January 15, 2013
Filling the Free Agent Voids
As this offseason’s free agent class has been shaken and largely settled, some of the jilted teams have been left in fine shape. Some immediately went out and patched the hole where a departed free agent once was—the Braves, for instance, grabbed B.J. Upton immediately to fill most of the Michael Bourn void—while others had replacements ready to go, making the free agents expendable.
Not everybody was so lucky or so prepared, however, as one can see by observing the voids forming where free agents used to be.
Here’s a look at the five positions where teams are still scrambling to replace talent or will need an in-house option to exceed expectations lest they face a looming black hole at the position.
5. White Sox catcher without A.J. Pierzynski
With Pierzynski Texas-bound, it’s now on Tyler Flowers, a backup the last two years and a .205/.307/.388 career hitter in 317 major-league plate appearances, to step into Pierzynski’s vacated gear. Flowers’ minor-league numbers and that limited sample indicate some power and patience are present. His isn’t a case of bad luck so far in the majors, though, and at 26 (he’ll turn 27 later this month), he’s not exactly young. In order to catch on in his age-27 season, he’ll have to cut down on his strikeouts, which have come in an astounding 34 percent of his plate appearances.
4. Indians DH without Travis Hafner
For the Yankees, this isn’t so easy. The loss of Swisher and the two backup types won’t go over too badly in the outfield, with Brett Gardner replacing Swisher, but it does create a DH vacancy. The Yankees, as old as they are, will often use the spot to rest position players—Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter should need plenty of time there when they return. But until then, it’s just another backup added to an already depleted lineup.
3. Braves third base without Chipper Jones
Juan Francisco has put together decent numbers on the strength of a selective usage pattern that is endangered by the needs of the Braves roster. A left-handed hitter, he has an .806 career OPS against righties but a .446 OPS against lefties that doesn’t even carry a BABIP excuse. If he can sustain his career rate of making 83 percent of his plate appearances against righties, then there’s some hope, but he doesn’t have the look of an everyday player.
Should the Braves acquire Justin Upton or should Michael Bourn run out of needier suitors and go back to the Braves, it could push B.J. Upton to left, Martin Prado to third, and Francisco to a better role. But for now, the Braves are missing Chipper more than they could have expected.
2. Rays outfield/DH without B.J. Upton
Ben Zobrist could move to the outfield, putting Joyce at DH, but then what becomes of second base? No matter what, Upton has thrown off the whole mathematics of this lineup construction for Joe Maddon, who has scrambled before and will have to again.
Even in the unlikely case that Myers is ticketed for the majors right away, the Rays would be wise to look for more help in the outfield in the bargain bin or in the cost-controlled portion of the trade market.
1. Yankees catcher without Russell Martin
Martin’s BABIP by year
Assuming Martin’s BABIP sees even a small bit of natural bounceback, the combination of his broad offensive skill set with his defensive ability will give the Pirates a very valuable backstop. Meanwhile, his old team is left to muddle through some much lesser options after not obtaining Pierzynski in this new era of Yankees frugality.
Francisco Cervelli fell out of the Yankees’ favor after a competent run as backup in 2010 and 2011, and now they’ve come crawling back to the soon-to-be-27-year-old non-power threat as a real option. Chris Stewart, who was picked for the no. 2 job last year over Cervelli, has a backup profile and not a very imposing one, though he’s a skilled framer.
If there is hope, it lies in Austin Romine, but a guy who has played a total of 30 games above Double-A is nothing but hope. Twenty-year-old prospect Gary Sanchez, who played in low-A and high-A in 2012, can’t get to the Bronx soon enough.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .