A Look at the Free Agents: Infielders and Catchers
by Ryan Arbour, RotoWire Writer
There have been several quality infielders and catchers set loose on the free agent market this offseason. Here's a closer look at some of the top names:
Paul Konerko, 1B
After a couple of off years for Konerko, he returned to form in a big way in 2010. Konerko failed to hit 30 home runs in either 2008 or 2009, and appeared to be on the decline. He put that notion to rest early on in 2010 as he crushed eleven home runs and drove in 21 runs in the month of April. He would finish the season with 39 home runs, 111 RBI, and an average of .312, and ranked fifth in the AL MVP voting. Konerko has been offered salary arbitration by the White Sox, but his price tag will determine whether or not they can afford to keep him.
Adrian Beltre, 3B
Beltre was one of the few Boston regulars who did not spend time on the disabled list this past season, despite being involved in the on-field collision that would cost teammate Jacoby Ellsbury the majority of the season. After a disappointing 2009, Beltre went on to have one of the best seasons of his career in 2010. He hit .321 with 28 home runs and 102 RBI, making him one of this offseason's top free agents. He was offered arbitration by the Red Sox, but is expected to reject the arbitration offer and test the free agent market.
Victor Martinez, C (signed by Detroit)
Martinez was the most sought after catcher on this year's free agent market, and the Detroit Tigers wasted little time in locking him up for four years at a cost of $50 million. The Tigers are planning on using V-Mart primarily as a designated hitter, with catching prospect Alex Avila seeing most of the time behind the plate. Martinez should still get the occasional start, catching two or three times a week, but being relieved of full-time catching duties should make it easier for him to remain healthy and productive. The .300 career hitter should put up some big numbers and should be one of the first catchers drafted in most fantasy leagues.
Derek Jeter, SS (re-signed by the Yankees)
Jeter has often been regarded by fans outside of New York as overrated, and his 2010 numbers will do little to convert his harshest critics. He is coming off perhaps the worst season of his career, as he batted just .270 with 10 home runs and 67 RBI. Despite his career-low batting average and home run total, he still managed to score 111 runs - his highest total since 2006. Combined with his 18 stolen bases, Jeter still provided value to fantasy teams - just not as much as they might have become accustomed to. One would think that a 36-year-old who just had a down year would find a three-year deal worth $45 million acceptable, but Jeter is looking for a longer and more lucrative contract than the one most recently offered by the Yankees. More than likely, the Yankees will still end up outbidding any other potential suitors for Jeter, and he will finish his career with the Yankees.
Aubrey Huff, 1B (re-signed by San Francisco)
The World Series champions wasted little time in re-signing their first baseman to a two year contract worth $22 million. Huff played a crucial role in the Giants' success, as he led the team in home runs (26) and RBI (86), and had a healthy batting average of .290. He had played well below his norms in 2009, as he batted just .241 with 15 home runs, so his 2010 season might have come as a surprise to some. Since his power numbers have fluctuated so much in recent years, it can be difficult to make predictions about his performance for the coming season, but more often than not, he puts up some solid numbers.
Adam Dunn, 1B (signed by the White Sox)
Dunn has been one of the game's most consistent home run hitters, as he has hit at least 38 bombs for seven consecutive seasons, and has driven in at least 100 runs in six of those seven seasons. He also excels at drawing walks, averaging 107 free passes per season over that same time frame. Where he is lacking is in batting average, which affects his fantasy value in most leagues. While Major League teams may not care how he gets on base as long as he gets on, Dunn's career .250 batting average is of no help in fantasy leagues that track batting average but not on-base percentage. Dunn also used to be good for a handful of stolen bases per season, but has now stopped running all together, as he has not stolen a base since 2008 (when he stole just two). He can still be a strong fantasy contributor, but he is not without his shortcomings.
Derrek Lee, 1B
Lee has had more than his fair share of ups and downs throughout his career. For the most part, he's been solid, although his power numbers have fluctuated. In 2005 and 2009, he was one of the top hitters in baseball, but in 2006 he was limited to just 50 games due to injury. His 2010 numbers were rather unremarkable, as he failed to hit 20 home runs for the first time in a full season since 1998. His .260 batting average was also his lowest mark for a full season since that time. At 35 years old, he may be feeling the effects of age, or he may have just had an off year. He is currently recovering from surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb, but is expected to be ready for spring training.
Jim Thome, DH
The 40-year-old designated hitter fared well in limited playing time in 2010. After back-to-back seasons in which he failed to hit above .250, the aging slugger turned in a healthy .283 average and clubbed 25 home runs in just 276 at-bats. At this point in his career, he is strictly a DH, as he hasn't played regularly in the field since 2005, and hasn't made a first base appearance at all since 2007. With that said, obviously an American League team would be the best fit for Thome, but he's only worth a look if he can get into the lineup on a regular basis. Even then, his lack of positional eligibility limits his value.
Lance Berkman, 1B-DH (signed by St. Louis)
The 34-year-old first baseman/designated hitter had an off year in 2010, but still put up some decent numbers. Berkman began the season as the Astros first baseman, and was dealt to the Yankees on July 31, where he was used as a part-time designated hitter. Between the two clubs, he hit just .248, but hit 14 home runs and drove in 58 runs in 404 at-bats, and had a healthy on-base percentage of .368. In a bit of a surprise, the Cardinals signed him to play left field.
Adam LaRoche, 1B
Few players are as consistent as LaRoche. The 31-year-old first baseman has hit exactly 25 home runs in each of the past three seasons, and his batting average has remained consistent throughout his career. He set a career high in RBI for the D-Backs in 2010 as he hit the 100 mark, but also set a career high in strikeouts with a whopping 172. He is a solid but unremarkable bat at a deep position, so he could be overlooked by many fantasy owners. However, his numbers are good enough to still provide value to a team in need of depth.
Juan Uribe, SS-2B-3B (signed by Los Angeles Dodgers)
Uribe's .248 batting average last season was not overly impressive, but he still managed to put up a career year. He set career highs in both home runs (24) and RBI (85), and his versatility was integral in helping the Giants to their World Series title. He saw playing time at shortstop, second base and third base, which made it easier for San Francisco to cope with injuries to Edgar Renteria and Freddy Sanchez. The Dodgers have locked up Uribe for three years at a cost of $21 million, and with Ryan Theriot being traded recently, it looks like Uribe will take over the second base duties in L.A.
Carlos Pena, 1B
Pena is a classic all-or-nothing player, as he has a ton of home run power, but an inability to hit for a high average. Never in his career has that tendency been as prevalent as it was in 2010, when his average plummeted to a career-low .196 to go along with 28 home runs. Pena failed to reach the 100 RBI mark for the first time since joining the Rays in 2007, which will affect his value on the free agent market. Fantasy teams can likely expect another 30 HR, 100 RBI season from him wherever he winds up, but will have to weigh those numbers against his low batting average to determine whether or not he's worth taking a chance on.
Ty Wigginton, 1B-2B-3B
Wigginton has been a valuable utility player over the last several seasons. From 2006 to present, he has averaged 20 home runs a season despite not having a regular position in any of those years. Unfortunately, his lack of a position has limited his at-bats, which has allowed him to average just 64 RBI and 57 runs scored per season over that stretch. He did manage to get 581 at-bats in 2010 with the Orioles (seeing time at first, second and third base), and despite his career-low .248 average, he hit 22 home runs and drove in 76 runs. Obviously, he can produce if he's given the opportunity. His fantasy value will be determined by how much playing time his 2011 club will be able to give him.
Orlando Hudson, 2B
Despite two stints on the DL, Hudson actually put together some decent numbers in 2010. The veteran second baseman fell just seven shy of his career high in runs scored, as he crossed the plate 80 times in 126 games. Based on his other numbers, it was actually an off year for €śO-Dawg€ť, as his .268 average matched his lowest mark ever, and his .372 slugging percentage was also a career low. Nevertheless, he provides decent pop for a middle infielder, and could have value to a fantasy team.
John Buck, C (signed by Florida)
Buck put together a career year with the Blue Jays in 2010, which was enough to convince the Marlins to ink him to a three-year deal worth $18 million. He set career highs in home runs (20), RBI (66), runs scored (53) and batting average (.281), among other stats. Buck was a career .235 hitter when he joined the Jays, so it would seem highly unlikely for him to duplicate his 2010 numbers. However, he could still provide some decent pop at what is typically a weak position.
Miguel Tejada, SS-3B (signed by San Francisco)
Tejada's career appears to be starting to wind down after he put together one of the worst seasons of his 14-year career in 2010. The 36-year-old infielder showed his age, as his .693 OPS (on-base-plus-slugging percentage) was his lowest since 1998. In his prime, he could be counted on for a .300 average and at least 20 home runs and 100 RBI a season. Over the past four seasons, Tejada has compiled a respectable .290 average, but has averaged just 15 home runs and 76 RBI per season despite receiving a ton of at-bats. The San Francisco Giants and Tejada have agreed to a one-year deal worth $6.5 million, pending a physical. 2011 will be an important year for him, as he'll be looking to prove that he still has some pop left in his bat.
Jorge Cantu, 3B-1B
Cantu's productivity plummeted this past season, as he failed to crack the .400 mark in slugging percentage for just the second time in his career. He began the season as the Marlins' regular third baseman, but a trade to Texas in late July bumped him to a backup role. His numbers with Florida were respectable (.262 average, 10 HR and 54 RBI in 374 at-bats), but he did very little with the Rangers, hitting just .235 with six extra-base hits in 98 at-bats. Cantu can be a solid performer when he's on, as he brings a career .274 average into the 2011 season. Hopefully he'll catch on with a team that can offer him regular playing time.
There are too many quality bats to go into detail on every player, but you may also find a valuable bat or two among the other available free agents. Here's the rest of the list of infielders and catchers on the market this offseason:
Brad Ausmus, Rod Barajas, Josh Bard, Henry Blanco, Geoff Blum (signed by Arizona), Russell Branyan, Orlando Cabrera, Miguel Cairo, Eric Chavez, Craig Counsell, David Eckstein, Pedro Feliz, Jason Giambi, Troy Glaus, Cristian Guzman, Jerry Hairston Jr., Ramon Hernandez (re-signed by Cincinnati), Cesar Izturis, Nick Johnson, Adam Kennedy, Mark Kotsay, Gerald Laird, Jason LaRue, Felipe Lopez, Mike Lowell, Julio Lugo, Aaron Miles, Chad Moeller, Bengie Molina, Melvin Mora, Xavier Nady, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Miguel Olivo, Lyle Overbay, Jhonny Peralta (re-signed by Detroit), A.J. Pierzynski, Nick Punto, Edgar Renteria, Mike Sweeney, Fernando Tatis, Yorvit Torrealba (signed by Texas), Chad Tracy, Matt Treanor, Jason Varitek, Chris Woodward, Gregg Zaun