February 25, 2016
Painting the Black
It’s that time of the year again. Most notable free agents have signed with new teams, while others are closing in on their own agreements. Alas the precious few left on the open market now have days instead of weeks to secure employment before the exhibition season begins. To assist nine of the most noteworthy remaining free agents (read: pass time until something interesting happens), let’s take a look at what they offer and where they may land, with a hand from everyone’s favorite random number generator.
Pedro Alvarez, 1B
What he offers: Power and walks and little else. That Alvarez is available in spite of being 29 and coming off a .285 True Average is a testament to his limitations. Chief among those warts are his poor numbers against left-handed pitchers (he faced a career-high 87 percent righties in 2015 for good reason) and his well-below-average glove—a combination that caps him at most-days DH status.
Where he fits: Platoon DHs are always going to face small markets and Alvarez is no different. All the clean fits since Alvarez’s non-tender have become, well, unclean; sure, you can get fancy with the White Sox or A’s if they shun Adam LaRoche or Billy Butler, but neither seems likely. (Ditto for the Astros with Jon Singleton and the Orioles with Mark Trumbo.) Where does that leave Alvarez? Presumably with whichever AL team loses their DH to injury first. Cop-out answer, but anything else is akin to drawing team names out of a hat. We’d never do that.
Randy’s pick: Brewers
Marlon Byrd, OF
What he offers: All Byrd has done since his near-retirement experience is hit. His numbers have waned over the past few years, and he has the nasty habit of being walk averse and strikeout prone, but he remains an above-average hitter due to his pop. Given the supposed premium placed on right-handed power, why is it that Byrd is still unemployed? Presumably due to the risk factor associated with his swing-happy profile and his age (he’ll turn 39 in August). Unless Byrd is asking for the sky, he deserves a chance to go out like Raul Ibanez— which is to say, hitting until he can’t hit anymore.
Randy’s pick: Twins
Ian Desmond, SS
What he offers: Best-case: an above-average stick with tolerable (or better) shortstop defense at the cost of a draft pick; worst-case: an average stick without tolerable (or better) shortstop defense at the cost of a draft pick. Desmond snapped his streak of three consecutive seasons with a True Average north of .270, but he maintained his stretch of spotty defensive Aprils; it was just that kind of year for him and the Nationals as a whole. He still profiles as a starting shortstop for the near-term.
Where he fits: None of the teams tied to Desmond this winter seem like legitimate matches anymore. The White Sox inked Jimmy Rollins to nurse the shortstop position until Tim Anderson is ready; the Rockies are unlikely to give up a draft pick and money to sign a Jose Reyes stand-in with Trevor Story nearing the majors; and the Rays are unlikely to give up a draft pick and money in general. That leaves the field wide open for opportunists. Would the A’s or Twins splurge for an upgrade? Probably not, but there aren’t a ton of obvious fits.
Randy’s pick: White Sox
David Freese, 3B
What he offers: Freese is the quip about how so and so is the PB&J sandwich you send with your kid to school that they spend all lunch trying to trade: he’s fine, he does the job, he won’t harm anyone . . . but he’s not special or outstanding and no one is going to ooh or ahh at his presence. In baseball terms, Freese balances his defensive shortcomings with an okay average, some walks, and a little pop. He’s good enough to start, though not good enough to star; he’s also almost 33 with a lengthy injury history, so who knows how many more seasons that’ll remain true.
Where he fits: The Angels are such an obvious fit that it feels like Freese has been with them for years. (But seriously, why hasn’t this reunion happened?)
Randy’s pick: Orioles
Austin Jackson, OF
What he offers: Headaches. Jackson has failed to match his seeming breakout effort in 2012 (to wit: he notched 5.5 WARP that season and 4.4 in the three since), and ended last year in a timeshare role with the Cubs. Two other bad trends Jackson has going for him: a walk rate that has dipped in three consecutive campaigns, and a stolen-base success rate that has finished below 70 percent in three of the past four years. If you’re looking for a plus, Jackson’s only 29 years old and isn’t too far removed from being a starting center fielder. There’s enough time left for him to turn around the hoverboard; he just better get started soon.
Where he fits: Reportedly, the Cubs and Indians have each shown interest in Jackson. Here’s a thought: the Angels should get involved, too. For as frustrating as Jackson has been the past few seasons, he’s still a step above the the likes of Todd Cunningham and Craig Gentry.
Randy’s pick: Reds
Tim Lincecum, RHP
What he offers: Intrigue. Lincecum hasn’t finished with an ERA+ above 93 (commonly accepted as the average mark for starting pitchers) since 2011. He came close last year, however his efforts were dashed by hip surgery. The hope is that operation will cure Lincecum’s ails, or at least help get him back to his old form. Overzealous? Probably. Lincecum is expected to throw a showcase in March, so teams will soon learn what exactly the new (and improved?) Lincecum offers.
Where he fits: Never bet against cheap copy. The Padres are the pick, then, because of: 1) the “Timmy returns to San Fran” pieces; 2) the “Timmy and Brandon Morrow and the 2006 draft” retrospectives. Two other signs pointing toward San Diego: they’ve taken chances on Josh Johnson and Morrow before, and they’ve reportedly been in contact with Lincecum throughout the winter.
Randy’s pick: Dodgers
Justin Masterson, RHP
What he offers: You can sub in Cliff Lee here instead if you’d like. Both are former frontline starters who haven’t been effective for most of two seasons due to health woes. If you’re an optimist, these are two potential bargain-bin finds who just need a chance and a little luck; if you’re a pessimist, neither is going to make an impression on the season.
Where he fits: Blue Jays—for Masterson or Lee. Toronto seems to sign all the ex-Indians anyway.
Randy’s pick: White Sox
Matt Thornton, LHP
What he offers: Good, wholesome left-handed relief. Thornton held same-handed batters to a .188 True Average in 2015, running his three-year mark to .208. There are some blemishes to his game—blemishes that have, evidently, scared off suitors. Thornton will turn 40 late in the season, and last season saw both his strikeout and groundball rates decline. Nonetheless, it’s hard to argue with his results, and he should get a crack as someone’s left-handed specialist entering the season.
Randy’s pick: Royals