive troubles over the years, which is worrisome when serving as a substitution. That being said, I can see him being resigned with the Cardinals, and can continue to serve as backup to either Matt Holliday or Lance Berkman (if he still plays in right field, and that’s if Pujols is resigned).

Nick Punto – In 63 games, Punto had a .278 average, his best year since 2006 with the Twins (.290).

Thoughts/Prediction: Punto is not a particularly good hitter, despite hitting .278 this year. However, he has good defensive prowess, which makes him perfect as a late-inning defensive replacement. With Theriot and Greene on the roster, though, I can’t see him sticking with the Cardinals. He’ll likely get a minor-league contact, but nothing more than that.

Arthur Rhodes – After 19 seasons, Rhodes finally earned his first World Series ring. He began his season with the Rangers, playing in 32 games. He was then traded to the Cardinals and played in additional 19 games (which means, either way, he was going to earn a World Series ring; similar to Bengie Molina last year). In his first World Series, he played in 3 games, and didn’t give up a hit nor walked anyone.

Thoughts/Prediction: It’s nice to see a guy like Rhodes finally earn a championship ring after such a long career. Rhodes has a $4 million option for next year, but at the age of 42, I think Rhodes will leave out on top.

 

Prince Fielder – Probably the second-biggest free agent in this year’s class, Fielder posted similar numbers to Pujols, hitting .299 with 38 homers and 120 RBIs. He played in all 162 games this year, the second time he’s done that in his career (2009).

Thoughts/Prediction: Say what you will about Fielder and his weight, but Prince Fielder not only can hit, but is both healthy and durable. Since 2006, he’s played in at least 157 games, which means you can count on him to play in all, or close to all of your games (something that not even Albert Pujols can say). But he’s also going to be really expensive, to which the Brewers cannot keep him (especially when you throw in the long-term contracts of Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart, and Yovani Gallardo). So where does he go? Cubs are the most likely destination, as they are in need of a 1st baseman the most. Blue Jays could also use him and do have the money.

Francisco Rodriguez (club option)- Man, has this guy fallen. From saving 62 games in 2008, to now. He began with the Mets, and did well, saving 23 games in 26 opportunities. He was then traded to the Mets, serving instead a setup role to John Axford.

Thoughts/Prediction: K-Rod is a good closer, and likes striking out a lof of batter in the process. There are three problems with him, though: First, is that he has had share of personal problems, dating back to years ago, having problems with Yankee reliever Brian Bruney. Then there’s the whole situation with his girlfriend’s father last year. This year, he has been known to having problems playing as a setup man for the team, wanting more opportunities to save games. You see the problem? His share of personal problems and overall attitude will make interested teams a little nervous and you have to wonder if he will keep having more, especially if signed to a longer-term deal. Second, similar to Fernando Rodney, there’s the question of whether K-Rod will be willing to play other reliever roles, besides closer (my guess is that he won’t); if he just wants to close, the number of interested teams shorten. And third, the money. As of this post, the Brewers declined his $17.5 million club option. And really, there’s no surprise to that at all. $17.5 million?! Ha! K-Rod right now is a $4-5 million a year guy, maybe $6 million if he returns to becoming a full-time closer. Teams will be interested, I’m just not sure as to who.

LaTroy Hawkins – Hawkins improved on his 2010 campaign, playing 52 games. Over 48 1/3 innings, he posted a 2.42 ERA, allowing only 1 homer and a 1.24 WHIP.

Thoughts/Prediction: Though 38, Hawkins still did a decent job as a reliever.  My only gripe is that he fades pitching with two outs in the inning, compare to no outs/1 out. Not sure as to why on that, I can only assume the pressure of finishing the inning gets to him? That being said, Brewers should resign hm to a 1-year contract worth $2-2.5 million.

Takashi Saito – Saito played in 30 games, playing in 26 2/3 innings. He posted a 2.03 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP.

Thoughts/Prediction: Though no longer the closer he was with the Dodgers, Saito did a decent job as a reliever. However, at age 41, I don’t think the Brewers nor any team will be interested in signing him to a new contract. His age, plus the fact that he walks a number of guys over the past couple of years creates concerns.

Yuneisky Betancourt (club option) – Betancourt was traded from the Royals to the Brewers as part of the big Zack Greinke deal. In 152 games, Betancourt hit .252, with 13 homers and 68 RBIs.

Thoughts/Prediction: Betancourt is not your typical shortstop. He doesn’t hit for a high batting average, but instead hits with power. He’s more of a guy you see in the middle of the lineup rather than at the end. However, that being said, Betancourt does a pretty good job as shortstop. His club option is worth $6 million in 2012. Take it.

Mark Kotsay – As a backup first baseman and outfielder, Kotsay played in 104 games. In 233 at-bats, he posted a .270 batting average, hitting 3 homers and 31 RBIs.

Thoughts/Prediction: Though he’ll turn 36 in December, considering the uncertainty of what the Brewers will do without Prince Fielder, I think they should keep him for 1-year and $1-2 million. Kotsay can serve as a transition and phase out as a backup for future first baseman Hunter Morris.

 

Aramis Ramirez (club option) – Ramirez had yet another great season, despite the fact that the Cubs wanted to trade him (but were unable to as Ramirez used his no-trade clause. This year, he hit 26 home runs and 93 RBIs, with a .306 batting average.

Thoughts/Prediction: As much as Ramirez wants to say in Chicago, it’s not going to happen. But here’s what I think: He’s one of the few guys that should stay. Yes, Cubs will be in rebuilding. But unlike all those other veterans with ridiculous contracts (see Carlos Zambrano, Alfonso Soriano, Ryan Dempster), Ramirez actually delivers what he’s worth. A guy who hits in the .290s-.300s, 25-30 homers, and 90-105 RBIs a year is incredibly solid. Now is he worth $16 million, as his 2012 club option has him for? No. But he’s still worth double digits, a $10-12 million per year kind of guy who still has a good 3-4 years left, I believe. Plus, the other third basemen on the free agent list this year are not even as close to this good as Ramirez is. Cubs should decline his club option but resign him anyway. However, seeing as those won’t happen, a team like the White Sox could use him (plus he stays in Chicago, which is a plus for Ramirez). Dodgers could also be in the running, provided they have enough money in the long-term to actually afford him (and other players).

Carlos Pena – Pena signed a 1-year, $10 million deal with the Cubs in the offseason. In 153 games, he hit 28 homers and 88 RBIs this year, to go with his .225 batting average.

Thoughts/Prediction: Pena, despite hits terrible batting average and high strikeout rate, has a lot of power in his bat and has the ability to draw a lot of walks. He’s a fearsome, there’s no doubt about it. However, whether he likes it or not, Pena served as merely as a transition for this year’s free-agent class. Cubs are not doubt going for Albert Pujols and/or Prince Fielder, and will likely land either one of those (Fielder being the more likely candidate). That’s not to say Pena is a bad hitter (despite what his batting average will tell you), it’s just he’s not as good as those two guys. That being said, Pena is still a perfect guy for those in need of a first baseman/consolation prize in the Pujols sweepstakes or to those that need a DH. So, I think Pena will make a return to the American League; Red Sox (if they can’t get Ortiz back), Orioles, and Twins, appear the most viable options. Yankees could take interest too, if they don’t get Andruw Jones and/or Eric Chavez back.

Jeff Samardzija – He played in 75 games, all as a reliever. He posted a 2.97 ERA over the course of 88 innings, and posted a 8-4 record in the process. He made $3.3 million this year and has two club options in his contract that must equal out to $16.5 million.

Thoughts/Prediction: I believe that Samardjiza is about ready to become a full-time starting pitcher within the Cubs organization. I think that’s what they were hoping for last year, but Ted Lilly took his place after 4 starts. He has an effective pitching repertoire, ranging from a high-90s fastball, to a mid-80s changeup and low-80s slider; he also has a splitter. The Cubs should and I believe will pick up his club option… at least for 2012. Considering how thin the Cubs’ farm system, I have to wonder if Samardjiza will be used as trade bait during the course of next season. In an earlier blog post a couple of months ago, I said how he should be picked up in a trade to bolster a pitching rotation that will most likely not have Freddy Garcia and/or Bartolo Colon next year; plus, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were willing to give up on A.J. Burnett. His club options make him an interesting piece to use in a trade, in order to get prospects. So, yes, his 2012 option will be picked up; the question is whether or not he’ll stick with the team in the long-term…

Kerry Wood – Despite being offer longer-termed deals with more money, Kerry Wood signed a 1-year, $1.5 million “hometown discount” deal with the Cubs, as he wanted to keep his family in Chicago. In 55 games, he pitched in 51 innings, he posted a 3.35 ERA with 57 strikeouts.

Thoughts/Predictions: He’s not the pitcher that he once was in the late 90s/early 200s, but Wood still can be used as an effective reliever, and can even close games if need be. And as said before, he wants his family to stay in Chicago. All signs point to him signing another 1-year (maybe 2), low-cost contract.

John Grabow – Grabow signed a 2-year, $7.5 million extension with the Cubs after the 2009 season. While he was limited in 2010, in 2011 he returned to form. In 58 games, he pitched in 62 1/3 innings, posting a 4.76 ERA.

Thoughts/Prediction – His unusually high ERA has to bring up some concern. However, his ability to serve under any role in relief, plus the fact that he’s a lefty, will certain allow for more teams to be interested in him. The Cubs lack lefties in their organization, so I think he’ll stick with the team with a relatively similar contract.

 

Clint Barmes – Barmes was traded last offseason from the Colorado Rockies for Felip Paulino, and resigned to a 1-year, $3.925 million deal in arbitration. This year, he played in 123 games, posting a .244 batting average, with 12 homers and 39 RBIs.

Thoughts/Prediction: Barmes hits for a decent amount of power, but his batting average seems to fluctuate after every couple of seasons, from the good (2005, 2008) to the bad (2006, 2010). Also, you have the cheaper Matt Downs and Jose Altuve to use in the depth chart. He’ll be let go in free agency, for sure. I can see him being signed to a 1 or 2-year contract with Seattle or Tampa Bay.

Jason Michaels – The Astros picked up on his $900,000 club option this past offseason. In 89 games, he hit .199.

Thoughts/Prediction: He’s 35, can’t hit for neither contact nor power, and there’s a boatload of young outfielders within the Astros organization looking for a chance to play. Drop him, won’t get a look from another team unless they’re desperate. I believe his career is done.

 

Brandon Phillips (club option) – Phillips had possibly one of the better seasons of his career. Though he didn’t hit as many homers and RBIs as he did in 2007, he did post a career-high .300 batting average and was still able to hit 18 homers and 82 ribbies. He’s due to make $12 million in his 2012 club option.

Thoughts/Prediction: He’s a keeper. I think he’s worth the $12 million. He’s got a mix of both power and speed. If it weren’t for Joey Votto, he’d probably be the team’s franchise player. But a solid #2 team-member behind him isn’t that bad. He’s worth the option, pick him up.

Ramon Hernandez – Despite playing in only 91 games, Hernandez still managed to hit 12 homers and 36 RBIs, with a .282 batting average.

Thoughts/Prediction: Hernandez still has the ability to hit, despite the fact that he turns 36 in May. With Devin Mesoraco still developing, I think resigning him to another 1-year, $2.5-3 million contract should happen. If not, I think the Dodgers or Royals will take interest.

Edgar Renteria – Renteria signed a 1-year, $2.1 million last offseason. In 96 games, he batted .251, with 5 home runs, 36 RBIs, and just 4 steals.

Thoughts/Prediction: I think Renteria’s days as a starter are done. Instead, he should be used as a veteran defensive replacement. Both his ability to hit and run are mostly depleted. He’ll get another major-league contract, but it should be a very low-cost one (no more than $1.5 million). With Paul Janish, though, I don’t think it will be with the Reds.

 

It’s too bad there’s no half-year awards because if there were, Clint Hurdle should have won Manager of the Year… for the first-half year anyway. For the first time in so many years, he and the Pittsburgh Pirates were actually relevant. I honestly thought they had a shot of making it into the playoffs. However, in the second half, they just couldn’t hold on in the division, and the Brewers and Cardinals took over. Give props though to them for actually being relevant this year. Now we’re just waiting for the Kansas City Royals to do the same thing…

Derrek Lee – Lee signed a 1-year deal with the Baltimore Orioles, before being traded to the Pirates, as for the first time, the team was actually buying during the Trade Deadline rather than selling. In a combined 112 games, Lee has 19 homers, 59 RBIs, and a .267 batting average.

Thoughts/Prediction: Lee, like Carlos Pena, suffers similarly to the whole Pujols/Fielder sweepstakes. While Lee is lacking the power that Pena still has, Lee has been a much better hitter over his career than Pena. In fact, when he joined with Pittsburgh, his batting average during his tenure was .337, so he can still hit the ball rather well. However, he’ll be yet another consolation prize in the sweepstakes and will go to a team that tried to get either of the big ones but failed. He won’t be with the Pirates next year though; he’s too expensive, plus the Pirates already have Garrett Jones and Steve Pearce to play at the position. His value should be still worth around $7-8 million.

Ryan Ludwick – Ludwick began on a 1-year deal with the Padres, but he too was traded to the Pirates in an attempt to make a run at the postseason. In a combined 139 games, he had a .237 batting average with 13 homers and 75 RBIs.

Thoughts/Prediction: Ludwick’s stats took a bit of a hit this year, although I blame that on the fact that he has to play most of his games at Petco Park (despite playing there, he accounted for more than a quarter of the Padres’ anemic offense). While he’s a very average hitter when it comes to hitting for contact, he still has some pop in his bat, and is a decent 5 or 6 guy in the lineup. Again, like Lee, he won’t play with the Pirates next year, due to him being too expensive and because they already have a ton of young outfielders already. Instead, he’ll move on to a 1 or 2-year deal that should be worth $8-10 million overall. Indians, Nationals, Mets, and even the Red Sox are teams that I think will be the most interested.

Chris Snyder (club option) – Snyder only played in 34 games in 2011. He hit .271 with 3 homers and 17 RBIs. His club option for 2012 is worth $6.75 million.

Thoughts/Prediction: Considering he’s had a history of back problems, his typically low batting average, and the fact they have Ryan Doumit and Jason Jaramillo on the depth chart, he’s not worth it. Drop him!

Jason Grilli – Grilli signed a minor-league deal with the Phillies to start out the season. He didn’t get far, pitching in Triple-A before being released in July. The Pirates decided to give him a shot, though, and he did pitch in the majors. He pitched in 28 games, posting a 2.48 ERA, and even won 2 games in relief.

Thoughts/Prediction: After not pitching through all of 2010, Grilli has seemed to make a comeback. He doesn’t tend to walk a lot of batters, but does appear to hit some when doing so instead, but that’s the only thing that worries me. He should return to having another major-league contract. Are the Pirates interested? I can see them resigning him to a 1 or even 2-year deal around $1.5-2 million a year. They could use a veteran/mentor pitcher, considering the only pitcher on their team that has played 3+ years in the majors is Kevin Correia (one of the bigger surprises in baseball this year, and was a big part of why the Pirates were able to do so well in the first half of the year).

 

Next division is the AL Central!

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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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