Free Agents 101: Corner Bats

 Kyle Seager makes for a franchise cornerstone at third base, but otherwise the Seattle Mariners have holes at first base, both corner outfield spots, and designated hitter. As it stands Dustin Ackley and Logan Morrison figure to be the club’s starting left fielder and first baseman respectively if the new season were to start today. However both are coming off strong second half performances that may be unsustainable. Seattle also has Michael Saunders penciled in as the everyday right fielder but there are reports that the club will be aggressively shopping the Canadian-born outfielder as the winter progresses.

The Mariners have some players within the organization in Jesus Montero and Stefen Romero that could fill roles, but neither project as a major league regular. GM Jack Zduriencik has payroll available to add a significant bat and the team is reportedly interested in Victor Martinez, widely considered to be among the top bats available. Martinez is limited to designated hitter duties and the club may be interested in pursuing someone with more positional flexibility. Either way, Seattle has cash to burn, the need to burn it, and figures to be very involved in the free agent market.

Everyday Players

Pablo Sandoval, 3B
Bats: Both
Age: 29 on Aug. 11
Service: 6.047
Agent: SPS Sports Council
Qualifying Offer: Yes
Kung Fu Panda is easily one of the best position players available via free agency this winter after capturing a third World Series ring with the San Francisco Giants. The slugger has a pair of 20 home runs season on his resume and has 42 long balls over the last three years. He’s strong enough defensively at third base and had a career high 15 DRS in 2011. The two-time All-Star will still play nearly two full seasons on the right side of 30 as well. Sandoval struggled against left-handed pitching in 2014 with a 59 wRC+ compared to a career 95 mark. Sandoval is reportedly seeking a six-year deal worth north of $100 million, but the length of any deal is more important to him. Given the lack of available impact bats, a contract of those proportions is not inconceivable.

Yasmani Tomas, LF/RF
Bats: Right
Age: 24 on Nov. 14
Service: o
Agent: Epitome Sports Management
Tomas is the latest Cuban defector to pursue a contract with a major league team. The soon to be 24-year old’s raw power has drawn rave reviews and has been compared to fellow countryman Jose Abreu who figures to be this year’s American League Rookie of the Year. Tomas has a strong 6-foot-2, 240 pound frame that backs up a strong arm suited for right field duties. Baseball America’s Ben Badler noted that Tomas has shown some, “swing-and-miss tendencies” but that isn’t likely to be too concerning to clubs enamoured with his talents. Given the lack of available power bats right now there’s speculation that Tomas could top $100 million on a seven-year deal.

Michael Cuddyer, 1B/RF
Bats: Right
Age: 36 on Mar. 27
Service: 11.157
Agent: Excel Sports Management
Qualifying Offer: Yes
Cuddyer was the surprise recipient of a one-year, $15.3 million qualifying offer. He signed a three-year deal with the Colorado Rockies prior to the 2012 season after a very productive tenure with the Minnesota Twins. The problem for Cuddyer has been staying on the field. When he’s healthy, he’s hitting, and that’s not just due to the hitter’s haven that is Coors Field. In three years with the Rockies he’s posted a 137 wRC+ at home and a 118 wRC+ on the road — there’s not much inflation to his numbers. Cuddyer will be 36 next season and is better suited at first base instead of the outfield, but had he not received a qualifying offer, he easily could’ve secured another multi-year deal. He’s likely to accept the offer and try to turn a healthy 2015 into a multi-year pact next winter.

Melky Cabrera, LF/RF
Bats: Both
Age: 31 on Aug. 11
Service: 8.148
Agent: The Legacy Agency
Qualifying Offer: Yes
At the 2012 All-Star break Cabrera was on pace for a batting title before a positive PED test cost him the remainder of the season. He would sign a two-year deal with the Toronto Blue Jays and wound up struggling in year one due to what eventually turned out to be a benign tumour in his lower back. A healthy Cabrera snapped back with a .301/.351/.458 line with a 125 wRC+ in 2014. At 31 next year Cabrera still has a couple years left of adequate defence in a corner outfield spot. Due to the thin market and the switch-hitter’s ability to produce near the top of the lineup he should be able to secure multiple years and big dollars. Other teams will have their concerns however, and the qualifying offer won’t help that. There’s mutual interest in a reunion with Toronto, but how viable a solution that is remains to be seen.

Nelson Cruz, LF
Bats: Right
Age: 35 on Jul. 1
Service: 7.082
Agent: Relativity Baseball
Qualifying Offer: Yes
Cruz tried and failed to secure a multi-year deal last winter due to the qualifying offer taking the appearance of a noose. He should have better luck this time around however, since, like Cabrera, Cruz is now another year removed from his PED suspension. The outfielder lead the league in home runs in 2014 with 40 and was a key component to the AL East winning Baltimore Orioles. Cruz now has seven consecutive seasons with at least 22 home runs, and despite the doping scandal, should be able to capitalize this time around. Curtis Granderson was able to secure a four-year $60 million contract last winter which is a palpable target for the 34-year old. Teams will still be weary to give Cruz multiple years given his history, but his 2014 will be impossible to ignore. And this time, he will get paid.

Nick Markakis, RF
Bats: Left
Age: 31 on Nov. 17
Service: 9
Agent: TWC Sports
Qualifying Offer: No
Markakis had a $17.5 million team option declined and the Baltimore Orioles did not elect to extend a qualifying offer. The soon to be 31-year old flashed some signs of superstar ability earlier in his career but has since levelled off into a dependable regular. Aside from 2013, Markakis has posted a wRC+ of at least 105 in each of his nine major league seasons. He has average defensive range with a strong throwing arm. Although he won’t crack the 20 home run barrier annually, he doesn’t strike out much and has a 9.3 percent career walk rate. The lack of a qualifying offer makes it all the more likely Markakis secures a three or four-year deal.

Torii Hunter, RF
Bats: Both
Age: 40 on Jul. 18
Service: 15.132
Agent: Reynolds Sports Management
At one point Hunter was one of the best defensive outfielders in the game. That time has come and gone though, and the veteran has become a liability in the outfield. What hasn’t deteriorated is Hunter’s bat. He managed a .286/.319/.446 slash line alongside 17 home runs — resulting in a 113 wRC+. The 39-year old’s walk rate has decreased over the last four years but his strikeout rate has decreased as well. Hunter is revered in the clubhouse and wants to postpone his retirement by at least one more year, though he hasn’t made a final decision yet. Hunter’s preference is to stay in Detroit, but he’d be an attractive piece for a contender looking to add a solid right field bat who could spend some time at DH as well.

Victor Martinez, DH
Bats: Both
Age: 36
Service: 11.114
Agent: Octagon
Qualifying Offer: Yes
Martinez is the premier bat available via free agency this offseason after a career year. The switch-hitter posted a .335/.409/.565 line with a gaudy 166 wRC+. He’s had some injury troubles in the past, but since becoming a full-time designated hitter with the Detroit Tigers he’s managed to stay healthy. The downside with Martinez is that he offers no value outside of his bat which can be as good as almost any in the game today. The former catcher can start at first base on occasion but to expect any form of added value there would be unrealistic. Martinez is reportedly looking for a four-year deal that could be in the $60-70 million range after declining a $15.3 million qualifying offer from the Tigers.

Adam LaRoche, 1B
Age: 35
Service: 11
Agent: Relativity Baseball
Qualifying Offer: No
The Washington Nationals elected to pay LaRoche a $2 million buyout when they declined their side of his $15 million mutual option for 2015. Aside from an injury-shortened 2011 season, LaRoche has hit at least 20 home runs in every season since his debut campaign in 2004. The slugger posted a .259/.362/.455 in 2014 and played his usual brand of solid first base defence. For his career the left-hander has fared better against right-handed pitching with a 120 wRC+. LaRoche is easily the best first baseman available via free agency this winter, but having just turned 35, he’ll likely be limited to a shorter-term deal, though a three-year guarantee isn’t out of the question.

Chase Headley, 3B
Bats: Both
Age: 31 on May. 9
Service: 6.123
Agent: Excel Sports Management
Qualifying Offer: No
Headley was a rising star during his days with the San Diego Padres and many thought he was being held back by Petco Park, his home stadium. That wasn’t a problem for the third baseman in 2012 however as he belted 31 home runs. The Padres elected to hang on to their All-Star in the following two winters and eventually dealt him to the New York Yankees at this past trade deadline. Headley finished 2014 with a .243/.328/.372 line and has been regarded as a very strong defender throughout his career. He was ineligible for a qualifying offer due to the midseason trade and will be just 31 in May. He’s a candidate for a four-year deal and should have his pick of suitors.

Mike Morse, 1B/LF
Bats: Right
Age: 33 on Mar. 22
Service: 7.114
Agent: ACES
Staying on the field has been the biggest problem for Morse who, when he is healthy, is a capable bat for the second half of the lineup. He can handle left field and first base duties, though he isn’t particularly good at either. In 482 plate appearances in 2012 — his most since 2011 — Morse posted a .279/.336/.475 line and had practically no platoon split in his 133 wRC+. Morse hits well enough to be a regular, but he’ll be 33 in March and doesn’t have much of a track record in terms of health. Still, he has 15-20 home run power and has a good chance at a two-year deal this winter.

Billy Butler, DH
Bats: Right
Age: 29 on Apr. 18
Service: 7.102
Agent: The Legacy Agency
Qualifying Offer: No
Butler had his team option for 2015 worth $12.5 million after a subpar year. The slugger is the definition of a one dimensional player and if he isn’t hitting, he won’t be getting paid. His .271/.323/.379 line were all career lows, as was his walk rate of 6.8 percent and nine home runs. One thing that Butler does have going in his favour is that he’s been able to stay healthy. Since becoming a full-time player in 2008 he hasn’t played in fewer than 151 games. The right-hander has been a solid bet for 20 home runs and since he’ll play next season at age 29, there’s still room for optimism, even if he’s only a designated hitter. It’s possible Butler may prefer a one-year deal with incentives to rebuild his value, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him get two years.

Platoon/Part-Time Players

Alex Rios, RF
Bats: Right
Age: 34 on Feb. 18
Service: 10.130
Agent: Boras Corporation
Rios had his $13.5 million team option declined in favor of a $1 million buyout. The 33-year old is coming off a disappointing season in which he hit just four home runs alongside a .280/.311/.398 slash line. Rios has been a plus defender in the past with a cannon of an arm, but the metrics have disliked his performance in right field over the last couple seasons. For his career the right-hander has hit lefties better than righties but doesn’t carry a significant platoon split. He can still handle spending regular time in the field, though regular rest and starts at DH would serve him well. Rios is likely seeking a one-year incentive-based deal to rebuild his value. Given the limited market that shouldn’t be a problem.

Jonny Gomes, LF
Bats: Right
Age: 34 on Nov. 22
Service: 9.097
Agent: MVP Sports Group
Gomes is the definition of a platoon hitter. For his career, he’s produced a 133 wRC+ against left-handed pitching compared to a 91 wRC+ against right-handed pitching, though he’s hit for more power against right-handers. Although he’s limited defensively, the soon to be 34 year old can handle his own in left and right field. Gomes signed a two-year $10 million contract with the Boston Red Sox prior to his club’s championship 2013 season and was dealt to the Oakland Athletics at this year’s trade deadline. Gomes is likely to pursue a multi-year deal and should be able to secure a salary greater in the same range as his previous contract.

Kendrys Morales, DH
Bats: Both
Age: 32 on Jun. 20
Service: 6.170
Agent: Boras Corporation
Morales declined the Mariners $14.1 million qualifying offer this time last year and waited until after the draft in June to sign with the Minnesota Twins. A few weeks later he would be reacquired by the Mariners. Morales never managed to find his stride in 2014 — not surprising considering the time missed — and finished the year with a .218/.274/.338 slash line. The 31-year old hasn’t been the same hitter since fracturing his ankle in 2010 and is all but limited to designated hitter duties. There’s still some upside with his bat, but he’ll be hard pressed to find a team willing to give multiple years after a terrible season.

Mark Reynolds, 1B/3B
Bats: Right
Age: 32 on Aug. 3
Service: 8
Agent: Beverly Hills Sports Council
Reynolds has quietly been a 20-plus home run bat but there’s a reason he’s done it so quietly; he doesn’t do much else. The slugger hit 22 home runs in 2014 with the Milwaukee Brewers but posted a .196/.287/.394 slash line that left him with an 87 wRC+. Reynolds can handle both corner infield spots but has seen more time at first base in recent years as he’s graded poorly at third according to defensive metrics. A big plus for the 31-year old has been his health. He’s appeared in an average of 144 games a season over the last seven years. As much as power pays in free agency, Reynolds overall profile doesn’t. He’ll get a major league guarantee, but it’s likely to be very short-term.

Alberto Callaspo, 2B/3B
Bats: Both
Age: 32 on Apr. 19
Service: 7.135
Agent: Eric Goldschmidt
Callaspo was a regular in the Los Angeles Angels lineup for several years before joining the Oakland Athletics prior to the 2014 season. He failed to provide aid to the A’s s middle infield problem however as he finished the season with a 68 wRC+. Callaspo doesn’t strike out much and has a strong walk rate. He can handle both second and third base but is much better defensively at third. He’ll turn 32 in April and had a string of strong seasons with the bat prior to last year. Callaspo earned $4.9 million in 2014 in the second year of a two-year deal and should capture a similar salary on the free agent market for 2015 with a multi-year deal not out of the question.

Role/Back-Up Players

Ichiro Suzuki, RF
Bats: Left
Age: 42 on Oct. 22
Service: 14
Agent: Tony Attanasio
Once one of the best players in baseball, Ichiro is in the twilight of his career and looking to play at least one more season. The 41-year old sits just 156 hits away from 3,000 in the major leagues, but would likely need two season to reach that mark. The native of Japan has been a below average hitter for several years now and finished 2014 with a .284/.324/.340 slash line in 385 plate appearances. His defensive skills have dwindled but he did steal 15 bases last year and would make a serviceable fifth outfielder, though his reputation may net him a more regular role — and considering he’s a freak athletically, he may be able to produce as a starter in 2015. A one-year deal with a lower base salary is what Ichiro is likely to sign this winter, and he should have a couple suitors.

Jason Kubel, LF/DH
Bats: Left
Age: 33 on May. 25
Service: 9.087
Agent: Wasserman Media Group
Kubel was, at one time, a 20 home run bat and clocked 30 as recently as 2012, but has seen regular playing time in the last two seasons. For his career the left-hander has hit right-handers to the tune of a 114 wRC+ with some power to all fields, but by in large he has made his living as a pull hitter. He can handle duties in either corner outfield spot and has plenty of experience as a pinch-hitter. Kubel is coming off of a one-year $2 million deal signed with the Twins and can probably find a similar deal this winter.

Nyjer Morgan, LF/CF/RF
Bats: Left
Age: 35 on Jul. 2
Service: 5.077
Agent: Turney Gary Sports
Morgan has been a regular outfielder in the past but has been limited to just 52 major league plate appearances 2014 due to knee injuries after spending 2013 in Japan. He’s been strong on the defensive side of things in his career and stole 76 bases between 2009 and 2010. The knee injury is concerning and limits the value he could provide as a reserve outfielder. A strong winter of rehab could net Morgan a minor league deal with an invite to spring training.

Mike Carp, 1B/LF
Bats: Left
Age: 29 on Jun. 30
Service: 3.168
Agent: O’Connell Sports Management
Carp debuted with the Mariners 2009 and has seen regular part-time work from 2011 through 2014. He made 149 plate appearances with the Red Sox in 2014 but posted just a 50 wRC+. He really should be limited to occasional first base work at this point but is passable for a few innings at a time in left field. He does make for an effective bat off the bench though as he boasts a career 107 wRC+ against left-handers and a 108 wRC+ against right-handers. The majority of Carp’s power has come righties and considering he’s still on the right side of 30, could play himself into a platoon role if given the opportunity. A National League would probably value Carp’s bat off the bench enough to offer a one-year deal with some incentives.

Endy Chavez, LF/RF
Bats: Left
Age: 37 on Feb. 7
Service: 10.134
Agent: The Legacy Agency
Chavez was signed to a minor league deal by the Mariners and ended up playing a fairly regular role during the summer months. The veteran struggled at times, but manage to turn in a .276/.317/.371 line and a 97 wRC+ — slightly below the 100 mark that denotes league average production. He doesn’t offer much defensive value anymore and is really only more valuable on the base paths than the slowest of runners. Although he’s a replacement level player at this point, Chavez can still drop a bunt and has the experience of 13 major league seasons. He’ll likely catch on with a major league club, but a guaranteed deal may be hard to come by, once again.

Chris Denorfia, RF
Bats: Right
Age: 35 on Jul. 15
Service: 7.041
Agent: Pro Star Management Inc.
Denorfia was a trade deadline pick-up by the Mariners but he struggled to provide much offensive help. For his 2014 as a whole the 34-year old posted a .230/.284/.318 slash line with just three home runs and nine stolen bases. Denorfia is average in the field and can handle both corners. The right-hander mashes lefties to the tune of a 123 wRC+ for his career and is a good fit for a platoon role. However his poor finish to the season will likely lead to a back-up role in 2015. There is some upside with his bat though, and he should garner interest as a bench bat.

Ryan Ludwick, LF
Bats: Right
Age: 37 on Jul. 13
Service: 9.109
Agent: Beverly Hills Sports Council
LudwicK had his $9 million club option for 2015 declined by the Cincinnati Reds in favour of a steep $4.5 million buyout.The 36-year old spent the majority of the 2013 season on the disabled list and posted a .244/.308/.375 slash line in 400 plate appearances in 2014. He’s been an average defender throughout his career, scoring better in right field than in left field. Ludwick doesn’t have a particular platoon split although he showed more power against left-handed pitching this year. The outfielder has had some goods seasons with the bat but doesn’t profile as a regular heading into 2015. Entering his age-37 season Ludwick would probably prefer the security of a multi-year deal but may be limited to offers of the one-year variety.

Delmon Young, LF/DH
Bats: Right
Age: 30 on Sep. 14
Service: 8.028
Agent: Wasserman Media Group
Young is coming off a surprisingly good campaign in a limited role after an up-and-down 2013. He posted a .302/.337/.442 slash line with a 120 wRC+ as a back-up outfielder and designated hitter. For his career the right-hander has had more success against left-handed pitching than right-handed pitching but the opposite was true in 2014. Young won’t turn 30 until next fall but the former No. 1 overall pick has essentially peaked as a solid back-up. His 2014 season should create some interest in Young. The Yankees recently re-signed back-up outfielder Chris Young to a one-year deal worth $2.5 million plus incentives, which could serve as some framework for Delmon. Although he could command a higher base salary on a one-year deal.

Nori Aoki, RF
Bats: Left
Age: 33 on Jan. 5
Service: 3
Agent: CAA Sports
Aoki was a part of the Royals outstanding defensive outfield this year and chipped in a 104 wRC+ in 549 plate appearances. His .285/.349/.360 slash line is solid for a glove-first outfielder but he has practically no power in a position that traditionally has a higher power output. The 32-year old did steal 17 bases in 2014 and stole a combined 50 bags in the previous two seasons. In his three years in the majors the left-hander has hit lefties better than righties and could make for an interesting No. 3-4 outfielder given his speed and defence. Given his age Aoki should be able to secure a multi-year deal but it will likely be at a low base salary.

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