Even though we’re around a week away from the start of spring training, there are still a handful of big names left out there on the free agent market, guys that can make a significant impact on a team.
Starters A.J. Burnett, Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana and Bronson Arroyo are still without a team for the 2014 season. Closer Fernando Rodney will bolster the back of some team’s bullpen and add some flair to the ninth inning. First baseman/DH Kendrys Morales, right fielder Nelson Cruz and shortstop Stephen Drew all have yet to sign, as well.
Is it a coincidence that five of the eight players I listed above (Jimenez, Santana, Morales, Cruz and Drew) all have draft pick compensation attached to them because they were all extended qualifying offers earlier this offseason? No way, Jose.
The current system might work nicely for the teams because it allows them to recoup draft picks when their top players leave and it slows the market for these players down. But the system doesn’t seem to be working for some of the lower-tier players who are given qualifying offers, as their value on the free agent market drops when draft pick compensation is involved.
The elite players, the Robinson Canos and Jacoby Ellsburys, will continue to land monster free agent deals even if they’ve been given a qualifying offer. But the guys like Adam LaRoche (who hit free agency last winter after a career year and was able to land just a two-year, $24 million deal despite there being a number of teams in need of a first baseman) might continue to suffer under this current system.
Anyway, beyond the handful of top free agents remaining on the market, there isn’t much left out there. Teams have picked through the list of available free agents and grabbed most of the attractive talent. We’ll continue to see mostly minor league deals or very small big league contracts handed out over the next couple of weeks.
The Nationals missed out on a chance to potentially upgrade their bench yesterday when corner infielder Jeff Baker signed a reported two-year, $3.7 million deal with the Marlins, a contract that contains an additional $500,000 in incentives.
Baker was definitely of interest to the Nats given his strong pinch-hitting numbers in past seasons, his defensive versatility and his ability to pound left-handed pitching. But Miami’s offer of two guaranteed years won out, as did the Marlins’ pitch to Baker that he’d be able to get fairly significant playing time. Baker surely knew that if he landed in D.C., he’d enter the season viewed as no more than a late-inning bat off the bench a few times a week.
So where does that leave the Nats? Well, they’ll continue to monitor the free agent market and look to upgrade the roster in any way possible, but general manager Mike Rizzo has insisted that the team isn’t actively looking to make more moves. At NatsFest, he said that more teams and agents are calling the Nats at this point than vice versa.
If Rizzo and the Nats are still looking for a backup corner infielder, there isn’t much left out there. Casey Kotchman has proven himself to be a quality big league bat in the past, but his play has dropped off in recent years and as a pure first baseman who hits left-handed, he wouldn’t be of much use to the Nats playing behind LaRoche. Same deal for Bryan LaHair, who didn’t play affiliated ball in 2013 and also bats left-handed.
Brandon Inge is a 13-year veteran who can play third base and catch, but his offensive numbers have really declined the last few seasons and he went unsigned after being released by the Pirates last August.
As far as veteran reserve catchers go, two names you might recognize are still out there unsigned: Kelly Shoppach and Koyie Hill.
Shoppach is the more experienced of the two at the big league level, having appeared in 572 games over parts of nine seasons. He hit .193/.288/.339 in 36 games last year for the Mariners and Indians. Hill played in 18 games for the Marlins last season, hitting .155/.183/.190 in 58 at-bats.
The Nats now have six catchers currently scheduled to suit up at the start of big league spring training, following yesterday’s addition of minor leaguer Jeff Howell. But if they wanted one more veteran guy to compete with Jhonatan Solano, Sandy Leon and Chris Snyder to be Wilson Ramos’ backup, Shoppach or Hill could be options.