Posted: Friday February 3, 2012 2:23PM ; Updated: Monday February 6, 2012 1:41PM
Ben Reiter
Ben Reiter>INSIDE BASEBALL
The Top Remaining Free Agents
On Thursday, the Nationals agreed to a one-year deal with starting pitcher Edwin Jackson that is reportedly worth between $8 million and $12 million. It also means that each of baseball's top 20 domestic free agents, as ranked by SI.com at the off-season's beginning, now has an employer. Still, of the top 50 available players, eight remain available, with every club's pitchers and catchers due to report to spring training in fewer than three weeks.

As you scan the list of those who remain on the market, one theme will emerge, and it helps to explain why players of their caliber remain jobless: In a game that values youth more than ever before, they are old. None of the eight is younger than thirty, and they have an average age of 35.

Even so, while none of them can likely carry a team any longer, each still has the potential to be a valuable role player -- and even a key contributor on a championship-caliber club, as the Cardinals found out after they signed 35-year-old Lance Berkman before last season, and the Rangers discovered after signing then 35-year-old Vladimir Guerrero two off-seasons ago.

Here, then, is the list of those eight players, with the destination that might make the most sense for them, as well as two additional player who did not make SI.com's original list but are both available and intriguing.Note: Original Reiter 50 rank in parentheses where applicable.
1
Roy Oswalt (22)
Age: 34
Position: SP
2011 Stats: 9-10, 3.69 ERA, 1.338 WHIP, 6.0 K/9

2011 TEAM: PHILLIES
OLD BEST FIT: RANGERS
NEW BEST FITRANGERS

After making $16 million in 2011 to be one of the Phillies' "four aces" -- and then only throwing 139 innings due to injury -- Oswalt is reportedly holding out for a one-year, $10 million dollar deal. He might get it, as he is easily the most talented free agent remaining. While the Red Sox have a chance, his favored suitors appear to be last year's World Series participants, the Cardinals -- where he'd rejoin Berkman, his old Astros teammate -- and the Rangers. Even though it seems to have a fully stocked rotation (Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison and Neftali Feliz), Texas might make the most sense, as Oswalt would provide excellent depth should Feliz struggle in his transition from the bullpen, or Darvish in his from Japan.

2
Johnny Damon (25)
Age: 37
Position: OF/DH
2011 Stats: .261/.326/.418, 16 HRs, 73 RBIs, 19 SBs

2011 TEAM: RAYS
OLD BEST FIT: DIAMONDBACKS
NEW BEST FIT: METS

Damon had to wait before finding one-year deals the past two off-seasons -- in 2010 he didn't become a Tiger until Feb. 22 -- and this year will be no different. It's partially a result of the fact that Damon's significant defensive shortcomings have come to severely limit the number of clubs with a spot for him. But the Mets should have one, for a number reasons. One, he can still provide offense, as his numbers from last year demonstrate, to a club that will likely be starved for the stuff. And two, his consistently sunny demeanor and range of experience would be valuable in a young clubhouse in which things might, this season, be consistently bleak.

3
Derrek Lee (26)
Age: 36
Position: 1B
2011 Stats: .267/.325/.446, 19 HRs, 59 RBIs, 2 SBs

2011 TEAM: PIRATES
OLD BEST FIT: TWINS
NEW BEST FIT: CUBS

Lee has a leg up on some of the other aging hitters on this list in that he is not yet a liability in the field. In fact, his Ultimate Zone Rating of 16 ranked him 11th among all first basemen last season, according to the website fangraphs.com. The Twins signed Ryan Doumit and Josh Willingham and no longer seem a fit for him, but the Cubs, for whom Lee starred from 2004-10 and who currently have 29-year-old career minor leaguer Bryan LaHair penciled in at first base, do. Lee could ably hold down the position until 22-year-old top prospect Anthony Rizzo, recently acquired from the Padres, is ready.

4
Javier Vazquez (27)
Age: 35
Position: SP
2011 Stats: 13-11, 3.69 ERA, 1.183 WHIP, 7.6 K/9

2011 TEAM: MARLINS
OLD BEST FIT: REDS
NEW BEST FIT: REDS

Vazquez seems likely to retire, and the Marlins have no room in their rotation after signing Mark Buehrle away from the White Sox and trading for the Cubs' Carlos Zambrano. Still, Vazquez was in many ways the Marlins' best pitcher last year, particularly in the second half, and he might be lured back to the majors with a deal that looks something like last season's one-year, $7 million contract -- preferably dangled by a team that plays in the N.L. (where he has a career ERA of 3.99) and not the A.L. (4.65). The Reds, for instance, seem like a playoff contender but could use some shoring up at the bottom of their rotation, as No. 5 starter Bronson Arroyo allowed a league-high 112 earned runs last season.

5
Vladimir Guerrero (32)
Age: 37
Position: RP
2011 Stats: .290/.317/.416, 13 HRs, 63 RBIs, 2 SB

2011 TEAM: ORIOLES
OLD BEST FIT: ATHLETICS
NEW BEST FIT: ATHLETICS

Little has changed concerning Guerrero's situation since the start of the winter. He still hopes to find a team who will allow him to demonstrate that he has one more season in him like he had in 2010, in which he hit 29 homers drove in 115 runs for the Rangers. The A's, who are now rebuilding even more than usual, have only one player who has hit as many as 21 home runs in a season (Jonny Gomes), and GM Billy Beane has in the past shown a willingness to add aging sluggers, like Frank Thomas and Hideki Matsui, on short term deals, with fairly good results.

6
Raul Ibanez (35)
Age: 40
Position: OF
2011 Stats: .245/.289/.419, 20 HRs, 84 RBIs, 2 SBs

2011 TEAM: PHILLIES
OLD BEST FIT: RAYS
NEW BEST FIT: YANKEES

The Rays gave themselves a reasonably cheap power boost by signing first baseman Carlos Pena and designated hitter Luke Scott to one-year deals worth a combined $13.25 million. They no longer have a need for Ibanez. The Yankees, after trading C/DH Jesus Montero to the Mariners for starting pitcher Michael Pineda, could use him. Even at his advanced age, Ibanez hit 16 homers and drove in 60 runs against righthanded pitchers last season, and he could combine with Andruw Jones (who had an OPS of .923 against southpaws) to form an effective DH platoon.

7
Rich Harden (36)
Age: 30
Position: SP
2011 Stats: 4-4, 5.12 ERA, 1.427 WHIP, 9.9 K/9

2011 TEAM: ATHLETICS
OLD BEST FIT: PIRATES
NEW BEST FIT: RED SOX

The Pirates filled their quota for veteran, injury-prone strikeout artists by signing Erik Bedard, so Harden is now likely to end up somewhere else. An intriguing option is the Red Sox, who have in Ben Cherington's first off-season as GM doled out just $10.35 million to five free agents. Though they appear likely to head to arbitration with David Ortiz, they should still have some money to spend, and some pitching holes to fill. They could try Harden in the rotation, in the hope that he will maintain his stellar strikeout rate while significantly cutting down on his home runs allowed (17 in just 82 2/3 innings last season), but he might be even more effective (and might stay consistently healthier) in a bullpen role. Harden is younger than anyone else on this list, and there remains a chance that his best days might not yet be behind him.

8
Jon Garland (49)
Age: 32
Position: SP
2011 Stats: 1-5, 4.33 ERA, 1.389 WHIP, 4.7 K/9

2011 TEAM: DODGERS
OLD BEST FIT: PADRES
NEW BEST FIT: BLUE JAYS

Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos has rebuilt his bullpen by acquiring closer Sergio Santos and setup men Francisco Cordero and Darren Oliver. But he has so far not added a single starting pitcher to a rotation that ranked 25th in the majors last year with a combined ERA of 4.55. While Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and Henderson Alvarez should give the rotation a solid base, Anthopoulos could spend a little to bring in the formerly steady Garland -- who didn't pitch after June due to a shoulder injury -- to compete with Brett Cecil, Kyle Drabek and Dustin McGowan, among others, for one of the other two spots.

9
Manny Ramirez (not ranked)
Age: 39
Position: OF/DH
2011 Stats: .059/.059/.118, 0 HRs, 1 RBIs 0 SBs

2011 TEAM: RAYS
BEST FIT: ORIOLES

The Rays made a memorably heroic run to the playoffs last fall, but one has to wonder if they might have done even better had Ramirez not abruptly retired a week into a season in which he was to earn $2 million, after testing positive for a banned performance enhancing drug. Ramirez, though, had an OPS of .870 in 90 games with the Dodgers and the White Sox in 2010, and now hopes to return to show he has something left. Any team that signs him would have to be willing to do without him for the season's first 50 games, as he serves his PED suspension, but that will only lower his price tag. While the Rays won't take a second chance on him, Ramirez represents a worthy gamble for a team like the Orioles, who currently plan to start Endy Chavez in leftfield and Wilson Betemit at DH, and who don't seem to have much to lose.

10
Mike Gonzalez (not ranked)
Age: 31
Position: RP
2011 Stats: 2-2, 4.39 ERA, 1.350 WHIP, 8.6 K/9, 1 SV

2011 TEAM: RANGERS
BEST FIT: YANKEES

Quality middle relievers, particularly of the lefthanded variety, were scarce this off-season, which helps to explain how Darren Oliver got $4.5 million to pitch for the Blue Jays at age 41, and why the Giants committed a combined $13.5 million to lock up their own potential free agent southpaws, Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez. Gonzalez struggled a bit after the Orioles traded him to the Rangers -- he allowed four earned runs in seven regular season innings for them, and served up one of the three homers Albert Pujols crushed off Texas relievers in Game 3 of the World Series. Overwhelming that, though, will be the fact that Gonzalez is relatively young, has struck out more than 10 batters per nine innings in his career, and held lefthanded batters to a .574 OPS last season. The Yankees have long coveted a second lefty to pair with Boone Logan -- injuries have destroyed Damaso Marte and Pedro Feliciano's recent tenures in the Bronx -- and have so far spent just $16 million on three free agents. Gonzalez could make it four, and without being very costly.

Other Notable Remaining Free Agents
OF Rick Ankiel; OF Yoenis Cespedes; 3B/DH Eric Chavez; OF J.D. Drew; OF Kosuke Fukudome; IF/OF Bill Hall; RP Jason Isringhausen; 1B/OF Conor Jackson; RP Hong-Chih Kuo; RP Scott Linebrink; DH Hideki Matsui; 2B/3B Aaron Miles; 1B/OF Xavier Nady; SP Ross Ohlendorf; OF Magglio Ordonez; RP Arthur Rhodes; C Ivan Rodriguez; 3B Mark Teahen; SS/3B Miguel Tejada; C Jason Varitek; SP Chris Young

 
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