After Jason Hammel (Kansas City Royals) and Sergio Romo (Los Angeles Dodgers) found new homes over the weekend, several well-known players are still trying to figure out where they will spend their spring and beyond. They include two ex-MVPs and two former Cy Young Award winners.
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Matt Wieters: Catchers with 20-homer potential and four All-Star Game invites on their resume can typically name their price when they hit the free agent market at 30. Not so for Wieters, whose performance declined after he underwent Tommy John elbow surgery in June 2014.
Wieters proved his durability by starting 111 games behind the plate last season, after totaling 77 the previous two years. He played well defensively while batting .243 with a .711 OPS, third lowest of his eight-year career.
Wieters has been seeking a long-term deal after accepting the Baltimore Orioles’ qualifying offer the previous year. The Los Angeles Angels, Colorado Rockies, Tampa Bay Rays, Milwaukee Brewers and Arizona Diamondbacks are among the clubs that need a catching upgrade, so there’s a market for Wieters. The question is which team will meet his asking price.
Chris Carter: The burly first baseman picked the wrong time to set career highs in home runs (41) and RBI (94). Carter, 30, led the NL with 206 strikeouts and, along with Mark Trumbo and Jose Bautista, found the free agent market no longer places a high value on sluggers with limited defensive skills. At a time when home run numbers have taken off in the game, merely hitting the ball over the fence is not enough.
Once regarded as a logical fit for the Rockies, who instead signed Ian Desmond, Carter is better suited to a DH role than playing first base. He has drawn some interest from the Rays and also teams in the Japanese league, but there may still be some stateside alternatives left, such as the Minnesota Twins, Chicago White Sox and Pittsburgh Pirates.
Mike Napoli: Known for his valuable clubhouse presence, Napoli fits into the same category as Carter, a right-handed slugger who could split time between first base and DH. Napoli, 35, enjoyed a career renaissance last year with the Cleveland Indians, setting personal bests with 34 homers and 101 RBI, but had to look for a new employer when the Tribe signed Edwin Encarnacion. The third tour of duty with the Texas Rangers seems likely.
Travis Wood: A starter during his first five seasons in the majors, Wood excelled out of the bullpen for the Chicago Cubs last year, leading them with 77 appearances and registering a 2.95 ERA. Wood, 30, stands to get a better payout as a starter – he had a 4.11 ERA over those five years in the rotation – and will have at least a couple of options for that role. Teams like the Houston Astros, Colorado Rockies, Minnesota Twins and Cincinnati Reds could be suitors.
Justin Morneau: The 2006 AL MVP has never been the same player since enduring concussion symptoms that forced him to miss large chunks of seasons. The last time he reached the 20-homer mark was 2009. But Morneau, 35, won a batting title with the Rockies in 2014 and could be a DH/bench contributor for a team looking for a left-handed bat.
Doug Fister: Uncharacteristic struggles with his control contributed to Fister’s elevated ERA (4.64) with the Astros last season, when he delivered 180 1/3 innings in 32 starts. It was his second season in a row with an ERA north of 4.00 after remaining below that figure for six consecutive years. At 33, Fister can still serve as a solid fifth starter, perhaps for the Pirates, Rockies or Twins.
Joe Blanton: After sitting out the 2014 season, Blanton remade himself as a reliever and enjoyed an excellent year in 2016 with the Dodgers, going 7-2 with a 2.48 ERA and making 75 appearances as their prime setup man. By agreeing to terms with Romo, the Dodgers appear to have closed the door on Blanton, 36, who is likely seeking a multiyear deal. He won’t go without a job this season.
Ryan Howard: A rookie of the year (2005) and MVP (’06) with the Philadelphia Phillies, Howard became an anvil on the rebuilding team because of his onerous contract. Now 37, Howard was encouraged to keep playing by his strong second half last year – posting a .932 OPS with 13 homers – and would be much less burdensome as a DH-1B at a low salary.
Jered Weaver: The former Angels ace averaged a 16-8 record, 205 innings and a 3.12 ERA from 2009-2014, but his velocity dipped and he became extremely hittable the last two seasons. Weaver, 34, said toward the end of the season he intends to pitch in 2017. He was linked early in the offseason to the San Diego Padres, who desperately need starters and play in his native Southern California.
Pedro Alvarez: Defensive struggles limit the options for the former National League home run champion, who played mostly as a DH and occasional third baseman with the Orioles last season. He can still pound right-handed pitchers, as evidenced by his 21 homers and .848 OPS in 334 plate appearances against them. Much like last year, when he signed with the Orioles in March, Alvarez may have to wait until his opportunity materializes.
Jake Peavy: The 2007 Cy Young winner with the Padres, Peavy is believed to be seeking a return to his original team, which could benefit from his veteran savvy and sound intensity. Peavy, 35, battled injuries and ineffectiveness the last two seasons with the San Francisco Giants, so much of his value, these days may be a mentor.
C.J. Wilson: The former Angels lefty sat out the 2016 season following shoulder surgery and could be done at 36, but he has experience starting and relieving, so he could still draw some attention if he can prove his arm is healthy. Wilson tweets frequently about auto racing, but on Jan. 18 he posted this: don’t throw so many sliders as a kid, your arm will be a lot better for it. And go run more, it’s good for you.
Tim Lincecum: The brutal results from his nine-start tenure with the Angels – a 9.16 ERA – would seem to indicate the career of the two-time Cy Young Award winner is over. But Lincecum, 32, had some bright postseason moments out of the bullpen while with the San Francisco Giants and will be nearly a year and a half removed from hip surgery. Somebody may take a flyer on him.