November 18, 2011

Offseason shopping on a budget: Right-handed bats

Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel potentially both departing as free agents has the Twins in the market for help in the form of corner outfielders, designated hitters, or first basemen, and Cuddyer's exit would leave them even shorter than usual on strong right-handed bats. Below are 15 free agent options--some everyday guys, some platoon guys--who could help balance the lineup from the right side of the plate without costing a ton.

Josh Willingham: Normally the Twins would never forfeit their first-round pick to sign a Type A free agent, but because next year's top pick is protected it might be an option. They've been linked to Willingham, who's quietly posted an OPS above .800 in six straight seasons despite playing in pitcher-friendly ballparks. Over the past three years Cuddyer has hit .276/.341/.465 and Willingham has hit .257/.360/.479. It all depends on price, but he wouldn't be a dropoff.

Derrek Lee: Last offseason Lee signed a one-year, $7.25 million deal with the Orioles and he should be even cheaper this time around after playing 35 fewer games with a nearly identical OPS compared to 2010. Lee is no longer a middle-of-the-order threat and his plate discipline vanishing this season is worrisome for a 36-year-old, but even a repeat of his .267/.325/.446 line with solid defense at first base would be worth a one-year investment.

Andruw Jones: Jones looked completely washed-up at age 30, but he's gotten back on track enough to be a solid bench player for the past three seasons, batting .228/.338/.478 in 881 plate appearances spotted mostly versus lefties. If you focus on the Hall of Fame-caliber player Jones was in his twenties he's sure to disappoint, but as a 34-year-old corner outfielder who's hit .254/.374/.492 off southpaws since 2009 he's still plenty useful.

Jonny Gomes: Strikeouts, poor defense, and flailing away against righties have limited Gomes to part-time roles, but he's always fared very well versus lefties and batted .298/.383/.492 off them during the past three years. As an everyday player he's overmatched, but as a platoon player and bench bat Gomes would be worth adding and figures to be cheap. He has big-time power, draws plenty of walks, and at age 31 might be helpful beyond 2012.

Cody Ross: Ross predictably resumed being a mediocre hitter after his out of nowhere playoff breakout in 2010, but as a right-handed bat with 20-homer power and enough range to play center field in a pinch he'd be a worthwhile pickup at the right price. During the past three years Ross hit .272/.342/.521 versus lefties and his .258/.316/.404 line off righties is passable enough to not be a total disaster if pushed into extended action, assuming he's cheap.

Magglio Ordonez: Ordonez finally stopped hitting at age 37 and two fractured ankles in two years means he may simply be finished, but he's also just a year removed from a decade-long run as one of the elite right-handed hitters in baseball and has always destroyed left-handed pitching. Limiting him strictly to designated hitter duties could help keep Ordonez healthy and prior to the first fractured ankle in mid-2010 he hit .303/.378/.474 in 84 games for the Tigers.

Ryan Ludwick: Since batting .299/.375/.591 with 37 homers in a 2008 breakout Ludwick has seen his OPS drop from .966 to .775 to .743 to .674. He was terrible this season against both righties and lefties, but was an above-average hitter in 2009 and 2010 despite poor batting averages and is a solid defensive corner outfielder. If a team still wants to pay Ludwick like a middle-of-the-order bat the Twins should bow out, but as cheap right-handed pop he's decent.

Reed Johnson: Johnson has always been an ideal fourth outfielder because he can handle all three spots defensively, puts up strong numbers versus left-handed pitching, and isn't totally overmatched versus right-handers once in a while. At age 34 his range has slipped some and his strikeout-to-walk ratio over the past two years is laughably bad at 113-to-10, but he also hit .303/.327/.467 off lefties during that time.

Scott Hairston: He never really developed as expected or found an obvious home defensively, but Hairston is a .274/.328/.486 career hitter versus southpaws and has outfield experience in all three spots. He's a free agent after hitting .235/.303/.470 in 79 games for the Mets on a one-year, $1.1 million deal and Hairston has averaged 23 homers per 550 at-bats throughout his career despite calling pitcher-friendly Petco Park home for half that time.

Vladimir Guerrero: At age 36 his knees are shot, he looks lost in the outfield, and his bat is no longer anywhere near elite, but Guerrero hit .304/.319/.456 in the second half to finish with an above-average OPS overall for the Orioles. He shouldn't be playing every day or batting in the middle of the lineup, but for a one-year deal and a part-time job focused mostly on lefties the former MVP still has some value.

Xavier Nady: As a 29-year-old Nady batted .305 with 25 homers in 2008, but multiple injuries have limited him to 208 games in three seasons since and he's hit just .254/.299/.359. Prior to all the injuries Nady consistently knocked around left-handers and he has lots of experience as a first baseman and corner outfielder. Assuming he's willing to accept an inexpensive one-year contract and a part-time role Nady would fit as a backup and platoon player.

Mark DeRosa: Injuries derailed DeRosa's career, limiting him to 71 unproductive games during a two-year, $12 million deal with the Giants. He's also 37 years old, which adds to the risk, but DeRosa is a career .297/.370/.481 hitter versus left-handers and has started games at every position except catcher and center field. On a cheap one-year contract he'd make sense and a part-time role might help him stay off the disabled list.

Marcus Thames: Thames has quietly been one of the most powerful bats of the past decade, ranking sixth among all active right-handed hitters in Isolated Power. He's actually had slightly more raw pop versus righties, but low batting averages and little plate discipline mean Thames should be limited to facing mostly lefties. He's also 35 years old and terrible defensively, but figures to be available on the cheap after being cut loose following a 36-game Dodgers stint.

Aaron Rowand: San Francisco finally gave up on Rowand four seasons into his five-year, $60 million contract, releasing the 34-year-old outfielder in September with $12 million still on the books for 2012. Rowand was a bust for the Giants and has hit just .231/.277/.363 during the past two seasons, but the former Gold Glove winner still covers enough ground to be a fourth outfielder and could be reasonably productive if spotted versus left-handed pitching.

Conor Jackson: Once upon a time Jackson was a top prospect who hit .287/.367/.443 through his first three seasons, but valley fever threatened his career in 2009 and he hasn't been the same since. It'd be worth a minimal investment to find out if Jackson can still be productive in a part-time role and he's played lots of right field, left field, and first base in addition to being an emergency option at third base.

December 6, 2010

Picking through the non-tenders

Thursday's deadline came and went without the Twins non-tendering anyone, but a total of 52 arbitration-eligible players were non-tendered by other teams and that group hitting the open market provides a secondary class of free agents worth picking through. There are no stars to be had and for the most part all 52 players were cut loose for a reason, but with the Twins in search of bullpen help and perhaps a backup outfielder there are options worth considering.

Bobby Jenks: Cut loose by the White Sox because he would have been due for a raise on his $7.5 million salary, Jenks remains a very good reliever and pitched much better than his 4.44 ERA this year suggests. His average fastball still clocked in at 95 miles per hour, he racked up 61 strikeouts in 53 innings, and served up just three homers while inducing 58 percent ground balls. Jenks could end up being a tremendous bargain if his ERA and weight scare teams off.

D.J. Carrasco: Arizona had MLB's worst bullpen ERA by a full run and Carrasco was only due for a raise to around $1.5 million, so it's tough to explain why they cut him loose. Whatever the case, after spending 2006 and 2007 in the minors and transitioning to the bullpen full time he's had ERAs of 3.96, 3.76, and 3.68 with 157 strikeouts in 210 innings and a .255/.327/.356 opponents' line in the past three years. He'd be a nice low-cost replacement for Matt Guerrier.

Joel Peralta: After back-to-back rough years Peralta had to earn his way back to the majors with a dominant stint at Triple-A as a 34-year-old and then pitched brilliantly for the Nationals with a 2.02 ERA, .170 opponents' average, and 49-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 49 innings. That somehow got him non-tendered, but as a fly-ball pitcher with excellent control and a 4.22 career ERA he'd fit perfectly working the middle innings for the Twins.

Todd Coffey: Another right-handed middle-reliever candidate, Coffey was non-tendered by the Brewers despite a 3.52 ERA and 128-to-46 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 153 frames for Milwaukee. Coffey's slider is his best pitch, but his average fastball also clocks in at 94 miles per hour and he's induced 52 percent ground balls to go along with missing plenty of bats. Turning to the bad-control, good-stuff spectrum, Jose Veras and Manny Delcarmen could be decent fliers.

Hideki Okajima: After posting a 2.72 ERA in his first three seasons Okajima was relegated to mop-up duties following a terrible first half, angered the Boston media by avoiding interviews, and admitted to being homesick without anyone to talk to in the bullpen. All of which explains why he was non-tendered, but a rebound playing alongside Tsuyoshi Nishioka seems doable. He pitched well down the stretch and has always been more setup man than lefty specialist.

George Sherrill: With a 6.69 ERA this season Sherrill earned his non-tender from the Dodgers, but he was an All-Star in 2008, had a 1.70 ERA in 2009, and still looks plenty capable of being a good left-handed specialist in 2011. Right-handed batters crushed Sherrill this year, but he held lefties to .192/.286/.288. And that's actually worse than his ridiculously great career mark of .167/.235/.265 versus lefties.

Matt Diaz: Ron Gardenhire has unfortunately shown zero willingness to actually bench Jason Kubel versus lefties despite a miserable .236/.313/.352 career line against them, but if he did Diaz would be an ideal platoon partner. He's stretched thin when asked to play every day, but Diaz is a lifetime .335/.373/.533 hitter off lefties. With an overall career line of .301/.350/.456 he may be out of the Twins' price range for a part-time player, but he'd be very useful.

Scott Hairston: He doesn't destroy lefties quite as convincingly as Diaz, but Hairston hits them well enough (.278/.331/.498 despite calling MLB's most severe pitcher's ballpark home) to be a strong platoon partner for Kubel and also brings significantly more defensive versatility to the table than Diaz with extensive center field and second base experience along with nearly two thousand innings as a corner outfielder.

Lastings Milledge: Yet another nice fit as a possible platoon-mate for Kubel, although Milledge is different than Diaz or Hairston in that he's still just 25 years old. While coming up through the Mets' system he twice ranked among Baseball America's top dozen prospects, but Milledge has already been let go by three teams while hitting just .269/.328/.394 in 1,655 trips to the plate. Within that he's been solid off lefties and has a good glove when playing a corner spot.

Fred Lewis: As a left-handed hitter Lewis obviously wouldn't work at all as a platoon-mate for Kubel, but he'd have value if the Twins are looking for a more traditional fourth outfielder. He's hit .272/.348/.418 in 1,518 plate appearances, has 20-steal speed, and is solid defensively in the corners while having some experience in center field. Not exactly the ideal fit roster-wise, but useful enough that he'd be worth adding anyway if the price was right.

Tony Gwynn Jr.: Despite a Hall of Fame father with seven batting titles and 3,141 hits Gwynn Jr.'s bat is his weakness. He's hit just .244/.323/.314 in 1,054 plate appearances and at age 28 seems unlikely to develop further. He does have the plate discipline to avoid being a total non-factor offensively and Gwynn is an elite defensive outfielder with 30-steal speed. Batting left-handed (and Jason Repko's presence) keeps him from being a better fit for the Twins.