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March 5, 2013

Painting the Black

The Flawed Free Agents Who Are Left

by R.J. Anderson

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Opening Day 2013 is fewer than four weeks away. That means the time to talk about free agents is behind us. Even when the spotlight does turn to those remaining unemployed players it tends to hover on Kyle Lohse and Jose Valverde. Yet there are numerous other notable players still available. Let's take a look at a few of their situations.

Bobby Abreu
Latest MLB Trade Rumors mention: 2/15, "The Orioles may consider signing outfielder Bobby Abreu, but first plan to 'see what they have in camp.'" 

Ah, to be young again. Abreu's gaudy walk rates in conjunction with his solid power production during his prime made him an under-appreciated offensive force. The power is gone now, however, and the walks serve as a sad reminder of the past. Relying upon walks to buoy your offensive value is tough when pitchers have no reason to fear throwing strikes. Abreu is past the fear portion of his career, and so his offensive potential appears limited.

Worsening matters for Abreu is his forced removal from the Angels last season. To his credit he did go to the minors later in the year with the Dodgers, but there should be concern about his willingness to accept a lesser role. It's a blemish he can't afford given his status as a designated hitter who can't hit. 

Carlos Lee
Latest MLB Trade Rumors mention: 2/19, conjecture.

Lee is in the awkward position of not hitting well enough to merit a starting job and not fielding and running well enough to make sense as a bench player. Considering Lee turned down a trade to the Dodgers in order to remain near his ranch last season, it's possible the geographical restrictions are still in play. It may not matter since he only makes sense as an emergency option at first base or DH.

Derek Lowe
Latest MLB Trade Rumors mention: 2/5, "Derek Lowe will wait to see what other offers come his way after passing on a minor league deal from the Rockies."

Facing dim prospect following his release from Cleveland, Lowe turned things around by pitching well with the Yankees out of the bullpen. Naturally Lowe wants to start again. He's made enough money to name his own terms but it appears doubtful a team offers him a chance to start and a spot in the majors, so he'll have to pick one or the other or enter a state of forced retirement. The curious should root for Lowe to take a bullpen gig. 

Guillermo Mota
Latest MLB Trade Rumors mention: 11/24, unrelated to his free agency.

Has the league forgotten about Mota, or are his warts too plentiful to overlook? Mota is 39 years old, one failed performance-enhancing drugs test away from a permanent ban, and he's coming off a season with a 5.23 ERA. Factor in that the Giants have not rewarded his recent loyalty with a camp invite and Mota's chances of pitching in the majors this year appear bleak. 

Yet any team willing to try Mota out as a middle reliever could be forgiven since his stuff still plays. His low-90s sinker sometimes gets into the mid-90s, though he locates it up in the zone too often for comfort, and his circle-change and slider serve as his knockout pitches. Perhaps Mota could reprise his role from 2011 when he threw 80 1/3 innings in 52 appearances. He should come cheap if nothing else.

Ryan Theriot
Latest MLB Trade Rumors mention: 3/1, "The Rangers are among the teams still interested in free agent infielder Ryan Theriot [...] He continues looking for more playing time."

Theriot is plagued with ills similar to Jeff Francoeur, namely: he won't accept his role as a part-time player. Were Theriot willing to shelve his hopes of being an everyday player he could be a useful utility infielder, best used against southpaws (.262 multi-year TAv against them) and in pinch-hitting spots where contact is necessary. As is, Theriot doesn't field, hit, or run the bases well enough to merit a starting job at shortstop or second base. 

The problem is Theriot's market is limited to competitive teams only. He lacks the upside required for a bad team to commit him the required playing time. Joining a contender like the Rangers could compel Theriot to put the team ahead of himself but, with two World Series rings in hand, Theriot might prefer playing to winning. 

Jim Thome
Latest MLB Trade Rumors mention: 3/1, "There's mutual interest between the Twins and Thome, but not all Twins officials are on board with the idea."

The two questions surrounding Thome are bat speed and durability. Thome's power production and contact rate have continues to slide in recent years. Staying on the field has proven increasingly difficult for Thome, too, and he has not topped 350 plate appearances since 2009. He still managed to get on base at a fair clip last season, though it is fair to wonder if he could continue to do so heading forward. Minnesota is reportedly considering Thome as a bench bat. That seems to be the highest role you could throw at Thome without getting disappointed. 

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

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