And you thought the economy was tough. Imagine being a stroll-in, first-ballot Hall of Famer whose best shot at getting paid to play baseball is in a beer league softball. Imagine hitting 27 home runs per 162 games, and playing Nintendo Wii in July. Or, how about watching your salary plummet from $11.5 to $1 million to, well, zero. These are the perils of the 2010 unwanted. These are Major League Baseball’s free agents who, despite having long and even successful careers, are unlikely to find jobs in 2010.
With top remaining free agents such as Johnny Damon and Chin-Ming Wang on the brink if being signed, here are the best 10 free agents who are least likely to land in the Big Show:
10) Alan Embree (40) – Embree, once a middle-of-the-road left-handed reliever, was below average in 2009. He pitched in 36 games allowing 16 earned runs in 24.2 innings. Though lefties are always a high priority, the Rockies declined his 2010 option and it’s likely, as has happened to many relievers plus-40, Embree will end up in the minors if anywhere.
9) Rocco Baldelli (28) – There have been whispers about the man originally dubbed the next Joe DiMaggio, but the Yankees filled their spots and rumors about other teams such as the Rangers and Mariners seem to have drifted away. Baldelli, who finished third in Rookie of the Year voting in 2003, had his career derailed by channelopathy, a cell disorder. The Boston Red Sox gave him a shot last season, but he struggled to stay on the field, playing in only 62 games. He hit .253 with seven home runs and 37 RBI.
8) Darin Erstad (35) – Erstad, a prominent member of the 2002 Anaheim Angles World Series winning team, is unlikely to find a home after a difficult 2009 season. Erstad played in 107 games (73 pinch hit appearances), managing a .268 on-base percentage, just two home runs and 11 runs batted in. He is no longer a threat on the base-paths or a gold glove candidate (though he’s won three, two in the outfield and one at first base). There were rumors the Marlins might peruse Erstad, but even if they do, it’s tough to see him making the team.
7) Nomar Garciaparra (36) – He once made $11.5 million, now he’s likely to make nothing. Nomar has played only 110 games in the past two seasons and hasn’t had an OBP over .350 since 2006. Injuries have whacked his seemingly Hall of Fame career. Another factor working against Roman-backwards is his lack of versatility. He is a DH at best, playing only 22 games in the field between first and third base for the Oakland A’s. Nomar is another spring invite possibility, but it’s difficult to envision any contending team taking chance on the once-great shortstop.
6) Garret Anderson (37) – We’ve heard some rumors about Anderson to the Dodgers, and with the loss of Juan Pierre leaving L.A., it’s possible. But, Anderson’s age, numbers and lack of range in the outfield make it likely that teams will look to bring up young players as fourth outfielders rather than one stuck being a pinch hitter. The Dodgers signed the more versatile Reed Johnson to take the fourth outfielder position earlier this off-season. On the positive, Anderson did play in 135 games last season for Atlanta, however, he managed just a .303 on-base percentage. Far below the National League average OBP of .331.
5) Troy Percival (41) – At one point, Percival was one of the most dominant relievers in Major League Baseball. He made an impressive comeback with St. Louis in 2007 and pitched well for portions of ’08 and ’09, but injuries are again taking their toll. Percival told ESPN.com he was unlikely to return to the majors.
4) Livan Hernandez (34?) – He’s listed as being 34-years old, I have the feeling he might be a little older. Livan sent a contract proposal to the Washington Nationals and never heard back. If the Nationals aren’t picking him up, no one is. Hernandez looked like he had some in the tank early in ’09, but toward the end of the season struggled. He finished 9-12 with a 5.44 ERA. If he has any shot, it will be starting in triple-A and getting a call-up due to an MLB injury.
3) Gary Sheffield (41) – Sheffield has a 50/50 shot at the hall, but a zero shot at finding a team in 2010. Sheffield, who was paid $14 million last season (most by the Detroit Tigers), he had an impressive .372 on-base percentage with 10 home runs and 40 RBI. But, after the All-Star game Sheffield had just 63 at-bats, zero home runs and only eight RBI. Sheffield’s outfield skills are so diminished, he’d be forced to be a DH, and even then, he’s likely to get hurt. After a stellar 21-year career, Shef will likely be forced to retire. He did, however, tell MLB.com’s Lisa Winston he’s ready for his 22nd season.
2) John Smoltz (42) – Smoltz told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that “nothing is closed.” But, despite some strong showings, Smoltz did end with a plus-6 ERA last season. More than 10 teams have “expressed interest” in Smoltz including the Cardinals, Yankees (who haven’t they expressed interest in?) Mets, Nations and Dodgers. Yet, it still appears unlikely this future Hall of Famer will find a spot, at least by April. Someone could get desperate by mid-season and give him a go. That appears the best case scenario for Smoltzy.
1) Hank Blalock (29) – Yes, he’s the one who averaged 27 home runs per 162 games over his up-and-down eight-year career. This is a tough one because we have to gauge the “best” player now compared to players who have been the “best” over their careers. Hank is the best free agent now who won’t find a job. At his height, Blalock was playing hero off Eric Gagne in the All-Star game, hitting 32 home runs and driving in 110. But, injuries struck Blalock in ’07 and ’08 and he is now considered too high risk for a big contract. Blalock did hit 25 home runs in 123 games in ’09, but, in the on-base percentage age, a .277 OBP just won’t cut it. MLB Trade Rumors Mike Axisa predicts a minor league contract. I say he gets an invite, but doesn’t make the cut.
I know what you’re thinking, “No Pedro!?!?” Well, Martinez gets left off the list because I believe he will find himself a job half way through the season as he did in ’09. Other marginal free agents left like Braden Looper, Chan Ho Park and Russell Branyan will land somewhere and likely make the opening day roster.
Matthew Coller is staff member of the Business of Sports Network and is a freelance writer. He can be followed on Twitter
Follow The Biz of Baseballl on Twitter
Follow the Business of Sports Network on Facebook