The hot stove season is upon us and we're only days away from the official start of an all-out free agent frenzy. Here's a look at nine free agent hitters that could have some sleeper value should they land in the right situation.Note: Some text is taken from my 2012 Free Agent Primer series over at The Outside Corner. Player's 2012 age in parenthesis.
12-team Mixed leaguesAaron Hill - 2B (30)
– A change of scenery did the trick for Hill, who hit .315/.386/.492 with two home runs and five stolen bases in a very small sample of 142 plate appearances after joining the D-Backs. That was a very good impression to make, as Arizona is interested in bringing Hill back. However, they declined his $8M 2012 club option. Given his good contact skills and power/speed combo, there should be some decent demand for his services in this year’s second base free agent crop. Hill's line drive rates improved overall
in 2011 and soared after leaving the Blue Jays. I'd love to see him back in hitter friendly Chase Field.Kelly Johnson - 2B (30)
– Johnson still hit for power (21 HR) and stole a few bases (16), but strikeouts became a big problem and aided his huge regression in AVG and OBP. Like Hill, Johnson saw better results after changing teams and leagues, hitting .270/.364/.417 with three home runs and three stolen bases in 132 plate appearances. Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos has always liked Johnson, which is one of the reasons he made the deal. Look for AA to try and bring Johnson back to Toronto in 2012, where his power numbers should hold true.Edwin Encarnacion - 3B/1B (29)
– I'm a gluten for punishment when it comes to certain players and E5 is one of them. While Encarnacion struggled mightily out of the gates last season, he picked up the pace big-time after the all-star break, hitting .291/.382/.504 with 11 home runs and seven stolen bases. Perhaps one season he'll put it all together. Perhaps that season is 2012. A late round pick is worth the risk. He'll try his luck
in left field during winter ball, which could add more "versatility", or at least a chance for more at-bats.Grady Sizemore - OF (29)
- I took a look at Grady Sizemore today over at Fire Brand of the AL
. If healthy (big IF), he could be a nice source of 25 or so homers, but the speed may not return.Jason Kubel - OF - (29)
- Kubel gets marked down a bit since he's not much of a defender, at all. He should be limited to signing with an American League team where he can DH, maybe playing a few games in the outfield here or there. Kubel's a solid enough hitter, capable of a line around .275/.335/.450 with 20-25 homers when healthy. I'd love to see him move away from Target Field, which has been murder on left-handed power hitters
.David DeJesus (32)
- 2011 was a tough season for DeJesus. He put up career lows in AVG and OBP, but some of his struggles can be explained by a thumb injury for which he needed surgery on in 2010. Despite a down season at the plate, DeJesus continued to perform very well defensively, posting an ultimate zone rating (UZR) of 7.5, mostly playing right field. Despite the down season, there should be a number of teams interested in his services. His .274 BABIP was the lowest of his career and, according to Fangraphs, there was very little change in his batted ball profile
. There's a good chance he bounces back in 2012.Deeper leaguesRyan Doumit - C (31)
– Doumit is not known for his defensive skills behind the plate, but he had a bounce back season at the plate in 2011 hitting .303/.353/.477 with eight home runs in 236 plate appearances. His AVG was helped at least somewhat by a .331 BABIP, but he has the ability when healthy to hit around 15 home runs with a .275 or better AVG should he land with a team willing to give him 450 or so at-bats.Derrek Lee - 1B (36)
– Despite a continued regression, Lee still pounded out 19 home runs while holding a league average OBP. He battled some injuries, but hit .337/.398/.584 with seven home runs in a small sample of 113 plate appearances after joining the Pirates. If he can land with a team that will give him some time at DH, which might keep him a bit more healthy, he could certainly hit .270 with 20-plus homers. Keep an eye out for reports on the left wrist that he injured in September.Nate McLouth - OF (30)
- It's been two years since McLouth's breakout 2009 season in which he posted a .352 OBP, hit 20 home runs and stole 19 bases. Injuries have taken a huge toll on him over the last two seasons. He's still an injury risk, but he also hasn't posted a walk rate lower than 11.5 percent over the last three years. If he can stay healthy, he could bring some surprise production to a team willing to give him a chance.