Ten riskiest free agents (cont.)
Ken Griffey Jr.
Position: Designated hitter/outfield
This may not be much of a risk much longer, as there are reports that Griffey will make up his mind sooner rather than later as to whether or not he will return for a 22nd major league season. It would seem that if he chooses not to retire, the Mariners are his only logical landing spot. Griffey will be 40 in less than two weeks -- let that sink in for a moment -- and is basically a full-time designated hitter, having played just 11 games in the outfield last season. He still has pop in his bat, but the question is do the Mariners want to invest a lot of time (in the form of precious at-bats) and a little money (Griffey only made $2 million base salary last year) in an aging icon when they could instead be grooming younger players to try and help them contend? And does any other team want to risk paying him to be a glorified pinch hitter and gate attraction? The only risk to Griffey would be tarnishing his legacy by hanging on too long. As of right now, he made a fairly satisfactory return to Seattle, even finishing his season with a base hit in front of the home crowd at Safeco Field. Even though his return would surely be a boon to ticket sales, he and the team may choose to let that be the final image the fans in Seattle have of him.
Position: Starting pitcher
Penny had little value in Boston after signing a one-year, $5 million contract in the offseason, going 7-8 with a 5.61 ERA and 1.534 WHIP. But once he returned to the National League, he returned to being the pitcher that had made him a two-time All-Star. In six starts with the Giants, Penny shined, going 4-1 with a 2.59 ERA and 0.960 WHIP. Of course, there is still the danger that his fastball is flat and that he gets hit as hard as he did in Boston and in Los Angeles in 2008, when he had a 6.27 ERA in 19 games for the Dodgers. But he should have earned himself a multiyear deal with the way he pitched in San Francisco, and even if he's too pricey for the Giants, it would seem another NL team would be a desirable landing spot for him.
Position: Starting pitcher
Of all the unsigned stars that remained deep into last winter, Sheets' continued availability wound up being the easiest to figure out. He had an elbow problem that required surgery and wound up keeping him out for the entire season. If healthy, he would be an intriguing fit for several teams that could use starting pitchers. Even if he's not ready to go by Opening Day, he would likely draw serious interest if he were healthy enough to contribute at some point during the year. There is obvious risk, given his injury history, but upside as well. When he last pitched -- in 2008 for the Brewers -- Sheets went 13-9, and finished in the top 10 in the NL in shutouts (three, 1st), complete games (five, 2nd), ERA (3.09, 5th), and WHIP (1.15, 7th).
Position: Relief pitcher
It didn't get nearly the attention that the injuries to Delgado, Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, David Wright or Johan Santana did, but Putz's physical problems were a significant hurdle for the Mets to try and overcome in 2009. He had been acquired to be the setup man for Francisco Rodriguez and to solve much of their bullpen woes that had plagued the team in 2007 and '08. Instead, Putz was injured (elbow and forearm problems) and ineffective. He posted career highs in WHIP and ERA, saw his K/BB ratio drop in half from the previous season and his K/9 cut by nearly that much. It's no wonder the Mets bought out his contract for next season. Putz has openly stated that he'd like to be a closer somewhere, and he wasn't going to get that opportunity with the Mets. He had two terrific years as Seattle's closer in 2006 and 2007 (76 saves, 1.86 ERA combined) but his struggles actually began in 2008, when his ERA went up by 2.50, and his WHIP more than doubled to 1.597. In other words, it's been two years since Putz has shown the ability to be a reliable closer. Is there a team willing to give him a chance to try it again?
Position: Starting/relief pitcher
Duchscherer has made the All-Star team as a relief pitcher and as a starter during his years with the A's, and he should be very affordable, never having made more than $3.9 million in a single season. But he had serious problems last year with both his mental and physical health. He had elbow surgery that kept him out for the season and late in the year, he announced that he was battling clinical depression. He hasn't pitched in a major league game since August of 2008 and he's never had a full season as a starter. He could be a back-of-the-rotation starter, or a middle reliever, but he hasn't yet shown that he can be healthy enough to be counted on.
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