The free agent market is looking pretty slim as of today. Some of the best free agents available are not even that as of yet. They have player or team options (or both) that once decided upon will tell us whether or not they are available. I took a quick look through the list of potential free agent hitters, and came out with a list of 16 players who I think may have some value thanks to either scarcity at a position or production relative to cost. Let's take a look at these players by position (1B and DH will be lumped together). Net Runs Above Average this time around folks:
There are not that many options for first base. With teams like Minnesota and possibly the Mets depending, on how tired of Doug Mientkiewicz they are, will need someone though. John Olerud has shown he can still be a productive player, even after a season and a half of my name calling (Ghost of John Olerud anyone?). Word to the wise though: he is only slugging .395 on the road in the exact same number of at-bats. Fenway resurrection it seems...
Mark Sweeney's NRAA is not entirely accurate. His games total is off from his total games, and the reason for this is that he has only started in 31 games, but has appeared in 125. I fixed this very roughly by going halfway between the two at and figuring his NRAA from there. So if his at-bats/games total is something more like 60 or 65, you could throw his NRAA somewhere between 22-25 per 100 games, which would actually top this entire list.
Frank Thomas is an interesting subject, and he is one of those Team + Player Options I spoke of earlier. It would be interesting to see him end up on a team like Minnesota, who could use another bat, after his rocky relationship with Pale Hose manager Ozzie Guillen. It would also be interesting to see if he could last most of a season solely producing like he did this year. He hit .219/.315/.590 with a homerun every 8.95 at-bats. He also only had 22 hits, and 12 of them were homeruns. This was done to keep pressure off of his injury; to keep him from having to actually "run" the basepaths. If he kept that rate up over 500 at-bats, he would hit 57 homeruns. I would give anything to see 57 homeruns from a .219 hitter. Seriously. Make this happen.
Roberto Petagine did not get much of a chance to shine in the major leagues (18 games), but he had major success in Triple-A (.327/.452/.635) and most likely will receive a minor league contract again. This is someone a team should take a shot on just incase, because there is honestly nothing to lose.
Two words for Olmedo Saenz: Designated Hitter. If his Rate2 was 100, which is league average, his NRAA would be 10.32, rather than -5.68.
One other interesting case that I did not show on the table:
A team that is desperate could take a flyer on Fullmer, and if he doesn't work out just cut loose. No one should mess up their 40 man roster over him or anything, leaving prospects out to dry in the Rule 5 draft, but if there is a spot then why not? He could be moved at the deadline for something to someone else, and he most likely can be had very cheaply.
This is a very weak position. Belliard and Walker both have options, and Gruds is not all that productive. It could be a cheap position though, unless the prices are driven up skyhigh like last year's shortstop crop.
I know Nomar is not a third basemen really, and I know his statistics are not real either, but I am putting him this way for two reasons: 1) there are no other shortstops, and now I don't have to upload an additional image, and 2) I think that is what Nomar can do if he is healthy. Of course, if is the longest word in the English language, and this is a pretty big if considering what he's gone through in the past few years.
Bill Mueller may be locked up by the Sox again, but if not, he could make a nice addition to some lineups. Beware though; his slugging is down on the road, from .466 to .408; he remains a productive player either way, but you will lose out on some of the doubles, which are his thing offensively.
Jeff Cirillo is interesting. An up and coming star whose fall was hidden by Coors field and exposed by Safeco. He rose from the ashes this year and did a pretty good job. I did not want him to do that good a job though, solely because of my love for all things Russ Branyan. He will be a free agent this winter and could strengthen the hot corner of a team willing to play him. Best of luck to him in future non-Branyan related success.
Finally, the outfielders. Kenny Lofton is doing a good job offensively, but his value lies in his defense, which should stay strong as long as his speed doesn't fail him entirely. He's having a better defensive season than Andruw Jones (check the Rate2) according to some metrics, although you'd never know it if you listen to television. I'd simply be wary of his age, and the fact that his 2004 did not look at all like his 2005. Of course, his 2003 looks kind of like his 2005, so we'll see in 2006 now won't we? We should probably all take a step back and read that last sentence twice.
Jeromy Burnitz is essentially a league average hitter, and only slightly above average defensively. Of course above average + above average = above average, so having him is not such a bad thing at all if you have a spot for him and don't overpay him. Without Coors stigma on his side this year, his pay should be reduced, and his third team in 3 years can rejoice as long as his skills remain. Hopefully they don't disapear in the airplane this time, like on his Milwaukee to New York switch.
Reggie Sanders (when healthy) just keeps on hitting. I'd say he has reached that "professional hitter" stage we like to bestow on the likes of Matt Stairs and others, but the difference with Sanders is he can field above average in the corner outfield spots. For his sake I hope the Cardinals resign him so he doesn't have to move again, but if he wants to play with 8th team of his career, then so be it. By the way, Sanders is approaching 300 homeruns and 300 steals. He currently sits at 289 of one and 297 of the other. He still has some work to do if he wants to make the Ray Lankford Wing of the Hall of Fame, although staying with the Cardinals might give him some free Ray Karma.
There you have it, let the bidding begin in a few months. This should be an offseason more like 2003-2004 winter than the 2004-2005 one. There are not enough big stars, so hopefully we have a return to sanity rather than a Kris Benson spendfest on our hands.