Dan's Dugout: Free Agency Still Flourishing • Latino Sports

Baseball

Dan’s Dugout: Free Agency Still Flourishing

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Contrary to popular opinion, the free agent market is alive and well.

With just a week before pitchers and catchers report, a dozen dynamic players remain unsigned and the list of athletes eligible next fall is mind-boggling.

Still unsigned are catcher Matt Wieters, a four-time All-Star; sluggers Pedro Alvarez, Chris Carter, and Ryan Howard; former batting champion Justin Morneau; lefthanded pitchers Travis Wood and C.J.Wilson; and righties Joe Blanton, Doug Fister, Jake Peavy, and Jered Weaver.

Mike Napoli might be headed back to Texas

Mike Napoli might be headed back to Texas

Add Mike Napoli and Jeff Francoeur to the group and the list becomes even more enticing.

Don’t think this is the Over the Hill Gang either. Carter blasted 41 home runs for the Brewers last summer, Wood pitched well as a swingman for the World Champion Cubs, and Blanton posted solid numbers while working 75 times as a set-up man out of the Dodger bullpen.

A cluster of contenders – or teams hoping to sneak into the wild-card competition – could use almost everyone on the list.

Weaver, for example, averaged 16 wins a year while pitching for the Angels from 2009-14. Peavy won a Cy Young Award for San Diego, a team that wants him back. And Wilson, like Wood, can serve as a starter, a reliever, or both. Coming off shoulder surgery that kept him sidelined for 2016 is the main rap against Wilson, who is also on the wrong side of 35.

Fister, 33, is three years younger. If he recaptures his previous penchant for throwing strikes, he’ll help somebody.

The Colorado Rockies, for example, always need pitching help. So do the Minnesota Twins,
Cincinnati Reds, New York Yankees, and Houston Astros, among others.

Finding the best bargain is always a challenge in the free-agent market. None of this year’s crop

Greg Maddux was the best pitcher ever plucked from free agency.  Photo by George Napolitano

Greg Maddux was the best pitcher ever plucked from free agency.
Photo by George Napolitano

is going to come close to the best signings of all time: future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux, inked by Atlanta after the 1992 campaign, and pseudo home run king Barry Bonds, who signed with San Francisco in the same month.

But wait! The 2017-18 Free Agent Class is packed with possibilities.

Headliners include second baseman Jose Altuve, arguably the best player in the American League not named Mike Trout; third baseman Mike Moustakas; outfielders Jose Bautista, Justin Upton, and Jayson Werth; catchers Yadier Molina and Jonathan Lucory; and pitchers Jake Arrieta, Madison Bumgarner, Chris Sale, and Masahiro Tanaka; plus closers Craig Kimbrel, Wade Davis, and Francisco Rodriguez.

It’s hard to imagine the St. Louis Cardinals without Molina, the San Francisco Giants without Bumgarner; or the Washington Nationals without Werth, who will be completing a seven-year contract.

But free agency is all about movement and surprises – sometimes eclipsed by trades of players before they can walk. Nobody wants to be left holding an empty bag.

At least, as equipment trucks make their way to spring training, no work stoppages are in sight. The sound of bat hitting ball will soon be echoing across Florida and Arizona; and the Summer Game is about to begin its slow, graceful arch across the calendar.

With so much turmoil elsewhere in the world, baseball will again serve as a pleasant diversion for millions.

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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