With only a few weeks remaining until pitchers and catchers report to camp and local media outlets pretend that truck day is ‘a thing’, there are still a handful of big name players left on without a job for 2012. Of those, the likes of Roy Oswalt and Edwin Jackson will eventually find themselves a big league deal somewhere, even if the dollar value and team don’t match their early winter ambitions. Others available players, particularly relievers, who hoped for a nice deal from someone may end up settling for a minor league deal or split contract on a team in need of bullpen help. I’d throw names like Chad Durbin, Mike Gonzalez and Juan Cruz into this category.
But what of the bigger name position players still looking to catch on somewhere? In the winter of 2009-10 Jermaine Dye was coming off of a .250/.340/.453 year where he hit 27 homers for the Chicago White Sox. The assumption was that Dye was looking for a bigger payday than team’s were willing to offer and, finding his options limited, walked away from the game while he appeared to still have something to offer. No-one left on the market (save maybe Casey Kotchman who won’t be retiring) can match Dye’s hitting performance from ’09, but there are still some veterans who were serviceable last year who are now scrambling for a job. All of the players below may find themselves with a contract of some description before the start of the season (or even during it), but equally we may have seen the last of them in a big league uniform.
Johnny Damon (.261/.326/.418, 150 games played in 2011)
Apart from reunions with the Yankees and Rays, the market for Damon’s services has been stagnant. As with all of these players the fact that he no longer offers any defensive value significantly craters his value and his hitting over the past couple of years has been below par for a DH. He carries a reputation as a ‘good clubhouse guy’ but it’s hard to see him getting much more than a minor league invite at this point. If he makes a team’s roster he’ll start the season ‘just’ 277 hits away from 3000 but the odds of him getting to the milestone a slim. He has shown few signs of losing his durability though and his ability to stay healthy is a big mark in his favour in his 38th year.
Hideki Matsui (.251/.321/.375, 92 OPS+ in 2011)
Matsui’s slash line may not look like much but playing half his games in the Coliseum meant he still produced an OPS+ just a handful of points below league average. Of the names on this list Matsui’s is the one that I’d be most inclined to believe still has one decent year left in the tank. Prior to 2011 his OPS+ numbers had gone 109, 137, 130, 128, 123, 108, 123, 126 so although a drop off could have been anticipated it was still more precipitous than certainly I would have expected. Getting him back into a decent hitters park wouldn’t do any harm to his ability to contribute as a part time DH/pinch hitter. I could see the Rays or even the Twins taking a punt and inviting him to camp.
Raul Ibanez (.245/.289/.419, 20 home runs in 2011)
It’s a bit of a stretch to include Ibanez here but he did at least manage 20 long balls last year and hitters retiring following a 20 homer season are still a bit of a rarity. Never a player to take a lot of walks, Ibanez saw his base on ball total more than half in 2011 compared to 2010. Between ’05 and ’10 Ibanez’s walk totals held pretty stably between 53 and 71 before he managed just 33 last year. As his strikeouts held reasonably steady it would seem safe to assume that pitchers just stopped worrying about Ibanez hurting them and started challenging him a lot more in the strike zone, leading to more weak contact than in the past. Ibanez’s nice guy reputation helps but probably not enough to garner him much interest on the open market. This, unfortunately, could be the end of the line.