Monday, December 14, 2009

Free Agent Market Strongly Favors Buyers

ESPN's Buster Olney's blog on Sunday noted that there are 266 major league free agents this winter. The staggering amount of available players does not include "big" prizes like Chone Figgins, who signed with the Seattle Mariners during the winter meetings last week in Indianapolis.

The MLB Trade Rumors site noted that 39 players were not tendered contracts before Saturday night's deadline, adding more to the free agent market. Some bigger names were in that list including Yankees' pitcher Chien-Ming Wang, Colorado Rockies' 3B Garrett Atkins, Pittsburgh Pirates' closer Matt Capps, and Oakland Athletics' DH Jack Cust.

The Twins still have holes at third base and second base, and have long had an interest in Atkins. The seven-year veteran has spent his entire career in Colorado and had some solid seasons in 2006 and 2007. However, he hit a paltry .226/.308/.342 last season with 9 HR and 37 RBI and played slightly lower than replacement-level defense at third base. His career URZ/150 at third base is -5.0, but he is a .289/.354/.457 hitter who is much better than last season suggests. At age 30, he made $7M last season on a one-year deal and will certainly make no more than that in this market. He would be worth the risk for the Twins on a one-year deal. He is younger and healthier than last season's 3B free agent signing, Joe Crede, but the Twins lose a lot of defense with Atkins instead of Crede. However, the potential for an offensive bounce back season, coupled with the fact that he will likely not get any cheaper, may suggest the Twins' kicking the tires on Atkins.

The Twins appear to be set in the rotation, having the top four spots filled with Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Carl Pavano, and Kevin Slowey. If the Twins wanted to go after someone like Wang as a fifth starter type, he may be worth the risk, given that he is a more proven commodity and has more experience than any of the team's internal candidates. However, he has been injured the past two seasons, is coming off a shoulder procedure this past season, and probably won't be ready to pitch until May at the earliest. Besides, Brian Duensing pitched well enough last season to earn an inside track to the fifth starter's spot. Wang doesn't seem to fit the Twins' plans at this time.

Had the Twins not gone after Jon Rauch at the August deadline last season, Capps would have been a perfect fit. He was the Pirates' closer the past three seasons, notching 66 saves in 79 opportunities since 2007. He is only 26 years-old and probably projects to being a set-up man with his next team. One has to wonder what the Pirates are thinking in letting both Capps and John Grabow (last season at the deadline) go. Of course, that's probably why they have not had a winning season since 1992. Capps is younger than Rauch, but the Twins have Rauch on the hook for $2.9M to fill essentially the same role Capps would fill in Minnesota. Personally, I'd sign Capps and try to trade Jesse Crain, but it's unlikely the Twins will do this.

There are a lot of free agent options for the Twins to consider this winter, and the Twins would do well to pursue either Orlando Hudson or Felipe Lopez to play second base. The team will likely play it cautious for a while and let the market unfold. It's a buyers' market and will likely be a late-developing one to boot. The Twins may well wait until late in the off-season to make a move, and there certainly promises to be some talented players available and looking for jobs late in the winter.

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