With pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training in a few weeks, there are still a number of quality free agents looking for homes. Catcher Matt Wieters and first baseman/DH Mike Napoli are chief among them. There are players with potentially tremendous power (Chris Carter and Ryan Howard). There are pitchers who were once good and could be good again (Doug Fister), and there are those players who could provide a spark off the bench (Pedro Alvarez). The longer these players go unsigned, the more likely it will be that they will have to settle for a one-year deal.
Catcher Me If You Can
Matt Wieters is the best catcher available on the market. Wieters returned last year after major shoulder surgery cost him most of the 2014 and 2015 seasons. He hit 17 HR and drove in 66 runs and caught 117 games. Despite a solid comeback, the Orioles decided that Wieters’ age (he’ll be 31 in May) and injury risk were not worth the money it would take to retain his services. After Wieters spent his entire eight-year career with Baltimore, the Orioles didn’t extend a qualifying offer to him.
There have been rumors circulating for months that Wieters would stay in the area and sign with the Washington Nationals. So far, the rumor has not come to fruition. Wieters’ agent, Scott Boras, is holding out for a multi-year contract that may never come.
In Old Napoli, That’s Amore
Mike Napoli, an 11-year veteran, looked like his younger self in helping lead the Cleveland Indians to the 2016 AL Pennant. He reached career highs with 34 home runs and 101 RBI. He also played in a career-best 150 games. Originally a catcher, Napoli played 98 games at first base and was the DH in another 51.
After averaging $15MM per season from 2013-2015, Napoli had to settle for a one-year, $7MM deal with the Tribe last year. Like Wieters, there was no 2017 qualifying offer extended to Napoli. For much of the off-season, Napoli’s name has been linked to his former club, the Texas Rangers. Napoli was a member of the Rangers in 2011-2012 and again in 2015. The Rangers, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney, are only interested in bringing back Napoli on a one-year contract (Texas is also taking a look at Carter and Alvarez).
A Fisterful of Dollars
With the Tragic death of Yordano Ventura over the weekend, Kansas City may now be Doug Fister’s best chance to find a landing spot. Another possibility for Fister would be a return to Detroit, where he pitched from 2011-2013. If they want a low-salary guy to compete for the fifth spot in the rotation, both the Yankees and Mets could do worse than to sign Fister.
The right-hander isn’t as solid as he once was, but after getting off to a terrible start in Houston last year, he pitched very effectively for most of the season. His 32 starts and 180.1 innings pitched showed he still has durability. Fister’s biggest issue last year was his control. He averaged a career-high 3.1 BB/9 IP. The soon-to-be 33-year-old earned $7MM last season and will likely sign for a similar figure this year.
From 2006 to 2009, Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard slugged 198 home runs and averaged 143 RBI. He followed that up with two years in which he averaged 32 home runs and 112 RBI. Then the bottom fell out. Injuries began to have a direct impact on Howard’s hitting and overall play. That’s especially troublesome for a DH in a league without a DH.
Howard missed more than half of the 2012 and 2013 seasons and hasn’t been the same since. Management can look the other way when a player strikes out 190 times but hits 45 home runs. However, when you hit 23 home runs and K 190 times, as Howard did in 2014, you’re probably going to be looking for a new place to play. Things weren’t much better for Howard or the Phillies during the last two seasons, though there was a bright spot. Limited to 112 games in 2016, Howard had a .932 OPS after the All-Star break.
One thing is for sure, Howard won’t have the pressure of putting up numbers to match a $20MM to $25MM annual salary. He’s also told the media he’d like one more chance at a ring…Howard was a member of the 2008 WS champion Phillies and the 2009 team that won the NL pennant.
Possible landing spots include Kansas City, who lost free agent Kendrys Morales to Toronto. The Tampa Bay Rays are always in need of a hitter, as are the Los Angeles Angels. If Texas decides not to go with Napoli or Carter, Howard could find himself a home in Arlington. Howard’s biggest challenge will be finding a team that has a chance at the postseason.
The Next Best Thing
There are possibly two sounds you will hear when Chris Carter comes up to bat. The first is the sound wood makes when it connects with a baseball that will land some 350-400 feet away. The other sound is a baseball smacking into the leather pocket of a catcher’s mitt. 41 baseballs left the ballpark when Carter connected last season, but on 206 occasions a third strike landed in the mitt. Welcome to the all-or-nothing world of Chris Carter.
Incredibly, the 206 strikeouts were only the second-worst total of Carter’s career. In 2013, Carter K’ed 212 times. Those figures are the fourth and seventh highest totals of all-time. (Fellow free agent Mark Reynolds holds the record with 223). The Brewers non-tendered Carter this past November, choosing not to go to arbitration with a player that displayed that much power (and an .800 OPS), but so little contact. Carter made $2.5MM last year. Without much interest thus far, Carter may end up opting for a minor league deal or an incentive-laden one-year Major League contract.
At one time, Pedro Alvarez provided a power bat in the middle of the Pittsburgh Pirates lineup. He had back-to-back 30 home run seasons in 2012 and 2013, including a league-leading 36 in ’13. He also had a career-high 100 RBI that year, along with a league-high 186 strikeouts.
In just 109 games last year, Alvarez produced 22 HR and 49 RBI for the Baltimore Orioles. He had been signed to a one-year, $5.75MM contract prior to the 2016 season. Alvarez is likely to get a similar deal this year. The problem is that he’s most team’s Plan ‘B’ or Plan ‘C’. The Orioles might have brought him back had they not re-signed Mark Trumbo.
Alvarez manned the hot corner earlier in his career before moving to first base in 2015. Last season, he was the DH 80 percent of the time.
Get Your Outfielders Here
Brandon Moss. Coco Crisp. Desmond Jennings. They are among the handful of outfielders that are part-timers. Age, poor play or both has caught up to them. Moss is a poor man’s version of Napoli. Instead of 30 HR/90 RBI year, he’ll give you a 20 HR/70 RBI season. Moss also plays first base and is coming off of a 28-HR season for the Cardinals. And, he’s Mickey Mantle compared to most of the outfielders that are left unsigned.
Crisp will have a harder time getting a job. Though the Cleveland Indians picked him up for the stretch run last season, Crisp isn’t the hitter he once was. His OPS was sub-.700 in his last two full seasons (2014, 2016) and he missed most of 2015 due to injury.
Jennings didn’t fully reach his potential in his seven seasons with Tampa Bay. He was touted to be the next Carl Crawford when Crawford was a terror against opposing pitchers. His best season came in 2013 when he topped 30 doubles, stole 20 bases and hit 13 home runs. A year later, he had a slight drop off in his overall production, but his OPS dropped 50 points to .697. He was limited to 93 games in 2015 and 2016 combined due to knee and hamstring injuries. Still just 30-years old, Jennings will get another low-cost shot with a team.