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

Last but certainly not least, we have the AL East.

As of this post, the Yankees already resigned C.C. Sabathia to a new 5-year/$122 million contract with an option for 2017. In addition, they picked up their club options on both Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher. All of these were smart by Brian Cashman and the Yankee organization. Without Sabathia, their pitching rotation is very short with only Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett, and Ivan Nova as only guys left to use. Robinson Cano is a 5-star tool, but his club options are still cheap compared to what he’d be worth had they not use them; you got to take him (and definitely should resign). Nick Swisher’s $10.25 million club option is a bit expensive, particularly for a guy who usually bats sixth in the lineup, but he’s healthy and puts up good numbers (a 20-25 HR/85-95 RBI guy) for someone who bats there.

Eric Chavez – After so many years with the Athletics, that team finally let him go. So, he signed a minor-league deal with the Yankees. He went on the disabled list in May, but came back and played in 58 games, as backup to Alex Rodriguez. He hit .263 with 2 homer and 26 RBIs.

Thoughts/Prediction: Chavez still has something left, but his oft-injured status over the past few years will turn some teams away. A minor-league deal at best, but will likely make the roster out of Spring Training.

Jorge Posada – Despite the presence of Russell Martin, Posada managed to play plenty of games for the Yankees as designated hitter. He initially struggled and at one point, was disappointed that he was hitting ninth in the lineup for Joe Girardi. He also was removed from the lineup at another point. Nonetheless, Posada managed a .235 batting average with 14 homers and 44 RBIs.

Thoughts/Prediction: I love Posada. I can’t imagine any Yankees fan that doesn’t. He’s one of the “Core Four” (Posada, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera). But I think in 2012, the Core Four will be down to two in Jeter and Rivera. Unless Posada takes a massive pay cut, they won’t take him. They have Russell Martin for another year and Jesus Montero is ready to play.

Rafael Soriano (can opt out) – The Yankees signed him to a 3-year deal worth $35 million. He was signed to be the setup man behind Mariano Rivera, then be the closer when Rivers inevitably retires. Midseason, he went on the disabled list but came back in August. He pitched in 42 games and recorded a 4.12 ERA over 39 1/3 innings. He also went 2-for-5 in saves.

Thoughts/Prediction: Soriano is due to make $25 million over the next two years? You honestly think he’s going to opt out and enter free agency? NO WAY! And the thing is, the Yankees might not even need Soriano after David Robertson’s breakout year. Perhaps Brian Cashman was right when earlier in the year, he said he didn’t want to sign him to a contract…

Andruw Jones – Jones played in 77 games for the Yankees on a 1-year deal. He recorded a .247 batting average with 13 homers and 33 RBIs.

Thoughts/Prediction: Jones doesn’t hit for contact as good as he used to, nor is he as great of a fielder as the former 10-time Gold Glover once was, but still has the ability to hit for a lot of power. He should be given more opportunities, particularly as a DH. Should sign where he would be given more playing time; Rays, Orioles, and Twins all come to mind.

Bartolo Colon – Colon made a comeback, signing a minor-league deal with the Yankees. He made the roster out of Spring Training as a reliever. He then became a starting pitcher when Phil Hughes went down with an injury. Colon played in 29 games, starting 26 of them. He recorded a 8-10 record, a 4.00 ERA, and 135 strikeouts.

Thoughts/Prediction: For someone who’s 38 and hadn’t played in 2 years, Colon did far better than most expected. He was a low-money deal that resulted in moderate success. I’m not sure how many teams are interested in a 38-year old pitcher, but probably can serve as a spot starter/long reliever role on a 1-year deal.

Freddy Garcia – Similar to Colon, Garcia was signed to a minor-league deal who also made it to the roster out of Spring Training. However, Garcia achieved a bit more success, posting a 12-8 record in 25 starts, with a 3.62 ERA.

Thoughts/Prediction: Considering he pitched slightly better than Colon and is three years younger, there’s bound to be more interest in Garcia. But he also might be a more expensive. Still a good back-of-the-rotation guy who brings veteran presence to your ballclub and is safer bet to sign than Colon.

 

As of this post, Marco Scutaro’s $6 million club opton for 2012 has bee picked up. I think this was a good idea because I lack faith in Jed Lowrie and some don’t think Jose Iglesias is ready to play full-time at the major league level.

David Ortiz – Red Sox picked up his $12.5 club option for 2011, and Ortiz continued to deliver for them. This year, he hit .309, with 29 homers and 96 RBIs. He also cut down on strikeouts from 145 in 2010 to just 83 in 2011.

Thoughts/Prediction: He’ll turn 36 in November but Ortiz continues to deliver nonetheless. Not only does he provide plenty of power and the ability to drive in a lot of runs, but more importantly, he’s clutch. The Red Sox may have suffered a collapse this year, but Ortiz was not one of the reasons, and he wants to stay in Boston. A definite resign.

J.D. Drew – Hard to believe that in 2010, with all the injuries they suffered then, Drew was the ironman of the Red Sox. Nonetheless, Drew only played in 81 games, recording a .222 batting average with 4 home runs and 22 RBIs.

Thoughts/Prediction: Drew has been one expensive player the past few years. He has shown flashes of brilliance, and has put up decent numbers, but nothing really that screams $70 million over 5 years. Plus, the Red Sox have Josh Reddick and Daniel Nava to use anyway. Drew could probably still manage on a short-term contract for about $5 million. A trip back to the NL West with the Giants may be a possibility, depending on what happens with Carlos Beltran and Cody Ross. Could also be used as a DH to limit injuries; Minnesota maybe?

Jonathan Papelbon – Papelbon appeared in 63 games this year, recording 31 saves out of 34 opportunities. He pitched in 64 1/3 innings, posting a 2.94 ERA and a career-high 89 strikeouts. He recorded his 200th career save with the team, but blew the most important one of the season; in the final game of the regular season, Papelbon blew the save against the Baltimore Orioles, partially contributing to the Rays entering the playoffs.

Thoughts/Prediction: Papelbon will get a lot of lookers but there are also plenty of closers in there too. He may have had his best season, statistically speaking, but he’s had his critics that past few years too. Will he stay with Boston? Probably not. He’s expensive, even for them, and they have relievers they can use (Daniel Bard, for one) as cheaper (and possibly, just as effective) replacements.

Dan Wheeler (club option) – Wheeler played in 47 games, pitching in 49 1/3 innings. He posted a 4.38 ERA and just 39 strikeouts, his least since 2003.

Thoughts/Prediction: Wheeler’s 2012 club option was not picked up, and I’m not surprised. He didn’t pitch particularly well, giving up a lot of runs (although not as bad as in 2007) in the process, and appeared in his lowest amount of games since 2004. The Red Sox have possibilities in replacements to fill in for Wheeler, so it’s not a big concern. Where Wheeler goes, I’m not sure, but a third tenure with the Rays wouldn’t be a stretch in my opinion. Minnesota and Milwaukee also appear as viable options.

Jason Vartiek – Varitek signed yet another 1-year contract with the team he’s been with for all his career. He appeared in 30 more games this season than he did in 2010. Over 68 games, he posted a .221 batting average with 11 home runs and 36 RBIs.

Thoughts/Prediction: Varitek has done a lot for this organization. He loves Boston and Boston has loved him back. Even with Jarrod Saltalamacchia as the starter and with Ryan Lavaranway waiting in the wings, Varitek may not get little time, if resigned. But I can’t see Varitek with another team; he’s been the captain for the Red Sox since 2005, only the third in Red Sox history since 1923 (the other two being Carl Yastreznski and Jim Rice) and only one of three active captain playing in MLB (the other two being Derek Jeter and the White Sox’s Paul Konerko). He is turning 40, so maybe it is high time for him to retire. Whether he plays or not next year, but either way, he can still serve as a mentor to both Salty and Lavarnway (along with other young prospects). Varitek is one of the best players the Sox have had, and certainly deserves a spot in the Red Sox Hall of Fame.

Tim Wakefield – Another Red Sox lifer (if you ignore his rookie year in 1992 with the Pirates), Wakefield once again served as both reliever and starter. In 33 appearances (23 starts), Wakefield posted a 7-8 record with a 5.12 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, and 93 strikeouts. He also earned his 200th career win.

Thoughts/Appearances: Wakefield is 45, yet similar to Jamie Moyer, is still able to pitch at the major-league level. How? The knuckleball; a pitch that few use but effective when used. Knuckleball pitchers have been known to have longer careers than most conventional pitchers and Wakefield has been no exception. Now normally, I would say its high time for Wakefield to retire, but with Lackey having Tommy John surgery and Dice-K still recovering from his from June, Wakefield might need to be used for at least one more year. He can both start and relieve, though he’s better off pitching on a more consistent basis (by that, I mean starting more games and doing for most or all of the season, and not switch back and forth). Best off, he’ll be cheap; he was paid just $2 million, and should receive around the same amount for next year, should he be resigned.

Dennys Reyes – Reyes was signed to a minor-league deal with the Sox. He made the roster out of Spring Training, but only managed to play in 4 starts. He was then designated for assignment.

Thoughts/Prediction: Not worth anymore than a minor-league deal. Reyes has been a journeyman, playing for 11 teams in his 14-year career, so he could end up anywhere.

 

As of this post, Edwin Encarnacion’s 2012 club option had been picked up. Though Jose Bautista can play at third base, as well, Bautista is also useful in the outfield. The Blue Jays have plenty of options to use both within in their lineup and defensively, which makes them unpredictable to opposing teams.

Jon Rauch (club option) – Signed to a 1-year, $3.5 million, Rauch became the closer for the Jays. However, he also had a 4.85 ERA over 52 appearances, and was 11-for-16 in saves. He suffered an appendectomy in August and was put on the 15-day DL.

Thoughts/Prediction: I think his days as a closer are just about over, as his opposing batting average and WHIP have steadily been going up the past few years. Though 6’11”, the tallest ever in the major leagues, he doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but has a good slider and curveball. Can still provide as a setup man or long reliever. A return to the Twins might happen; Baltimore might use him too.

Shawn Camp – Camp signed a 1-year, $2.25 extension with the Jays. He appeared in 67 games, pitching in 66 1/3 innings, and recorded a 4.21 ERA.

Thoughts/Prediction: Camp has done a decent job in the four years he’s been with Toronto. While nowhere as good as last year, Camp did a serviceable job, particularly in the final two months of the season. Shawn is 35, so he’s not worth more than a 1 or 2-year contract, but I can see him resigned in Toronto.

 

Johnny Damon – Damon, after one season in Detroit, signed a 1-year deal with the Rays worth $5.5 million, and did a good job with the team in 2011. He played in 150 games, posting a .261 batting average, with 16 home runs, 73 RBIs, and had 19 stolen bases. He also continued to hit for extra bases, with 29 doubles and 8 triples.

Thoughts/Prediction: Damon may be turning in 39 in November, but continues to hit well and does a good job at getting into scoring position. Damon provides as a decent #2 in the lineup and provided veteran presence to a mostly young team. Damon, though he didn’t make an error in the 16 games he played in the outfield, should still stick to being a designated hitter at his age, but still has plenty of value for a team lacking in offense. Seattle, should they have money to spend, should be the first team to look at him. Other troubling offensive teams like Cleveland should also take a look.

Kelly Shoppach (club option) – Shoppach played in 87 games. He hit just .176, but hit for 11 home runs and 22 RBIs. In the Division Series, he went 4-for-10, with 2 homers and 6 RBIs.

Thoughts/Prediction: As of this post, Shoppach $3.2 million club option for 2012 has been declined. However, he has expressed interest in resigning with the team. Though his ability to get on base is terrible, he does have good power not only with his bat, but with his arm. He also has a pretty reliable glove for a catcher. Another good veteran presence to have with the ballclub; I think his defensive abilities will allow him to stay for another 1-year deal.

Joel Peralta – Peralta signed a 1-year deal with the Rays worth $900,000. He made 71 appearances, pitching in 67 2/3 innings. He posted a 2.93 ERA, limiting opponents to a .188 batting average. He also covered 6 saves in 8 opportunities.

Thoughts/Prediction: After 2010, the Washington Nationals non-tendered Peralta in order to avoid arbitration. Had it not been for that, he probably would have been kept there. Though 35, he’s probably due for a decent raise, somewhere around the $2 million mark. He has shown in both AAA last year and with the Rays this year that he can perform as a closer. He’ll certainly get looks, even more so than others, due to his ability to perform as a setup/closer role. Rays should resign him but probably won’t.

Juan Cruz – Despite getting released by the Royals after shoulder surgery early in 2010, he was able to find a home with the Rays on a minor-league deal in the offseason. He made the roster and appeared in 56 games, pitching in 48 2/3 innings. He posted a 3.88 ERA with his opponents’ batting average at just .211. He also was able to win 5 games in relief.

Thoughts/Prediction: Probably one of the better middle relievers in the free agent market. He has a mostly pedestrian career, largely because of his lack of control and that he walks waaaaaaaaaaaaaay too many batters. As a member of the pen though, he’s good at striking out guys with his fastball and slider. A bit of a risk, especially at 33, but likely worth it for 2 years and $6-7.5 million.

 

Vladimir Guerrero – Guerrero goes from Texas to Baltimore on a 1-year, $8 million deal. He didn’t do as well for the Orioles, but managed to bat .290 with 13 home runs and 63 RBIs over 145 games.

Thoughts/Prediction: Though not where he was in 2010 with Texas, Guerrero still manages to provide offensive production. He still can hit in the .290-.300 range, and can still drive in runs and extra-base hits (in fact, he hit more doubles this year than last year). Probably the second-best designated hitter on the market, next to David Ortiz.

Cesar Izturis – Izturis resigned with the Orioles on a 1-year deal worth $1.5 million. But Izturis suffered injuries and only managed to play in 18 games this year.

Thoughts/Prediction: Izturis will likely receive just a minor-league deal. He lacks power and usually hits in the infield often, so it’s difficult for him to get on-base (despite a career average of .255, he’s yet to strike out more than 70 times a season). That said, he’s got plenty of speed and has the best defensive range out of any full-time shortstops in the league, so that at least should warrant a few looks.

Justin Duchscherer – Duchscherer wasn’t able to play a game at the major-league level at all in 2011. He was released in August to make room for Jo-Jo Reyes.

Thoughts/Prediction: He has shown talent, but has yet to play a majority of the season in the major since 2008. He was down for all of 2009, and only managed to play in 5 games in 2010. Baltimore tried to take a shot with him on  a 1-year, $700,000 deal. Very few teams will take a look at Duchsherer and his career is likely done. Another guy who had talent and potential, but a plague of injuries have prevented him from having such a long and productive career.

 

And that’s it everybody. Whew, took care of them all, wow! I hope you have enjoyed my long analyses of the free agents from each division. If any of you agree or disagree with my opinions, I’d like to hear it! Post a comment below, I want to see what you think!

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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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