Best of the rest: Talented free agents still to be had
Santana, Cruz, Morales, Drew top list of players yet to sign a contract for 2014
Spring Training is moving along. Pitchers are sweating out fielding practice, hitters are starting to get in the cage, and managers are taking stock of what they've got to work with for the upcoming season.
Yet somehow, a handful of very good Major League players are without jobs. Yes, many of the best free agents are spoken for, including Ubaldo Jimenez, who agreed to a four-year deal with the Orioles on Sunday. But quite a few more are out there and will be playing a spring game of catch-up with their new clubs as soon as they sign.
Here are 10 still-available free agents to watch:
Ervin Santana, RHP: Now that Jimenez is signed, Santana is the next-best arm on the market, and he is perhaps the last one who can command a multiyear contract. Santana is 30 years old and pitched 211 innings for the Royals last year, compiling a 3.24 ERA. Santana has been linked of late to the Blue Jays and Mariners.
Nelson Cruz, OF: Will he go to the Mariners or the Mets or the Phillies? Will Cruz head back to the Rangers? It's tough to say for this 33-year-old who was suspended for 50 games last year for his involvement with the Biogenesis anti-aging clinic. Cruz can hit home runs, but his lack of defensive mobility might be causing teams to pause. It's still surprising that he hasn't signed somewhere yet.
Kendrys Morales, 1B/DH: Morales had a decent year for the Mariners in 2013 and is a valuable switch-hitter, but it's possible that he's still available because his signing will cost a team a Draft pick. Seattle seems to have moved on from Morales by keeping Justin Smoak while signing Corey Hart and trading for Logan Morrison. There hasn't been much talk about Morales lately.
Stephen Drew, SS: Drew, who will turn 31 next month, is a premier defensive shortstop who can occasionally get a big hit, like his homer in the World Series after an rough go of it at the plate in the playoffs. He proved last year with the Red Sox that he's still healthy, which makes it odd that a team hasn't snapped him up yet. That should change soon.
Chris Capuano, LHP: Yeah, he's 35, and yeah, he's had two Tommy John surgeries, but he's also left-handed and he still gets hitters out. Recent reports have the Mariners and the Red Sox as teams that are kicking the tires. Seattle could have the upper hand because the deeper Boston rotation might not be able to guarantee Capuano a regular every-fifth-day turn.
Joe Saunders, LHP: Saunders suffered through a tough summer with the Mariners last year, but some teams might still believe in the lefty's pitchability and know-how on the mound. The Orioles were believed to be interested in bringing back a guy who pitched very well for them down the stretch in 2012, but then they signed Jimenez and right-hander Suk-min Yoon. Might there be room for one more in the Baltimore rotation?
Kevin Gregg, RHP: Gregg, a veteran reliever, signed with the Dodgers on a Minor League deal late last winter, didn't make the team out of Spring Training, and ended up saving 33 games as the Cubs' full-time closer. In other words, even at the age of 36, there's still something left here, and Gregg can most likely be signed to an affordable deal.
Ryan Madson, RHP: The Angels signed Madson last year, taking a chance that the once-dominant Phillies late-innings arm would be ready following Tommy John surgery. It didn't happen because of complications, but recent reports have indicated that Madson has looked good in throwing sessions and that a Major League deal isn't out of the question. Stay tuned.
Joel Hanrahan, RHP: Hanrahan used to gas it up to close to 100 mph when closing games for the Pirates, but he blew out his elbow with Boston last year and is trying to make it back. The latest news here is that Hanrahan is still working to get back to top shape and could be ready to showcase his talents for multiple teams in workout sessions in March.
Oliver Perez, LHP: Perez flamed out as a starter, but with the help of the Mariners, he reinvented himself as a lefty specialist out of the bullpen and has had success. That's why it's surprising that he hasn't landed anywhere yet, but it should happen soon. Recent reports indicated that Perez is deciding among offers from four teams.