So where will the last remnant of the pre-2016 free-agent group land? Let’s talk about five of the remaining free agents, starting with Rios.
Álex Ríos — Outfielder
Álex Ríos was the Kansas City Royals’ right fielder for the 2015 season, but didn’t fare as well as some thought he would, slashing .255/.287/.353 with a 72 wRC+, recording -6 DRS and +5.9 UZR/150 in the field.
Rios, a right-handed hitter, hit right-handed pitching better than he did against southpaws, recording an 80 wRC+ and 54 wRC+ in 2015, respectively. However, it was the opposite in 2014 with the Texas Rangers, when he recorded a .325/.353/.545 line with a 141 wRC+ against left-handed pitchers, and .266/.296/.350 with a 74 wRC+ against righties. If he can return to his 2014 ways of producing against left-handed pitchers, he can be a valuable platoon option in a corner outfield role.
It’s worth noting Rios fractured his left hand in mid-April of 2015, so it may have played a role in his drop off in production. Either that, or it could be the fact that he’s a 35-year-old outfielder. We don’t know yet.
If Rios finds a home, I think it’ll either be somewhere that could use a low-risk, right-handed platoon option in a corner outfield spot, or somewhere that has weak or questionable options in a corner outfield spot, where Rios could compete for the starting job.
Justin Morneau — First Baseman/Designated Hitter
Morneau, in just 49 games with the Colorado Rockies in an injury-filled season last year, slashed .310/.363/.458 with a 107 wRC+.
Buyer beware — he’s fragile with a long injury history, and his numbers last season were boosted by playing in Coors Field. In 2015, he slashed .397/.436/.589 with a 148 wRC+ at Coors Field and .242/.308/.358 with an 81 wRC+ away from Colorado.
On the other hand, when he’s healthy, there’s a chance he could get a nice hot streak going. He defeated the Coors Field effect reputation in 2014, slashing .327/.363/.515 with a 110 wRC+ at home, and .309/.364/.475 with a 133 wRC+ away from Coors. Also, he’s a low-cost free agent that could turn into a medium or high reward. Nothing really to lose here.
Prediction: Morneau signs with the White Sox and gets cuts in a designated hitter role.
Tim Lincecum — Right-Handed Pitcher
Alright, Timmy. What’s taking so long?
The 31-year-old has seen his performance, velocity, and overall command drop dramatically over the past few seasons. From 2007-2011, Lincecum posted a 2.98 ERA (2.93 FIP), averaging about 6.2 innings pitched per start, featuring a mid-90s fastball. He was one of the game’s top pitchers during that five-year span, collecting two Cy Young Awards. From 2012-2015, he recorded a 4.68 ERA (4.08 FIP), averaging 5.2 innings per start, with a declining strikeout-rate, walk-rate, groundball-rate, and velocity. PITCHf/x shows that Lincecum’s averaged fastball velocity dropped to a career-low 87.5 mph.
In September of 2015, Lincecum had hip surgery and was supposed to have a showcase to teams in mid-January. Then the showcase got pushed back to early-February, then late-February, then early-March, and everybody’s still waiting. Nobody knows when we’re going to see Lincecum sign. He will need to show that he’s healthy and an effective pitcher to have anybody offer him a major-league deal. If Lincecum’s surgery allows him to reverse his downward career arc, the 2016 season could serve as a resetting of sorts for the former ace.
In order to have any shot at all at making a comeback, he’s going to need a non-contending team that can open a spot for him, a big ball park, and… it doesn’t hurt to pitch in the National League as opposed to the American League as well.
Prediction: Lincecum finds a one-year home with the San Diego Padres, staying in the NL West.
Justin Masterson — Right-Handed Pitcher
If there’s one word to describe the career of Justin Masterson, it would be inconsistent.
The soon-to-be 31-year-old right-hander has pitched very poorly over the last two seasons, recording a 5.79 ERA (4.62 FIP) with 1.622 WHIP over 188 innings pitched total.
In the three seasons prior, he posted a combined 3.86 ERA (3.60 FIP) with a 1.313 WHIP, averaging 205 innings pitched per year.
Masterson was released by the Boston Red Sox in August of 2015, and he had shoulder surgery in late-September of the same year following release. According to Jon Heyman of MLB Network, Masterson is planning to showcase for 10-to-15 teams in Arizona at the end of March.
His lack of control and health concerns are reasons for teams to back away from him. Masterson does have an attractive 56.3-percent groundball rate in his career, and will also come cheap for the team that signs him.
Prediction: Seems kind of bold, but I have Masterson signing with the Baltimore Orioles. Orioles’ GM Dan Duquette loves his low-risk, potentially high-reward players, and they need all the pitching they can get.
There are some other noteworthy free agents still looking for a job this season. So for another four free agents, I’ll say:
- Right-handed pitcher Alfredo Simon will sign with the Milwaukee Brewers
- Infielder Alberto Callaspo will sign with the Colorado Rockies
- Right-handed pitcher Joe Nathan will sign with the Tampa Bay Rays
- Outfielder Marlon Byrd will sign with the Chicago White Sox
All stats courtesy of www.fangraphs.com and www.baseball-reference.com.