Remaining Free Agents: Catchers and Infielders
Today’s post features a position by position breakdown for the cream of the crop of remaining free agent catchers and infielders.
Benjie Molina is the top remaining free agent catcher but will be 36 next July. Molina hit 20 homers and drove in 80 runs for the Giants in 2009. He doesn’t strike out much but walks even less having walked only 13 times in 2009 and only 184 times in his 12 year career. He is the only free agent catcher among the free agents who was a regular catcher in 2009.
There are several first baseman still available including well known players like Adam LaRoche, Carlos Delgado, Hank Blalock and Russell Branyan. Teams are reluctant to extend contracts to players like Delgado and Branyan who finished the season on the disabled list.
Another negative for Branyan is that he hit .280 in the first half and .193 in the second half and his slugging percentage fell from .573 to .414 in the second half.
Blalock, Ryan Garko and Mike Jacobs are the only first base free agents under the age of 30. Mike Jacobs hit 32 homers and drove in 93 runs in 2008 with the Marlins but fell to 19 homers and 61 runs batted in during 2009 with the Royals.
LaRoche may be one of the first signed unless his asking price is too high. He has driven in 83 or more runs in each of his last four seasons so could help a team needing run production from first baseman.
Orlando Hudson headlines the available second basemen. He had an excellent season in 2009 including a game in which he hit for the cycle but when the Dodgers obtained Ronnie Belliard (another free agent second baseman) from the Nationals he lost his starting job.
Felipe Lopez would be an excellent signing for any team with his .310 batting average and 187 hits in 2009. Lopez was a base stealing threat in 2006 and 2007 stealing a combined 68 bases but has stole only 14 bases over the last two seasons.
Orlando Cabrera and Miguel Tejada are the top available free agent shortstops. Cabrera is not a home run threat having either eight or nine homers in each of the last five seasons. He has stole fewer bases in each of the last three seasons but did steal 19 bases in 23 attempts in 2009. He hit .286 between stints with the Athletics and Twins in 2009 while posting 186 hits.
Tejada proved he couldn’t hit home runs without steroids after his home runs totaled dropped from 34 in 2004 to 13 in 2008 but he did hit one more in 2009 with 14. He was more of a doubles hitter last season with 46 and posted 199 hits and drove in 86 runs for the Astros. His 199 hits prevented him from having 200 hits for the fourth season.
Cabrera and Tejada should help the team they sign with but it is surprising they haven’t been signed earlier.
Adrian Beltre, Joe Crede and Melvin Mora are the top available free agent third basemen. Beltre has been rumored to have been talking with the Red Sox. Beltre batted 107 fewer times in 2009 than in 2008 and hit 17 fewer homers and drove in 33 fewer runs. He will be 31 in April but already has 1,700 hits so has a chance at 3,000 hits if he can stay healthy.
Joe Crede showed again he is a health risk playing in only 90 games in 2009 after playing in 97 games for the White Sox in 2008. His agent Scott Boras will have his hands full trying to put a positive spin on the 2009 season. Crede saw all four of his offensive percentage numbers drop including his slugging percentage falling from .460 with the White Sox in 2008 to .414 with the Twins. His on base percentage dropped from .314 to a mediocre .289 percentage.
Crede only played in 22 games during the second half and hit only one homer and drove in eight runs after hitting 14 homers and driving in 40 runs in the first half. Being a Boras client may hurt Crede more than help him.
Melvin Mora hit 23 homers and drove in 104 runs only two seasons ago with the Orioles but fell to eight homers and 48 runs batted in during the 2009 season. He will be 38 next month which will make it almost impossible for him to get a contract for more than one year. His .260 batting average in 2009 was his lowest since he hit .233 in 2002.
Summary: With spring training only about six weeks away we should see some of these players mentioned signed in the next couple of weeks.
I look for Molina and LaRoche to be among those signed soon because they are both excellent run producers.