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

Jose Reyes – Reyes had the season of his career, taking the NL batting crown. He had a career-high .337 batting average with 39 stolen bases, 101 runs scored, and 44 RBIs. He also was #1 in triples with 16, and had 31 doubles.

Thoughts/Prediction: Reyes is either the second or third-biggest position player in this year’s free agent class. Considering that great shortstops are hard to come by these days, a number of teams will be clamoring to get this guy. Reyes is a $18-20 million per year kind of guy, especially if he can continue having seasons like this year. But he’s not without risk, though: He’s been injured several times over the course of his career (particularly his 2009 season), and that hurts his overall value a bit. Most Mets fans want to keep him, but I can’t see that happening. He’s too expensive, and the Mets want to lower their payroll by about $30 million. Put two and two together and…

Chris Capuano – He signed a 1-year, $1.5 million deal last offseason. In 31 starts, he went 11-12 with a 4.55 ERA and 168 strikeouts. He also pitched his first complete game since 2006.

Thoughts/Prediction: He’ll give up a good deal of runs (especially home runs), but is capable of striking out a lot of batters with both his slider and changeup. He is also good at picking off runners, a nice little plus. A possible low-money resign or a cheap signing for a team that has a pitcher’s park (Padres, Nationals).

Chris Young – Like Capuano, was signed to a 1-year deal (worth $1.1 million). He went 4 starts before an arm injury led him to the disabled list for the rest of the season.

Thoughts/Prediction: This is the third year in a row in which Young has suffered an injury to either his arm or shoulder. When healthy, he throws effectively as a finesse pitcher, despite his huge 6’10” frame. I can’t see him getting any more than a minor-league deal, but if he can pitch the whole 2012 season, he could be one of the more underrated pitchers in the league.

Scott Hairston – Serving mostly as a defensive substitution, Hairston played in 79 games. In 132 at-bats, Hairston had a .235 batting average with 7 homers and 24 at-bats.

Thoughts/Prediction: Despite playing a limited amount of games, Hairston has a decent amount of power in his bat, and I’m confused as to why he hasn’t received more starts over the past 2 years. Deserves more playing time (and more money as a result). Could go anywhere in free agency as a cheap pickup.

Willie Harris – Signed to a minor-league deal, he made the roster out of Spring Training. In 126 games, he hit .246 with 2 home runs, 23 RBIs, and had 5 steals.

Thoughts/Prediction: Harris is able to play both second base and corner outfield positions, but that’s all this guy really has. His tiny 5’9″ frame will also shun some people away from giving him another opportunity. Minor-league deal at best.

Miguel Batista – Batista started out with the Cardinals on 1-year, $750,000 deal. He played in 26 games, including 1 start. He was released in June and was picked up by the Mets a month later. Batista would play in another 9 more games, four of which he started. In the final home game of the season, Batista managed to pitch a two-hit complete game shutout.

Thoughts/Prediction: Maybe Batista still has something left, if his last game was anything. But he turns 41 in February, and his last several years have been marred with mediocrity. I think after playing for nearly 20 years, Batista’s career is done.

Jason Isringhausen – He was signed to a minor-league deal in the offseason and went through extended Spring Training. He was recalled in April, serving a setup role to Francisco Rodriguez. When K-Rod was then traded to the Brewers, he became the closer. In 53 games, Isringhausen pitched in 46 2/3 innings with a 4.05 ERA. In 11 opportunities, he earned 7 saves, including hid 300th career save.

Thoughts/Prediction: Like Batista, he’s up there in age (39). He went through Tommy John surgery in 2009, and was limited to bullpen sessions with the Cincinnati Reds in 2010. He did an OK job, but I think it’s time for him to retire as well.

Roy Oswalt (club option) – In his first (and now only) full season with the Phillies, was somewhat of a mixed bag. He had a strong start to the season, but took a leave of absence after a series of tornadoes hit around in Mississippi, where his family lives. He came back but then suffered back problems and was put on the disabled list. In 23 starts, Oswalt posted a 9-10 record over 23 starts with a 3.69 ERA.

Thoughts/Prediction: The back problems must be more serious than I thought. The Phillies declined his club option mainly due to it. The Yankees are shying away from him for the same reason. I don’t blame Oswalt though for having them, he’s one of the hardest-working pitchers in baseball. He’s pitched 200+ innings in 7 of his 11 seasons. He throws very aggressively, and likes to throw a lot of fastballs. Despite back problems, he’s still worth around a 3-year contract between $40-45 million. Since the Yankees and the Phillies are not interested in him, I’m guessing another NL team will take interest; Atlanta, especially now that they traded Derek Lowe, may be a possibility. Colorado and even Washington might take the risk too.

Raul Ibanez – Ibanez played in 144 games, hitting .245 with 20 homers and 84 RBIs, the 5th straight year he has hit 80 RBIs in a season, and the 9th in 11 years. He also hit 31 doubles. However, he was walked just 33 times, his lowest since 2001.

Thoughts/Prediction: Even though Ibanez is 39 years old, he is still capable of hitting so many homers and driving in a lot of runs. However, his defensive range is absolutely terrible, so he should only be used as a designated hitter.I think any American League team will benefit from Ibanez’s offensive production on a 1-year deal.

Jimmy Rollins – The Phillies picked up his 2011 club option, worth $8.5 million. Rollins returned the favor with a .268 batting average, 16 home runs, 63 RBIs and 30 steals over the course of 142 games.

Thoughts/Prediction: With Oswalt out the door, the Phillies should have just enough to be able to give Rollins a 3-year contract. J-Roll wants to stay in Philly, the fans love him, he’s a great leadoff hitter that not only has speed but has power. Outside of last year, Rollins has done a lot for this organization; I can’t see him going anywhere else.

Brad Lidge (club option) – Lidge began the season on the 60-day DL. He came back to reassume the closer position, but then lost his spot to Ryan Madson.

Thoughts/Prediction: Had Philly picked up his club option, it would have been worth between $12.5-13 million. However, they have Ryan Madson to use, and would be a lot cheaper to use than Lidge, so the Phillies declining the option is no surprise. However, Lidge could still be used as both a closer and setup man somewhere else, provided Lidge lets his overall salary numbers drop ($4-6 million?).

Ryan Madson – Madson became the new closer for the Phillies after two years of playing the setup role, thanks to injuries to Brad Lidge and Jose Contreas. He appeared in 62 games, and recorded 32 saves in 34 opportunities.

Thoughts/Prediction: No doubt that Madson should and will be the new full-time closer for the Phillies, especially since Lidge’s club option was not picked up. He has shown to be an effective with his new role, is slightly younger, and would be a lot cheaper to pay than Lidge would be, had they taken the option. Resign immediately.

Brian Schneider – For the second year in a row, Schneider has 125 at-bats and played in less than 50 games. In limited opportunities, he hit just .176 and 2 home runs.

Thoughts/Prediction: With Carlos Ruiz starting and Erik Kratz waiting in the wings, Schneider has no place on this roster. Hasn’t done much as a catcher anyway since 2008 with the Mets. Minor-league deal at best.

 

Nate McLouth (club option) – In 81 games, McLouth batted .228 with 4 home runs and 16 RBIs.

Thoughts/Prediction: For the second straight year, McLouth has failed to play more than half the season. The rest of the outfield consists of Michael Bourn (who they got from the Astros), Jason Heyward, and Matt Diaz; all three of them are cheaper than McLouth. And McLouth’s club option for 2012 is worth $10.65 mlllion. Do the math.

Scott Linebrink – Linebrink was traded from the White Sox to the Braves during last offseason, but was still able to improve on his numbers from last year nonetheless. He made 64 appearances, pitching in 54 1/3 innings with a 3.64 ERA. However, he did suffer from a lower back strain near the end of the season.

Thoughts/Prediction: Though Linebrink tends to walk a lot of batters, Linebrink can still serve as a decent reliever, as well as an occasional closer. His age (35) and the recent back strain, however, will create some concern amongst some interested teams, but should get a decent 1 or 2-year contract nonetheless (which should be worth around $2.5 million, in my opinion).

Alex Gonzalez – Gonzalez’s 2011 club option was picked up, which was worth around $2.75 million. In 149 games, Gonzalez recorded a .241 batting average,  with 15 home runs and 56 RBIs.

Thoughts/Prediction: Gonzalez, in my opinion, really deserves a better contract. Though his ability to hit for contact is relatively average, the power that he has offsets that. Plus, he has a pretty decent glove to boot. He had a decent year, and I’m not sure Brandon Hicks is ready to play full-time yet. Should get a 1-year contract (with a club option) worth at least double his previous contract, but obviously won’t.

Eric Hinske (club option) – After a decent 2010 campaign, Hinske resigned with the Braves for a 1-year deal worth $1.35 million. He played in 117 games as a backup, yet even as a backup, had surprisingly few plate appearances (236). Despite his lack of appearances, Hinske still manged to hit 10 home runs and 28 RBIS, with a .233 batting average.

Thoughts/Prediction: Hinske won’t wow you with his ability to hit for contact, but his ability to hit 10-15 home runs a year as a backup (probably 15-20 if given more at-bats) shows that he’s reliable. His ability to field at first base and both corner outfield positions also show that he is versatile. If the positions weren’t already taken, he’d probably start more often; at least he should be used as a DH in interleague matchups. Hinske’s 2012 club option is $1.5 million; a definite pickup.

George Sherrill – After a disastrous 2010 season with the Dodgers, Sherrill signed with the Braves on a 1-year deal worth $1.2 million. He appeared in 51 games, posting a 3.00 ERA over 36 1/3 innings. He also earned 3 wins in the process.

Thoughts/Predictions: The Braves got quite a bargain when you look at this season. After last year, I’m not surprised he was signed for cheap. At the same time, though, I don’t think the Dodgers was the right organization either. Sherrill should be a closer, and having him traded to the Dodgers, despite Jonathan Broxton already closing for them, was a bad idea. However, when you look at his performances when closing for the Orioles, he did rather well.  The Braves should definitely resign Sherrill, there’s no doubt about that, but does Sherrill want to remain with the team? Or does he want to go back to being a closer? If it’s the latter, he needs to look elsewhere, because the Braves already have Craig Kimbrel, with Jonny Venters waiting as a just in case. The Mets, one of the Braves’ rivals, need a closer (unless they think Manny Acosta or Bobby Parnell can do the job); if Sherrill want to go back to being a closer, this might be a look.

 

Jose Lopez – He began the season with Colorado, but was designated for assignment. He was then picked up by the Marlins, where he was on the major-league roster for a month, before once again being designated for assignment. He made $3.6 million this year.

Thoughts/Prediction: At best, he’s a minor-league deal. He is only 27, so he still has time left in his career to make more of an impact on the major league roster (which he did in 2008 and 2009, what happened to that?).

Javier Vazquez – After his 2010 season with the Yankees, I wouldn’t have believed you last offseason if you said Vazquez would have the most wins for the Marlins franchise. Thanks to injuries to both Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco, though, Vazquez did just that! He started off poorly, going 3-6 with a 7.06 ERA at one point. However, he turned around it in the second half, going 10-5 with a 1.92 ERA. His season totals come out to a 13-11 record in 32 starts, with a 3.69 ERA and 162 strikeouts.

Thoughts/Prediction: As a Yankee fan, I do not like Javier Vazquez (BOTH tenures). That being said, when he’s pitching in the National League (see his tenure with Montreal, 2010 with Atlanta), he does very well. What makes Vazquez good is his ability to strike out batters, particularly with a curveball that has proven to be difficult for batters over the years. Will his next contract be with the Marlins? Doubt it, because this is the Marlins we’re talking about. But his time in Miami has probably gotten him a possible shot at a 2-year contract (at least a decent, 1-year contract, worth the $7 million he made with Florida this year, or close to it)… but for Vazquez’s sake, it needs to be with a team in the National League.

Greg Dobbs – Dobbs signed a minor-league deal with the Marlins after four years with the Phillies. He made the roster, and played in 134 games, mostly at third base (though he did make occasional starts at first, and in both outfield positions). He posted a .275 batting average, with 8 home runs and 49 RBIs.

Thoughts/Prediction: Dobbs is an above-average hitter. Though he lacks a lot of power, he has a knack of driving a decent amount of runs in, as well as getting doubles. With Emilio Bonifacio on the roster though, and Matt Dominguez, Dobbs will likely enter free agency. However, he should warrant some looks for teams looking for a decent and cheap pickup; Astros and Padres are two teams that quickly come to mind.

 

Ivan Rodriguez – In the second year of a $6 million deal, Rodriguez played in just 44 games, platooning the catcher position with Wilson Ramos and Jesus Flores.

Thoughts/Prediction: With Ramos and Flores on the roster, and the hyped-up prospect Bryce Harper sure to make waves for the team sooner rather than later, Ivan’s services are no longer needed with the team. However, he has been quoted as to saying he still wants to play 3-4 years before retiring. Though 39 and having nothing left to prove (owning just about every catcher record both offensively and defensively), he has been healthy throughout his career, can still provide on both offense and defense, and serve as a mentor to future catchers. A cheap, 1-year deal at best obviously, but one that shouldn’t hurt any team’s roster.

Jonny Gomes – Gomes began his season with the Reds, who picked up his $1.75 million club option. However, he was then traded to the Nationals in July. In 120 games, Gomes posted a .209 batting average with 14 homers and 43 RBIs.

Thoughts/Prediction: Though Gomes has trouble hitting and strikes out a good amount, he’s got a decent amount of pop in his bat and commits very few errors. The Nationals have two other outfielders entering free agency, alongside Gomes (Rick Ankiel and Laynce Nix, both of which are talked about below), but also have a ton of outfield prospects. I would like to give Gomes props though, the kid’s got a lot of guts for continuing to play baseball, after suffering a heart attack in 2002 (when he was in the minors). Gomes, with his defensive abilities and hitting power could be used as a defensive substitution for the Nationals or even be used to platoon alongside a fellow prospect. I think the Nationals will resign him. Ankeil and Nix, meanwhile…

Rick Ankiel – Ankiel signed a 1-year, $1.5 million deal with the Nationals after spending 2010 with the Royals and Braves. In 122 games, Ankiel posted a .239 batting average with 9 home runs and 37 RBIs. He also had a career-high 10 stolen bases.

Thoughts/Prediction: Ankiel is a slightly better batter, but has less power than Gomes. Also, Gomes is 2 1/2 years younger, which is something the Nationals will look at when comparing the two. Ankiel will get a minor-league deal, and will likely make a roster elsewhere out of Spring Training.

Laynce Nix – Nix signed a minor-league deal with the Nationals but made the roster out of Spring Training. In 124 games, he recorded a .250 batting average with 16 homers and 44 RBIs. He also recorded his first stolen base since 2005.

Thoughts/Prediction: When giving more playing time, Nix shows that he has a decent amount of power in his bat, despite being average when getting on base. As of this post, Nix decided to enter free agency. Should warrant looks for a few teams: Giants and Dodgers are two places I can see him going to, depending on their situations; Mets are another option, though more likely to be used as a backup.

Livan Hernandez – Hernandez managed to only post a 8-13 record this year, the first time he didn’t hit double digits in wins since 1999. He had a  4.47 ERA and 99 strikeouts.

Thoughts/Prediction: Hernandez will have double digits in losses, but that’s because he eats a ton of innings, and will pitch complete games; at the same time, he gives up a lot of hits in the process. As I’ve said, this was his first time hitting only single digits in the win column since 1999; with a better team, Livan would probably be able to get 13-15 wins, as he typically does. If you don’t mind him giving up a ton of hits but need a guy that chews up innings, he can make for a good back-of-the-rotation guy for a decent team (or better); Nationals are improving (they did finish third in the NL East division this year) but they’re not there, and I don’t think he’ll spend the last couple years of his career in Washington anyway.

Alex Cora – Wait, wait, wait a second. Alex Cora?! He still plays in the majors?! Well, he was signed to a minor-league contract and managed to play in 91 games for the Nationals this year. He posted a .224 batting average, playing at both second base and shortstop.

Thoughts/Prediction: He’s 36 and hasn’t had a decent season since 2004 with the Dodgers. Again, he still plays in the majors?!

 

Last but not least will be 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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