We're a couple of days into free agency, and thusfar, only one real domino has fallen - Jim Thome to the Phillies, and that's not exactly a blockbuster signing. As the weeks go on, free agents will sign with new teams, players will be overpaid, and assets will be dealt. Here are ten players who I'd absolutely avoid if my team had a need at their position. I used Charlie's Free Agent Primers as a guide here, with every player I've chosen being on one of Charlie's top ten lists. So without any further ado, here are the ten.
Catcher: Chris Snyder (#3)
Snyder was a former top prospect for the Diamondbacks who was dealt to the Pirates in the middle of last year. He'll be 31 at the beginning of the 2012 season, and has had more than 400 plate appearances just one in a season over his career - 2008, when he had 404. Not coincidentally, that was his best year, as Snyder had an .800 OPS on the season. But it's been all downhill from there. In 2009, Snyder had a .685 OPS in 202 plate appearances. In 2010, he had a .696 OPS in 376 plate appearances between the Diamondbacks and Pirates. And in 2011, Snyder had a .772 OPS, but in just 119 plate appearances, as a back injury claimed most of his season. That's the big red flag to me: a catcher with back problems. Does he even have the ability to catch 100 games in a season? He could be fine as a backup, but you don't want to be going into 2012 with Snyder penciled in as your every day catcher.
First Base: Casey Kotchman (#5)
Kotchman was a former top prospect with the Angels, and had a solid .839 OPS in his first full season as the Angels starter at first in 2007. At the end of July 2008, he had a .775 OPS, and he was traded to the Braves in the Mark Teixeira deal. It was a really bad two and a half years for Kotchman after that. He had a .647 OPS for the Braves over the rest of 2008, and a .763 OPS (with just six home runs) in 2009 for Atlanta before being dealt to the Red Sox for Adam LaRoche. Kotchman's tenure in Boston was a disaster, as his .571 OPS wasn't playable at any position on the field, let alone first base. 2010 was another disaster for Kotchman: a .616 OPS as the every day starter in Seattle. But then last season in Tampa Bay, Kotchman rebounded to an extreme degree. His .800 OPS was his best in three seasons. But there are still red flags. He only had ten homers on the season, which is a pitifully low total for a first baseman. In fact, no qualified starter in baseball had less than that in 2011. Kotchman's 2011 BABIP was .335, more than 55 points higher than his career mark. No power + extreme luck = valuable option at first base? No thank you. Most teams have a career minor leaguer in AAA that could probably provide production equal to Kotchman's at a fraction of the cost.
Second Base: Aaron Hill (#1)
Here's the thing about Aaron Hill: he used to have a ton of fans, especially in Toronto, who imagined him as their second baseman for years to come when they signed him to a four year deal (with THREE club options) at the beginning of the 2008 season. His 2008 was an injury shortened disaster: 55 games of .685 OPS ball. 2009 was a different story, with 36 homers and an .829 OPS making that contract look great. 2010 though, wasn't exactly a banner year for Hill. He still hit 26 homers, but only OPSed .665 as his batting average fell into the vast abyss (.205 for the season) thanks to an otherworldly .196 BABIP. Toronto looked for a rebound in 2011, and didn't get it. In 104 games with the Blue Jays, he hit just six homers and OPSed .583. He was shipped to Arizona, where he had a solid September for the D-Backs, OPSing .878. There were still a couple of warning signs about that resurgence: he hit just two home runs, had a .356 BABIP, and it was just a 33 game sample. Hill might be worth a flyer on a short-term, low-risk deal, but his strong September could open him up to a team looking for a long-term solution at second, and they could pony up some irrational money for him. Arizona didn't think Hill was worth paying $8 million in 2012. I think some team out there WOULD be willing to pay him that, and they could end up getting burned pretty badly.
Shortstop: Jimmy Rollins (#2)
I'm not saying Rollins isn't the second best shortstop on the market - he is. But I'm wary about his demands. Late in the regular season, rumors surfaced that Rollins wanted a five year deal. He'll be 33 later this month, so that five year deal would take him to the end of his age 37 season. The recent trends of his career aren't exactly making me confident in his abilities to continue to produce going forward. After logging just one season in his first seven with under 700 plate appearances, just one of his past four has seen him get more than 700. After peaking in his MVP year of 2007 with an .875 OPS, his OPSes over the past four seasons have been .786, .717, .694 and .737. His ISO (isolated power. Slugging - batting avearge) has been at .131 in each of the last two seasons, a level it hasn't been at since 2003, his third full year in the league. I would not want to give this man a five year deal worth eight figures a season. I'd have much less of a problem giving him two or three, though.
Third Base: Aramis Ramirez (#1)
The Cubs wanted Ramirez back for $16 million in 2012. Ramirez declined his end of the option, and became a free agent. Now, I'm not sure if that says more about the toxicity of Chicago's National League team, or the insanity of Ramirez, but I digress. You'd have to think that Ramirez is thinking he can get that kind of money on the free agent market this winter. He's never been that healthy of a player, with just two seasons of more than 650 plate appearances during his entire eight and a half year tenure in Chicago. After three straight seasons of more than 30 homers, he's fallen short of that mark in each of the last five years. After just one season of his first five with the Cubs being worth under 4 fWAR, he's been worth under that mark in each of the last three. He's never been a good defender at all at third. Oh, and he's 33 too. If he thinks he can do better than that $16 million he decided that he didn't want, he's nuts. And if a team thinks he's worth more than that, they're nuts.
Corner Outfield: Juan Pierre (#6)
Oh, Juan Pierre. He was given $44 million by the Dodgers five years ago in one of the more ridiculous signings in recent history, and LA eventually dumped his contract onto the White Sox and ate half the money remaining on the deal. Now, he's back, and he's nothing like he was five years ago. Pierre used to be a pretty good defensive center fielder. He's now roughly average in left, not having played center full-time since 2007. I'll give him credit for being remarkably healthy during his career, so durability isn't an issue with him. My major problem with Pierre is this. His major asset has always been his speed. Well, he's now 34. After starting his career with eight straight 40 steal seasons, he's had 30 or less in two of the last three years. He has never had any power, and the minimal power he did have is now pretty much gone, with a slugging percentage that more closely resembles a good batting average over the past couple of seasons. He has never walked, and his once high batting average is starting to dip. So what do you have left? A guy who should be a bench player. Any team that pays Pierre with the intention of starting him deserves all of your scorn.
Center Fielder: Coco Crisp (#3)
Everyone seems to love Crisp, and I'm assuming it's just because of his (admittedly fantastic) name. But what I see is a guy who qualified for the batting title just twice in the past six seasons. Crisp has good speed (back to back seasons with 30 steals) but the age factor comes into play again. He's 32, and how much longer is that speed going to be around? His defense fluctuates greatly in the outfield, and I see him as a younger Pierre with more power. I don't think he's a franchise-type center fielder, and if you bring him in, you need to have a contingency option for the games he'll inevitably miss.
Designated Hitter: Vladimir Guerrero (#5)
Guerrero is 36 (or so he claims), and looked done last year with the Orioles. His .733 OPS was the lowest of his career, a massive step back after an .841 OPS in 2010 with the Rangers. He's a shell of his former self, and is probably nothing more than a bench bat at this point in time. He only hit 13 homers last year, a career low. His next lowest total is 15 in 2009, when he played in only 100 games. He played in 145 in 2011. STAY AWAY.
Starting Pitcher: Edwin Jackson (#6)
This is Jackson's first go at free agency, and it'll be interesting to see what kind of offers he gets. Jackson has been a guy who has "oozed potential" his entire career, with teams believing they can fix him and make him the elite pitcher that so many have seen in him. Well, Jackson is six teams into his career, and no one has really fixed him for good. He's shown flashes of brilliance, most notably after a trade to the White Sox last July, when Jackson had a 3.24 ERA and struck out more than a batter per inning with the lowest walk rate of his career. He regressed at the beginning of this year with Chicago, and was dealt to the Cardinals, where he won a World Series despite middling along with a 5.88 strikeout rate after the trade. I have a feeling that there are going to be teams lining up to give him a shot, and if I'm investing money in a free agent starter, I don't want to have to worry about fixing them. I want to be able to plug the pitcher into my rotation and be good to go.
Reliever: Francisco Cordero (#5)
Cordero saved 37 games and had a 2.45 ERA in 2011, he must be good, right? Not so fast. He turns 37 a month into the 2012 season, and struck out a career low 5.43 batters per nine innings in 2011. Cordero's homer rate was also 0.78 per nine, one of the higher totals in his career. His groundball rate was also a career high at 50%, but that's not really high enough to carve out a niche doing that. He's nothing more than a middle reliever at this point in time, and I wouldn't pay him the money he made over his last contract to be my closer in 2012, and possibly beyond.
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