Assessing the free-agent market (Cont.)
SHORTSTOP: Once upon a time, Bobby Crosby and Khalil Greene were among the bright young shortstops in the game. Now they have to prove themselves all over again. Orlando Cabrera, 35, needs a seventh team in seven years. He is so smart he could manage someday, but his skills at the plate and afield have been eroding. Under the right contract, Marco Scutaro could be a good value; he's 34 and coming off a career year.
THIRD BASE: The position is loaded with pitfalls, because it is full of name players past their prime: Adrian Beltre, Miguel Tejada, Joe Crede, Troy Glaus, Melvin Mora and Pedro Feliz. Chone Figgins represents good value because of his versatility, but only if teams stay away from a bidding war. He is coming off a career season in which, like Scutaro, he finally learned some plate discipline, but he otherwise has been an average offensive player. Mark DeRosa is the same player as Casey Blake, class of '08, and is a risk at anything more than the same contract (three years, $17.5 million).
OUTFIELD: Holliday and Bay are safe picks, even if they wind up slightly overpaid, because they are legitimate middle-of-the-order hitters. The Red Sox are under some pressure to wind up with one of them, otherwise they need to use some of their dwindling trade chips to find a platoon partner for Jeremy Hermida. They could sign Marlon Byrd, but he comes with a warning: His numbers are inflated by his hitting at The Ballpark in Arlington.
Bay is virtually the same hitter that J.D. Drew was when the Red Sox gave Drew $70 million over five years three years ago. Look at the comparison:
Johnny Damon and Jermaine Dye, while aging, remain good options on Abreu-style short-term deals.
DESIGNATED HITTER: This is a catchall category for aging hitters, some of whom are going to find themselves forced into retirement. There are just too many of them best suited for American League teams and not enough openings: Delgado, Jim Thome, Nomar Garciaparra, Hideki Matsui, Jason Giambi, Vladimir Guerrero, Ken Griffey Jr., Gary Sheffield, Garret Anderson, Aubrey Huff, Andruw Jones, Brian Giles and Mike Sweeney. Sounds like a good All-Star roster, but from 10 years ago.
STARTING PITCHER: Lackey is the same age (31) and has the same ERA (3.81) as Burnett when Burnett went on the free-agent market last year, when he received $82.5 million over five years from the Yankees. Lackey has been slightly more durable than Burnett (234 games to 215 games), so he's looking at something in the range of $90 million. Randy Wolf is the next-best option, but he's 33 and has won more than 12 games in a season once.
Otherwise, this is a landmine of potential problems. There is grab bag of injury risks (Rich Harden, Justin Duchscherer, Kelvim Escobar, Jose Contreras, Erik Bedard, Ben Sheets, Mark Mulder, Mark Prior and Mike Hampton) and rotation fillers (Jason Marquis, Jon Garland, Livan Hernandez, Brad Penny, Carl Pavano, Jarrod Washburn, Joel Piniero and Doug Davis). Beware: The Red Sox dipped into this grab bag last year to put more than a quarter of their season in the hands of Penny, John Smoltz and Paul Byrd. Boston went 20-24 in those starts.
RELIEF PITCHER: The Royals wasted $15.25 million last year on Kyle Farnsworth and Juan Cruz, but the market for left-handed relief pitching turned out to be fairly cost-effective (Denys Reyes, Trever Miller, Arthur Rhodes, postseason version of Damaso Marte, Jeremy Affeldt, etc.). John Grabow would be a good pickup, but as Cruz discovered last year, teams are reluctant to sign Type A pitchers who neither start nor finish games. Mike Gonzalez, Rafael Soriano, Fernando Rodney and Jose Valverde should remind all clubs of Brian Fuentes: Be careful about spending too much money on any closer not named Mariano Rivera, Joe Nathan, Jonathan Papelbon, Joakim Soria or Jonathan Broxton. Cases in point: Fuentes, Kerry Wood, Francisco Rodriguez and Kevin Gregg.