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No work, no play for unsigned free agents

Freese, Lincecum, Morneau among those still in need of jobs as spring games begin
MLB.com @castrovince

They're playing games -- real, live games with people in the stands and everything -- in the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues this week. And even if the games don't matter in the strictest sense and the guys in the starting lineups will be bowing out by the fifth inning or so, this is an exciting time for teams and fans alike.

But you know who's not excited? The remaining free agents who firmly expected to have a job by now. As we've discussed quite often in this space, there are more of them than usual, and there is some real and statistically justifiable ageism taking place on the open market.

They're playing games -- real, live games with people in the stands and everything -- in the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues this week. And even if the games don't matter in the strictest sense and the guys in the starting lineups will be bowing out by the fifth inning or so, this is an exciting time for teams and fans alike.

But you know who's not excited? The remaining free agents who firmly expected to have a job by now. As we've discussed quite often in this space, there are more of them than usual, and there is some real and statistically justifiable ageism taking place on the open market.

Hot Stove Tracker

Of course, things can and do happen that can alter a player's appeal. Case in point: Ian Desmond made a lot more sense for the Rangers once Josh Hamilton received a platelet-rich plasma injection in his left knee last week, necessitating eight weeks of recovery.

So here's a rundown of the "next line of defense," as it were. Taking the average of the Wins Above Replacement projections provided by Steamer and ZiPS, two well-regarded predictors available at FanGraphs, these are the 10 remaining free agents capable of providing the most positive impact in 2016.

Free-agent pitchers Mark Buehrle (1.7), Josh Johnson (1.0) and Eric Stults (0.7) all technically qualified for this list. But Buehrle has turned down one-year offers and is generally expected to retire or wait for an opportunity with his hometown Cardinals; Johnson is coming off his third Tommy John surgery; and Stults is reportedly mulling retirement or pitching in Japan.

Austin Jackson (1.4 projected WAR)
Interesting that the Rangers, with a hole in left field, signed a guy who has played only seven innings in the outfield and was tied to a Draft pick over Jackson. But Desmond simply has the better offensive track record.

Jackson, meanwhile, turned down an offer from the Angels that, according to our own Alden Gonzalez, would have been worth between $5 million and $6 million. A better guarantee, frankly, is going to be difficult to come by, but the Orioles, who were famously spurned by Dexter Fowler last week, and the Indians, who just saw Abraham Almonte suspended for 80 games, have outfield at-bats to account for (the Indians, however, are doubtful to commit any more Major League money to their roster).

David Freese (1.2)
Freese, the 32-year-old former World Series hero, has been left standing in the cold, and this is a simple matter of supply and demand. When the Angels pivoted to Yunel Escobar, the White Sox traded for Todd Frazier and the Indians signed Juan Uribe, the obvious third-base opportunities (especially in a market that included multiple rebuilding teams) were accounted for.

On paper, the Astros make the most sense as a team that could use Freese's right-handed bat on a platoon basis at third (Luis Valbuena struggles against lefties). But they're also a team not known for extraneous spending, and the Astros will likely want to see what they have in Jon Singleton, A.J. Reed, Tyler White, Matt Duffy and Colin Moran at first base this spring (Valbuena could be a fallback option at that position) before they'd be willing to commit Major League money to someone like Freese.

Justin Masterson (1.0)
The fall from grace was a remarkably rapid one for the soon-to-be-31-year-old Masterson, a 2013 All-Star who's turned in a 5.79 ERA in 188 innings over the past two seasons. His continued availability seems to point to an industry conclusion that either Masterson isn't healthy (he's dealt with knee and shoulder issues the past two years) or his mechanics are well out of whack. His decline in velocity and the shoulder situation both seem to stem from an initial knee issue early in 2014 that forced him to alter his mechanics, so the two issues are very much related.

Masterson appears bound for a Minor League invite at this point. Among expected contenders, the Yankees have one of the more clearly vulnerable rotation pictures.

Tim Lincecum (0.8)
The 31-year-old two-time National League Cy Young Award Award winner has been training in a secret location in Arizona as he recovers from hip labrum surgery and tries to get his career back on track. Lincecum will have a showcase for Major League clubs in Arizona in the near future (an exact date has not yet been announced), and reportedly more than half the big league clubs are expected to attend.

Given his past success, Lincecum's occasional flashes of excellence in recent seasons and even his bullpen potential, he is as intriguing a reclamation project as you could hope to find at this late stage. The question will be a matter of timing. Lincecum might not progress to mound work and build up tolerance in time to be an Opening Day rotation option, so we can't rule out the possibility that his free agency lingers into the regular season if he wants to wait for a legitimate starting opportunity.

Aaron Harang (0.8) and Randy Wolf (0.7)
These two are lumped together because there quite literally has been no word of a market for either one and they're both in their upper 30s, so it might be time to hang 'em up. Harang actually tied for the Phillies' lead in wins last season -- with six. He's had no better than a league-average ERA+ in any season since 2012. Wolf made a late-career comeback in Detroit last season when the Tigers were in a real bind, making for a good story but little statistical success.

Alfredo Simon (0.7)
Any positive projection associated with Simon is based on a surprisingly effective starting stint with the Reds in the first half of 2014, when he had a 2.70 ERA. Regression arrived in the second half of the season (4.52 ERA). Simon then had a decidedly mediocre '15 in Motown, where he compiled a 5.05 ERA in 187 innings.

Combine those numbers with his age (he'll be 35 in May), and it's hard to be overly optimistic about Simon returning to his early 2014 results. Even if injury presents itself in some camps, a needy team would have to be leery of the fact that 8.6 percent of fly balls allowed in his career have gone for home runs. So Simon is not a great fit in certain parks.

Justin Morneau (0.6)
Take the supply-and-demand issues that have clouded Freese's market, add in a healthy dose of concussion issues and you have Morneau's market -- or lack thereof. Tough to see the former American League MVP reduced to such a state in the marketplace -- especially just one year removed from his 2014 batting title with Colorado -- but Morneau again struggled to stay on the field in '15 and he's entering his age-35 year.

There simply weren't many first-base opportunities on the open market. The Yankees lost important depth when Greg Bird was ruled out for the season, but Alex Rodriguez's lack of a position in the field limits their roster flexibility. Maybe the Angels will come calling if Albert Pujols has a setback, but so far Pujols is ahead of schedule and is increasingly expected to be ready for Opening Day.

Pedro Alvarez (0.5)
Poor defense at third necessitated a move to first base, and the Pirates deemed Alvarez so frustrating there that they opted to non-tender him and replace him with John Jaso, who has basically never played there before. Alvarez is largely viewed as an AL-only player at this point, and teams have generally valued lineup flexibility over the positives of Alvarez's power production (career .441 slugging).

A possible -- though highly unlikely -- scenario is the Orioles putting Mark Trumbo in the outfield and signing Alvarez to be a designated hitter, now that Fowler's out of the mix. But the Orioles value defense as much or more than any other team. The Angels are another team in need of power that might conceivably have DH/1B at-bats available.

Marlon Byrd (0.5)
Another guy fighting ageism, as Byrd is a not-so-ripe 38. That limits the appeal of his power production (23 homers in 2015), because it's not easy to forecast him topping 20 again in '16, especially in limited time and with a decline in his average and on-base percentage last season. If Byrd is intent on continuing his career, he'll likely have to do so on a Minor League deal.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.