November 30 is the last day to offer a contract to arbitration-eligible players, and if team’s are uninterested in doing so, they are non-tendered, allowing those players to hit free agency. There are several names that hit free agency yesterday that could help out your favorite team. Let’s take a look at those top, new free agents.
Brian Wilson, RHP
Wilson is just 30 years old and was one of the top closers in baseball from 2008 to 2011, compiling 163 saves over four seasons. In late 2011, Wilson started having elbow issues, then he made just two appearances in 2012 due to Tommy John surgery. He is expected to be ready to go in spring training, but he may have to settle for a one-year deal, similar to Ryan Madson with the Angels, to show he is fully recovered and capable of regaining form.
Jair Jurrjens, RHP
Jurrjens will only be 27 years old on Opening Day in 2013 and he already has 53 wins and 750 innings under his belt; however, it’s the wins and innings he doesn’t have that are the concern with him. He made $5.5 million in 2012 in his second year of arbitration, and the Braves let him go after they were unable to trade him, and with good reason, his shoulder was a great concern. Jurrjens shoulder issues could be overblown, as they started in August of 2007, but then in 2008 and 2009, Jurrjens went 27-20 with a 3.10 ERA over 403.1 innings. He had issues with tightness and inflammation, once again, in February of 2010, but it was his knee issues, which needed surgery, that caused him to miss starts. Jurrjens rebounded to a 13-6 record and 2.96 ERA in 2011, only to miss more starts due to his knee. If Jurrjens can prove to teams that it is his knee that was of concern and not his shoulder, I don’t see why he shouldn’t have a line of teams knocking at his door while you’re reading this.
Rafael Perez, LHP
He’s breathing and he is left-handed, but more than that, Perez has been a very, very effective relief pitcher for a number of seasons. Perez had one really, really bad season, 2009, when he posted a 7.31 ERA over 54 games and 48 innings, but if you look at the rest of his career, Perez has a 3.01 ERA over 284 games and 281 innings. He missed 146 games due to a shoulder ailment, which he didn’t have surgery on until late September, so team’s may be hesitant to guarantee him much. An incentive-laden, one-year contract would be a good way for the lefty to get a job quickly.
Mark Reynolds, 1B/3B
Reynolds is an American League team’s dream. He can handle third base or first base, but not really play either well, while providing an incredible amount of right-handed power to the lineup. He also will frustrate teams with his tremendous number of strikeouts, while posting a batting average near the Mendoza-line every season. He is what he is, as Reynolds has been this player since 2007. Reynolds doesn’t even turn 30 years old unti August of 2013 and he has compiled 181 home runs and a career .807 OPS in his six seasons. He has also struck out in 32.6 percent of his career at-bats. With his ability to sit in the middle of an order to provide power as a first baseman, third baseman, or designated hitter, Reynolds will interest several clubs.
Brandon Snyder, 1B/OF
Snyder was non-tendered by the Texas Rangers and the 26-year-old could be very valuable for the right team. He just turned 26 and Snyder only has 98 career at-bats, but he posted a .275/.331/.431 line over six seasons in the minors. He has more doubles power than home run power, having hit 14 in 2011 in Triple-A as a career high, but he would be a solid, affordable platoon partner for a club.
Geovany Soto, Catcher
Soto will be turning 30 in January and he will be very popular in coming days. After hitting .264/.370/.466 with 73 doubles and 51 home runs from 2008 to 2010, Soto has hit just .214/.297/.381 with 38 doubles and 28 home runs the last two seasons. Soto had shoulder surgery in September of 2010, so the fall in productivity could be related. Soto wasn’t ever above average behind the plate, but teams seem to be picking on his arm the last two seasons, stealing 150 bases while getting caught just 57 times (28 percent, which is league average). He’ll have plenty of suitors as a young, power hitting catcher.
Mike Pelfrey, RHP
Pelfrey will be 29 years old in January and he is about as average as it gets as a starting pitcher. He’s had a couple of seasons with an ERA around 3.70 and a few hovering around 5.00. Pelfrey has statistical averages that put him at around 200 innings per season with an ERA of 4.36, so he would be a solid filler in the back-end of a rotation. The 6’7″ right-hander had Tommy John surgery in May of 2012, so he will probably be getting an incentive-based, one-year contract to show that he has recovered. He may not be ready for the start of the season due to the 12 to 18 month recovery time for the elbow surgery.
Tom Gorzelanny, LHP
After posting a 2.88 ERA for the Nationals in 2012, it was surprising to see Gorzelanny’s name on the non-tender list. It is possible that his experience as a starter in his career would drive up his arbitration costs, although he made just one start in 2012, after making $3 million for Washington last season. Gorzelanny has proven himself as a valuable left-handed reliever, posting a 3.32 ERA over 82 games and 114 innings, with a 1.25 WHIP. When you look at those numbers, you can see why teams would jump at the opportunity to sign the 30-year-old southpaw; however, if a team is looking at him as a starter, they may want to look at his 4.61 ERA over 111 starts and 621 innings, with a 1.48 WHIP. Gorzelanny would do better for himself if he locks himself in as a solid, left-handed relief pitcher, and teams should only view him as such.
Ben Francisco, OF
Francisco is a platoon outfielder, and he has been that player for his entire career to every team that he has played for, outside of the Cleveland Indians. Unfortunately, he really isn’t a platoon player. Francisco has a career .260/.324/.430 line against right-handers and a .252/.329/.414 line against left-handers. Francisco, at 31, is nothing more than a 25th man. He can play left and right field and he can provide a little bit of pop, a little bit of speed, and a little bit of patience at the plate. He keeps getting chances and he keeps getting platoon roles, but I’m not sure that he is any better than what some minor league free agent types could do if given around 200 at-bats per season. Teams may still be interested in him, though, for whatever reason.
Ian Stewart, 3B
Stewart turns just 28 in April, which is shocking considering it feels like he has been around forever, having received his first taste of the majors in 2007. Stewart was once one of the most promising, having been rated as high as No. 4 by Baseball America, prior to the 2005 season. That sort of thing happens when a guy hits 30 home runs as a 19-year-old in Low-A. Stewart has even had some success at the big league level, as he hit 53 home runs and drove in 172 runs between 2008 and 2010. Stewart’s .246/.346/.454 line over that time wasn’t fantastic, but the Rockies gave up on him in 2011 after he posted a .156/.243/.221 line. He didn’t do much better for the Chicago Cubs in 2012, but he had wrist issues, which he had surgery on in July of 2012, which dated back to August of 2011, when Stewart was in Triple-A with the Rockies. Still very young, a healthy Stewart deserves another opportunity. He has proven capable of hitting major league pitching in the past and he will be very affordable. It’s unfortunate that he may become a career backup due to one miserable season and some injuries.