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Constructing a 25-man Roster with Remaining Free Agents

February 2, 2011

Here we find ourselves on February 2nd, 2011. The Northeast (where I am) is still buried under the six inches of snow that fell yesterday and the two inches of freezing rain that dropped today on top of it (keep in mind, this is all in addition to the multiple feet we’ve already gotten this winter which simply refuses to melt). We’re two weeks away from hearing four of my favorite words in the English language: “pitchers and catchers report”. Even then, there’s still another two weeks after that before Spring Training games get underway and there’s actual baseball to watch. February is notoriously a slow month in the baseball world, at least from a transactions standpoint, as most teams have pretty much completed their offseason shopping lists and are getting ready to get ready for the season. However, as MLBTR’s Ben Nicholson-Smith noted yesterday, February 2010 was a busy month for contract extensions and minor league contracts. Sure, there will be deals completed in the next few weeks and a number of the remaining free agents will sign. But let’s take a look at who is left on the open market and attempt to construct a 25-man roster out of those available. For reference, here is MLBTR’s list of the remaining free agents.

Catcher – This is one position where the pickings are extremely slim, but the player available is not. Bengie Molina is the only remaining free agent catcher and despite having a relatively decent 2010 season (.249/.297/.326, 5 HR, 36 RBI) there hasn’t been much interest in him this winter. Part of that, however, are the rumors that he’s been contemplating retirement. Molina has, at least, been known to be good at handling a pitching staff so there’s some upside to him being our catcher here.

First BaseRussell Branyan makes the cut here, beating out Troy Glaus and Nick Johnson. Branyan struggles to get regular hits (.237/.323/.487) but still possesses some power (25 HR, 31 the year before) and he’s a decent defensive first baseman. Consistency has been an issue for him, however, as he’s played for six different teams since the start of the 2007 season. The alternatives aren’t significant as Glaus and Johnson both have long injury histories to consider.

Second Base – Every team needs someone scrappy, so insert David Eckstein as our second baseman here. The diminutive infielder has made a career out of being the underdog and continues to provide some value no matter where he’s played. Having just turned 36 (he and I share a birthday, which I did not know before) he’s likely slowing down some and may not have the range defensively to handle shortstop anymore but should be an adequate second baseman. The best alternative will actually slot in as our third baseman here, so we’ll get to him in a moment.

Third Base – Like behind the plate, the available third base options are very limited. Eric Chavez would be an easy choice had he been able to remain healthy throughout his career. However, by the same token, had injuries not been a problem he likely would not be available right now. So, third base goes to Willy Aybar. Aybar is certainly versatile, having spent time the past two seasons at every infield position but shortstop. At the plate the switch hitter is a career .258/.341/.399 hitter but has shown flashes of having some power potential.

ShortstopOrlando Cabrera is an easy choice here. The veteran shortstop may not have the offensive abilities he possessed early on in his career but is still respectable at the plate and in the field from a defensive standpoint. In 2010 he slipped to a .263/.303/.354 line – his lowest batting average since 2005 – and the Reds eventually decided to go another direction at shortstop considering they had some younger and cheaper internal options.

Outfield – Rather than limiting ourselves to an outfielder based on their primary position, we’re going to go with three outfielders from the available pool considering the frequency at which we see these guys move around. Looking at the names available there are two that easily stand out as choices here – Scott Podsednik and Lastings Milledge. Podsednik is likely the best leadoff type available and still has some of the speed that adds to his appeal (he’s averaged 30 stolen bases a year during his 10 year career). Milledge has long had potential that he’s been unable to reach in prior stops with the Mets and Pirates. However, he’s still young enough that he could realize some of that if given the opportunity. He’ll likely sign a minor league deal somewhere this month but for now, he’ll slot into our outfield here. For the third spot, we’re going to go with Gabe Gross. Like his counterparts here, he has some positional versatility having spent a great deal of time at each corner outfield position and he’s not inept at the plate (.239/.330/.385 career line). Other options each have their baggage – Jim Edmonds is likely to retire, Jose Guillen has long been known to be a clubhouse concern and can’t really play the field anymore, Gary Matthews Jr. seemed to forget how to play once he was given his last mega-contract by the Angels. Podsednik, Milledge, and Gross are the best of what’s available.

Designated Hitter – This was actually the easiest choice of the entire roster. In fact, if I felt he could still play the outfield on a regular basis then I likely would have slotted him in as our starting right fielder. But Vladimir Guerrero was an easy choice for DH, especially after the offensive season he managed in 2010. He turns 36 in a week but batted .300/.345/.496 with 29 HR and 115 RBI for the Rangers last year. Likely the only reason why he still remains available is the fact that he’s been seeking a lot of money from any team that has discussed signing him. That, coupled with the few available DH spots, has hurt his signability thus far but allows us to have a solid bat in the middle of our lineup here.

Bench – Filling out our bench is not going to be an easy task. In fact, in order to do so we’re going to have to rely on some guys to remain healthy. Glaus, for example, could backup at each corner infield position potentially while also spelling Guerrero at DH, so he will get one spot. Cristian Guzman will take another as we’ll likely want someone who backup at each middle infield position and he’d be a better option than Bobby Crosby or Julio Lugo. With two spots remaining on the bench we’ll take two outfielders who have some versatility in Ryan Church and Laynce Nix. Neither has overwhelmed from an offensive standpoint in their careers but are at least serviceable and are decent defenders. Church could also fill in as an emergency first baseman if needed.

Starting Rotation – For the sake of argument we’re going to assume that Pedro Martinez and Andy Pettitte will officially retire and not see a Major League pitching mound again. Ben Sheets would also be an easy choice, but he’s likely to miss the entire 2011 season recovering from injury so he’s out as well. Of course, that makes it a little more of a challenge to find a suitable starting rotation from the remaining free agent options. In a somewhat unexpected twist, we ended up with a decent balance of three four righties and two one lefty here. (Edit: I mistakenly considered one of our righties as a lefty. Sorry, Doug Davis.)

Kevin Millwood slots in as the staff ace here, which shows you what kind of options remain on the free agent market. The veteran has often been relied upon heavily by past teams but has never truly shown “ace material” in his career. He’s a workhorse, however, which is necessary for any team. Slotting in behind Millwood is actually a pitcher who was out of baseball for all of the 2010 season. He has not formally retired as of yet and there have been few rumors about him making a return in 2011. However, at 36 years old, we’re going to give Jarrod Washburn the #2 slot in our rotation to balance out the righties and lefties. Third on our list will be Jeremy Bonderman. The past few seasons have been a struggle for Bonderman as he’s battled some injuries and struggled to get back into form when he’s actually been on the field. However, when healthy, he still is a decent mid-rotation option. Our #4 is a pitcher similar to Millwood. Doug Davis is a veteran lefty workhorse who’s often been placed in situations where he’s been heavily relied upon.

Filling the fifth spot in the rotation became just a little trickier. In fact, my choices were narrowed down to two names who both will actually make the team – one as our fifth starter and the other as the long man out of the bullpen. The first of the two pitchers is John Maine. Like Milledge, he’s often shown flashes of potential without being able to live up to them thus far in his career. His 2010 season was cut short due to an injury the team’s manager and doctor’s found, despite Maine’s public objections to the matter. As a result some called into question his character but ultimately he wanted to keep pitching so you can’t question his dedication here. However, having an option certainly helps here which is why we’ll also be adding Alfredo Aceves to the roster. Aceves, who’s status for 2011 remains a question mark after an offseason injury during his rehab led to him being non-tendered by the Yankees, has been a solid pitcher over the past few seasons in New York. He’s primarily been working out of the bullpen but has often shown the ability to pitch long which shows he’d be able to handle starting on occasion.

Bullpen – The typical bullpen usually consists of seven arms, making for a 12-man pitching staff when you factor in the five starters. Since we’ve already filled the long reliever role we have six openings to fill here. To balance things out here we’re going to take five righties and one lefty.

Jeff Weaver and Dustin Nippert will get two spots. They’ve long flipped back and forth between the rotation and bullpen but have primarily been relievers in more recent years. Along with Aceves they give us another option to pitch extended innings so there is some extra value in that sense. The other three righties on staff will be Chad Durbin, Manny Delcarman, and Manny Corpas. All three have worked both as middle relievers and during the later innings of a game so we’re likely looking at sort of a closer by committee arrangement with the trio. None are really skilled to serve as our primary closer, although Corpas does have a little experience in the role, but together they could hold down the last few innings if needed. Our lone lefty will be Scott Schoeneweis. He’s struggled since the untimely death of his wife early in the 2009 season but he’s the best option available so he was an easy choice here.

Summary – So, in summation, we’re looking at a roster that looks as follows:

C: Molina SP: Millwood
1B: Branyan SP: Washburn
2B: Eckstein SP: Bonderman
SS: Cabrera SP: Davis
3B: Aybar SP: Maine
OF: Podsednik LRP: Aceves
OF: Milledge LRP: Weaver
OF: Gross MRP: Nippert
DH: Guerrero MRP: Schoeneweis
Bench: Glaus MRP: Delcarman
Bench: Guzman MRP: Durbin
Bench: Church CL: Corpas
Bench: Nix

Overall we’re not looking at a roster that is likely going to win the division (regardless of which division it played in) but the team should at least be respectable on the field. Offensively we’re limited from a power standpoint, with Guerrero the only true power threat in the middle of the lineup. The team would need to play more of a National League small-ball style in order to be successful. It doesn’t help that we don’t have a backup catcher either as it’s unlikely Molina could handle catching every inning of every game. Pitching wise there are some decent arms and certainly a few who can give us innings. But at the backend of the bullpen there definitely is a weakness with no true closer available.

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