Notable Remaining MLB Free Agents

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The Boras Bunch

Here’s the story of a man named Scott Boras

On one hand, who could’ve imagined that Boras would’ve gotten the 7-year $126 million contract he did for Jayson Werth with the Nationals or the 3-year, $35 million deal he got for Rafael Soriano from the Yankees, both following the 2010 season. On the other, with clubs clinging to their draft picks like they’re hanging by their fingernails in fear of going over MLB’s version of the “fiscal cliff,” can any be expected to dole out a similar contract—in January—to the clients Boras currently has waiting for an offer?

Michael Bourn, Kyle Lohse and Soriano all had excellent seasons in 2012. Soriano understandably opted out of the third year on his contract with the Yankees, but teams rarely pay big money for closers anymore so he’s again waiting, hoping and trusting his agent. In Bourn’s and Lohse’s cases, they fill positions of need as a center fielder and starting pitcher, but while Ryan Dempster has received a guaranteed $26.5 million from the Red Sox, Lohse is still waiting. This happened with Lohse before in 2008 and he signed a 1-year contract with the Cardinals, rejuvenated his career under Dave Duncan and Tony LaRussa, and received a $41 million extension. He had a great year in 2012, but it hasn’t translated into an offer deemed suitable for Boras and Lohse.

Considering the draft pick compensation that will be surrendered for signing these players, I don’t know how they’re going to get a long-term deal with a contender. If a club sees one as a bargain and judges winning in 2013 as more valuable than the draft pick, they’ll sign one cheaper than market value deal. The top 10 picks are protected, but among those teams the only ones spending to get better immediately are the Blue Jays, Red Sox and Indians. None of them are going to go overboard for Lohse, Soriano or Bourn.

Some clubs can use these players and have money, but are they using the compensation issue as an excuse to sell to the fans for not overspending or do they simply not want these players? Depending on the situation, it’s probably both.

I wouldn’t underestimate Boras because he’s shocked the world so many other times, but there have been times where his players have had to settle for a one year deal for low dollars hoping to boost his value, as was the case with Lohse when he signed with the Cardinals.

Short-term, cheap and useful

Lance Berkman

Berkman hasn’t specifically stated he’s going to play and is notably difficult. He speaks his mind and does so without thinking, then finds himself having to backtrack on what he said when the initial statement was probably what he really thought.

The comments linked above were about the Rangers and now there’s a chance that Berkman will sign with the Rangers to be their DH/part-time first baseman.

Comments such as those made by Berkman are conveniently forgotten when there’s a mutual need and with teams like the Rangers, Yankees and Indians, there’s a mutual need for Berkman’s bat. Berkman didn’t work out well in the few months he spent with the Yankees in 2010 and he probably wouldn’t want to go to New York, but with their desperate need for a bat and adherence to short-term contracts, there could be a fit there if nothing else pans out for either.

The Indians need power and are clearly trying to contend. Berkman might like to play for Terry Francona.

The Rangers are the best spot for him and the team. Berkman can still hit and wants to stay near home in Texas. With the Rangers, playing half his games in their hitter friendly home park, 25 homers and a .380+ OBP is a reasonable expectation and he wouldn’t want more than a one year contract.

Buyer Beware

Scott Hairston

The desperation to get a righty bat coupled with Hairston’s career year in 2012 has Hairston in surprising demand.

Contrary to his 2012 production, there’s hasn’t been an overt advantage from Hairston when batting against lefties. He had his career year against lefties in 2012 and all of a sudden, he’s seen as a right-handed “power bat.” He’s a useful bench player and a decent defensive left fielder who can provide some pop off the bench. Is that worth a two-year contract, which is what he seems to want?

The Mets have set a line in the sand on Hairston and will be accused of being cheap and/or broke when he departs for more money and the extra year on his contract, but the future will prove them right when Hairston reverts to what he’s been for his whole career—a limited bench player with occasional power and no major advantages against lefties or righties.

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Mid-Season Trade Candidates–Ryan Dempster

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Name: Ryan Dempster

Tale of the tape: Right-handed pitcher; Age, height, weight—35-years-old; 6’2”; 215 lbs.

Contract status: $14 million for 2012; free agent at the end of the season; has 10 and 5 status (10 years MLB, 5 years with the same team) giving him the right to veto any trade.

Would the Cubs trade him?

They’re going to trade him.

Dempster likes the Cubs and they like him, but the team is atrocious and needs multiple pieces. Conceivably they could trade him and re-sign him to a 2-3 year deal after the season. With most players that’s something that’s said to assuage the angry fans for trading one of their favorites and the club has no intention nor desire to bring the player back. Not so with Dempster. He’s a solid bet to return to the Cubs after the season.

What would they want for him?

Theo Epstein is in fire-sale mode within the confines of competing in 2013. With the money available to him and the free hand he’s been given, his options are completely open.

The Cubs need a centerfielder, a middle infielder who can hit and they could use some arms either in the starting rotation or bullpen.

They’re going to have to pay all of Dempster’s salary to get any decent prospects. The only way they’re going to get better than decent prospects is if teams get desperate. I don’t see it happening with Dempster.

Which teams would pursue him?

The Yankees were said to be looking at Dempster and Matt Garza (I’ll talk about Garza in a later posting), but their starting pitching has come together nicely and they don’t really need him. In years past the Yankees might’ve feigned interest in a pitcher like Dempster to raise the price for the Red Sox who are definitely pursuing him. They won’t say it publicly, but the Yankees no longer see the Red Sox as a threat.

The Orioles, Blue Jays (Dempster’s Canadian), Tigers, Indians, White Sox, Phillies, Marlins, Brewers and Dodgers could all use him.

Dempster’s the type of pitcher that Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland likes (you have to rip the ball out of his hand); the Dodgers are going to be heavy buyers this summer.

What would Dempster provide to his new team?

A club thinking they’re getting a pitcher who’ll be able to start games 1 or 2 in the playoffs is making a mistake similar to the one Lou Piniella made in the NLDS of 2008. The Cubs came rampaging into the playoffs as a favorite to make it to the World Series and it was Dempster’s horrific game 1 start that set the tone for the series as the Dodgers bounced them in 3 straight games.

Dempster was too amped up for the start, had no command and walked 7. Then he left a fat pitch over the plate for James Loney to tattoo for a grand slam.

For the regular season though, he’d be a good pickup for any team who needs an innings-eater and leader in the clubhouse.

What will happen.

Dempter’s going to get traded and I think, if he’s willing to switch leagues, he winds up in the American League with either the Indians or Tigers. Then he’s going to turn around and re-sign with the Cubs after the season.

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