Let’s face it. There isn’t a team in the major leagues that wouldn’t want to employ the services of a Robinson Cano, Carlos Beltran or even Nelson Cruz, a player with a checkered past. The problem, as it always is in the real world, is the almighty dollar.
Robinson Cano, the gem in this year’s free-agent list, has asked for a package worth $300 million. To me, that’s an absurd request, and the New York Yankees aren’t likely to bite on another Alex Rodriguez-type deal. Beltran turned down a $14 million qualifying offer from his former team, the St. Louis Cardinals, in search of a three- or four-year deal. The aging Puerto Rican might compromise with a two-year agreement, though, as long as the team is the Yankees or Boston Red Sox. Still, Beltran is sure to better his expired contract of $26 million.
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The question here is how much money is is too much? Where’s the red line? For teams that cry poverty but still make money, I think it’s $10 million per season for a free-agent signing. Almost every team in the major leagues, small market or not, has at least one player who rakes in that kind of a paycheck, and there’s plenty of good-value guys looking for a job who would accept a lot less. So, let’s take a look at the Hispanic players in the unemployment line who might be a good fit for a club looking for help.
The top prizes in this category are Bartolo Colon and Johan Santana, at least in terms of big-name status. Colon, 40, says he can pitch for three more years with his bionic, twice-repaired right arm. That would seem to be a stretch. But the rotund Dominican was terrific with the Oakland A’s last season, finishing with an 18-6 record and a 2.65 ERA. Colon made a base salary of $3 million, but received considerably more with bonuses and incentives. Based on that, Colon is looking to double his salary next year, but he might be more flexible with a two-year deal.
Santana is coming off his second surgery to repair a torn anterior capsule in his left shoulder, and he did not play in 2013, nor did he toe the rubber in 2011. In between those years, however, the Venezuelan southpaw threw a no-hitter for the New York Mets, the first in franchise history.
A two-time Cy Young award winner, Santana may not be ready to answer the bell by next spring, which is why the Mets didn’t pick up his option and elected to pay him a $5.5 million buyout. That’s a shocking price to cough up, but New York could still re-sign Santana to a more modest sum. And for that matter, so could the Minnesota Twins, Johan’s original team.
Checking on the journeyman guys, Panama’s Bruce Chen was an innings eater for the Kansas City Royals last season, just like he has been throughout his career. Now, at 36 and at the end of a $4.5 million deal, the veteran might work for cheap just to stay in the mix. Then there’s Manny Parra, only 31, who is on the mend after a lengthy stint on the DL last year with a strained pectoral muscle. Both men are southpaws and worth a roll of the dice.
As for the bullpen, Edward Mujica and Jose Veras have both been closers in their careers and just need to be more consistent. Mexican setup guy Luis Ayala will draw some interest as well, and the Baltimore Orioles were foolish to cut him loose.
Carlos Marmol, 31, still has great stuff and silly movement on all his pitches. So does fellow Dominican Eddie Volquez, who was an enigma the last two years with the San Diego Padres. Both men ended up with the Los Angeles Dodgers at the end of the season, and have always been durable, albeit emotionally challenged.
Top dog here is Carlos Ruiz, the best receiver out of Panama since Manny Sanguillen. But Ruiz and Philadelphia Phillies General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. have been playing mind games with each other and it’s time for Carlos to move on. The 35-year-old Ruiz made $5 million last season, but was limited to only 92 games.
Another good choice wold be Jose Molina, who has played more games with the Tampa Bay Rays the last two years than he did in the previous three years with the Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays. Jose made considerably less money than Ruiz last year and, by the way, his last name is Molina. If these guys aren’t available, Dioner Navarro is an excellent alternative. The former Chicago Cub is only 29 and talented, but somehow fell out of favor in the Windy City.
Jhonny Peralta, believe it or not, might be a fit on a budget-minded team that gets creative. History suggests that Peralta, 31, likes security. Going into his 12th major-league season, the Dominican veteran has only played for two clubs. He is versatile, hits the crap out of the ball and leads by example. My guess is that Peralta could be reeled in with a three-year, back-loaded deal that would work for both parties involved.
Rafael Furcal is also available after Tommy John surgery on his right elbow kept him on the shelf during 2013. Like Peralta, the 35-year-old Furcal is a hard worker and a winner. For a team that might have a prospect down on the farm, Furcal would produce, hold down the fort and be a good mentor in exchange for a two-year package.
The large market also includes Omar Infante, Alexi Casilla, Juan Uribe, Ramon Santiago and Ronny Cedeno. I believe the Detroit Tigers will resign Infante, so the progress with Jose Iglesias won’t be interrupted. And there’s a lot of pressure from the fans in San Diego to bring Cedeno back. But the rest of that group is up for grabs, although Uribe might be pricey.
It will be interesting to see which team takes the Franklin Gutierrez bait for the upcoming season. There is no question that the defensive abilities of the 30-year-old Venezuelan are worth the price of admission. But nagging injuries the last three seasons with the Seattle Mariners would have pushed the patience of Pope Francis. Another disappointment in Seattle was Raul Ibanez, 41, who still has the desire to play but ran out of gas during the second half of last season. At this stage of his career, Ibanez can’t play 100 games in the outfield and still be productive at the plate. But for an American League team looking for a lefty DH, the ex-Yankee can still rake.
Former Giant Andres Torres, 35, has remained healthy and could be the best bargain for a penny-pinching team. The switch-hitting Puerto Rican is respectable at the plate, dependable in the field and can still steal a base. That’s a lot of pluses for a two year deal, maybe for about $5 million.
If I’m running a small market franchise, I would consider signing any one of these guys, depending on the needs of my club. And I would also keep an eye on the non-tender list after the December 2 deadline.
Signing a guy like Robinson Cano would be a dream come true for any team, at least until the contract is examined and you do the math. Sometimes, there are other options that make more sense.