Off the Scrap Heap: Who’s left?

Happy Superbowl Sunday; if that’s your thing. Personally, although I love watching football during the rest of the season, I tend to avoid the Superbowl if possible. The game itself takes a backseat to the spectacle of the event and although I realize that that’s the point, it pushes me to the teetering point of my own sanity. Between highlights and late-night replays, I’m sure I’ll get the gist of the event over the next few days

The good thing about Superbowl Sunday is that it signifies the stretch run of the baseball offseason. Just two short weeks from now, pitchers and catchers will report to Spring Training and all will be right with the world again. Professional baseball players will be playing professional baseball. What more could we ask for?

As the offseason draws to a close, most of the major free agents have found a resting place, but there are still a few potentially valuable pieces on the market. Here’s a quick rundown of who’s left.

Yoenis Cespedes
Cespedes is a 27-year-old Cuban outfielder with a shed full of tools who is being courted by many teams around baseball. Some, like the Giants and Rangers, appear to be uninterested because they feel Cespedes will be paid more than he’s worth. Others, like the Marlins, Cubs, White Sox, Orioles, and Tigers appear to be aggressively pursuing him. It’s unlikely that Cespedes will be ready to play in the Majors at the beginning of the season given his lack of experience in pro-ball, making his price tag of potentially over $50-million quite the hefty price to pay.

Roy Oswalt
Oswalt is clearly the best free agent still available. Even with concerns over his troubled back, Oswalt posted a 3.74 tERA and 4.04 SIERA last season in 139 innings. If healthy, he could still be a solid number three pitcher and there’s certainly a ton of value in that. After initially seeking a multi-year deal, the 34-year-old Oswalt has decided his best bet at this point is to accept a one-year contract and re-enter the market next winter. He has also stated a preference to pitch close to his Mississippi home and he appears to be serious given that he reportedly turned down a one-year, $10-million offer from the Tigers a couple weeks ago and has told the Indians and Blue Jays to not bother pursuing him. This led to the Cardinals and Rangers showing some interest, but neither appear to be great fits as both teams have a glut of starting pitchers and budget constraints.

According to MLB Trade Rumors, Oswalt and the Red Sox continue to have “mutual interest” in one another and the incumbent Phillies are also on the radar. Perhaps the most interesting potential landing place for Oswalt is the Cincinnati Reds. Ken Rosenthal says that the Reds are “not actively pursuing Oswalt,” but that they merely “kicked tires.”

Johnny Damon/Hideki Matsui/Raul Ibanez/Russell Branyan
At this point, Damon probably shouldn’t be viewed as any more than a second-division DH as his defensive ability left him long ago. He has posted a 109 wRC+ in each of the last two seasons and hit 16 home runs last year in Tampa. According to MLB Trade Rumors, Damon has been linked to the Yankees, Mets, Tigers, Rays, Orioles, and A’s this offseason and will probably have to lower his $5-million asking price.

The other two left-handed hitting DH-types out there are Matsui and Ibanez and neither has even the offensive ability of Damon at this point. Ibanez posted a 90 wRC+ last year, Matsui wasn’t much better at just 93, and Branyan hit jusy .197 with an 84 wRC+ in limited time. It’s entirely possible that one or all of these three will be forced into opting between a minor-league deal and retirement.

Manny Ramirez/Vladimir Guerrero/Conor Jackson/Miguel Tejada/Marcus Thames/Magglio Ordonez
These five players all fall into the second-division righthanded DH category, although Jackson can still plod his way into less-than-embarrassing defence in both the outfield and at first base. Given the depressed market for these players, it’s hard to imagine any of them getting a Major League contract. For players like Guerrero and Tejada, that may push them to retirement.

Javier Vazquez/Derrek Lee/J.D. Drew
All three of these players have publicly considered retirement. All could provide value to prospective teams should they choose to come back and could likely find some sort of contract if they wait long enough, but they all appear to be unsatisfied with a diminished role going forward.

Luis Ayala/Danys Baez/Shawn Camp/Scott Linebrink/Sergio Mitre/Michael Wuertz/David Aardsma
Given the nature of relief pitching, any number of these righthanded relievers could become valuable pieces in 2012. Ayala and Camp will likely sign Major League deals with the others settling for minor league invites. Mitre and Aardsma are coming off of injuries as well.

Mike Gonzalez/Hong-Chih Kuo/Damaso Marte/Arthur Rhodes
Gonzalez and Rhodes played against one another in the World Series and will likely receive Major League contracts, but injury concerns surrounding the other two lefties might force them to settle for a minor-league deal.

Rich Harden/Brandon Webb/Chris Young
All of these starting pitchers were All-Star calibre talents at one time or another, but have since had their career ruined by injuries. Asking for contributions from any of them seems like a stretch at this point, but they might be nice relief experiments; especially Harden who’s stuff has never been in question.

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