2012 Free Agent Class – Hitters

It’s August in Cincinnati, which means that I’m already thinking about 2012 for the Bengals…and now the Reds.  So, who is going to be out there this winter, not only for the local team, but for everyone?  Below are some names to keep an eye on going forward, as they could be traded if they clear waivers, and they will be the talk of the town when football is over and baseball becomes relevant again…Oh, to be a baseball fan when it mattered…(ages are Opening Day 2012)

Catchers: A weak group but a couple of difference makers if a team needs offense or veteran leadership

* Ryan Doumit, 31-years-old: Doumit has club options for 2012 and 2013 that MUST be picked up after the 2011 season.  The only issue is that they are for $7.25 and $8.25 million.  My guess is he isn’t going to get that when a guy like Mike Napoli will earn about the same in arbitration and be younger and healthier.  However, Doumit is a solid option for about $10 million over 2 years if he does become a Free Agent.  He can catch, play right or first, so his versatility makes him very useful.  Needless to say (he played in just 124 in 2010 and just 49 so far in 2011), Doumit won’t play 162 games in a season, but he would post a solid .269/.333/.439 line with 33 doubles and 18 homers

*Ramon Hernandez, 35-years-old: Hernandez is old but he has been very productive while splitting catching duties with Ryan Hanigan in Cincinnati.  He won’t be back in Cincy with Mesoraco and Grandal on the way, but he would be a great player to have around with another young catcher or another veteran to share time.  Since the start of the 2010 season, Hernandez is hitting .295 over 573 at bats with 30 doubles, 18 homers and 81 RBI while throwing out 36% of base stealers with just 3 passed balls.  He is still useful and could get one-year deals for the next three winters before disappearing into the sunset.

First Base: I’m not talking about Pujols and Fielder.  If you don’t know that they are going to be free agents, go get on the short bus or find a soccer website.  Tool.  There are some useful players coming available, though, who won’t set franchises back with enormous contracts.

* Casey Kotchman, 29-years-old: Talk about a deal, Kotchman was signed to a one-year, $750,000 deal by the Rays for 2011.  He’ll make a lot more than that this winter.  Kotchman is finally reaching a point of productivity that makes him become an every day player.  While he still isn’t hitting for power, he is getting on base.  His .326/.385/.459 is complemented by his 23 doubles, 8 homers, and 41 RBI.  His numbers could have been a little more impressive if he wasn’t sharing first with Dan Johnson earlier in the year.  Kotchman is an ELITE defensive first baseman, so if he continues to be productive going forward, even as a slap-hitter, he would be an excellent signing.

* Jim Thome, 40-years-old: Why not play one more season?  Thome could DH or be hidden defensively at first by a National League team.  He is still very productive and he is a great clubhouse guy.  Thome is hitting .270 with 28 doubles, 37 homers and 99 RBI in his 474 at bats since the beginning of 2010.  He is making $3 million this season.  He could double that this offseason.

Second Base: Ugly.  There are some guys with options (Brandon Phillips, Aaron Hill, Robinson Cano) but there isn’t much here.

* Kelly Johnson, 30-years-old: Johnson has ripped 46 extra-base hits this season, BUT…he has struck out in nearly 31% of his at bats and he was hitting .209/.287/.413 when he was traded from Arizona to Toronto on Tuesday for Aaron Hill and John McDonald.  Johnson seems to be an every other year player (similar to Aubrey Huff) after having less than stellar seasons this year and in 2009, while having All-Star worthy seasons in 2008 and 2010.  He is still young enough to contribute, but he’ll have to take a one-year deal to show that he can still do it.  He would be a solid fit for Florida or the Dodgers in 2012.

*Jose Lopez, 28-years-old: Shouldn’t he be, like, 35 by now?  He has been around forever!  His stock has fallen in recent years, but he is just two seasons removed from slugging 42 doubles, 25 homers and 96 RBI while playing half of his games in Seattle (his 2009 stats).  He has been playing second for the Marlins after playing third almost exclusively in 2010, so he is building some versatility value now.  He could be a nice stopgap for several teams.

Third Base: More gross players with just a couple of exceptions…

* Aramis Ramirez, 33-years-old: A-Ram is having a great season but a season that isn’t worthy of his $16 million option for 2012 for the Cubs.  When they pay a $2 million buyout, he’ll head to the Angels, where he will get a contract that he isn’t worth: see Hunter, Torii or Wells, Vernon, as players they like to collect.  Ramirez has guaranteed himself about $50 million this winter with his .311/.356/.530 line, and as third base continues to weaken, his value will only increase towards November.

* Wilson Betemit, 30-years-old: Betemit is useful because he can play anywhere in the infield, though his range at short would be Jeter-esque.  He has played in 162 games since the beginning of 2010 and he has hit .293 with 39 doubles, 18 homers and 82 RBI.  Plug him in and see what he can do.  He just needs a full-time gig at second or third now.

Shortstop: Jose Reyes, Jimmy Rollins, and…a bunch of leftovers.  Really, only two other “regulars” in…

* Rafael Fucal, 34-years-old: If a G.M. signs Furcal and thinks that he is going to play more than 120 games, the owner of the team needs to punch him in the throat.  Furcal is great…when he is on the field.  He would be a good player for the Cardinals to re-sign, for the Reds to sign to play in front of Zack Cozart (which they would until Furcal gets hurt because Dusty Baker is an assclown and doesn’t like young players), or to Milwaukee if they let Betancourt walk.  And…

* Alex Gonzalez, 35-years-old: Going into Edgar Renteria mode, signing on with contenders or ending up on one in a trade, Gonzalez still has pop, posting 61 doubles, 34 homers and 131 RBI since the beginning of 2010.  His glove is still solid, too, as his .982 fielding percentage is better than the league average of .971 for shortstops.  Probably a one-year deal type of guy until he hangs ‘em up.

Outfielders: Guys with options who may not have them picked up include: Grady Sizemore, Nate McLouth, and Nick Swisher.  Solid bats outside of Carlos Beltran, include:

* Michael Cuddyer, 33-years-old: The guy does it all.  He has played right, first, second, and pitched an inning this year!  Cuddyer has been one of the more productive Twins hitters for the last six seasons, completely disregarding, because I choose to, a horrendous 2008 season.  He is a super-utility-all-star.  He clearly is a team player and would make a great addition to any team.  His bat is just icing on the one night stand, err, cake.

* Josh Willingham, 33-years-old: An .838 OPS in 2,588 career at bats is about all that you need to know.  Willingham has been very productive when he gets at bats.  He is one of the hottest hitters in baseball since the All-Star break, posting 11 homers and a .968 OPS.  Someone should have taken him out of the craphole of Oakland at the deadline.  Having played for the Marlins, Nationals, and A’s, it would be very interesting to see what he could do in a hitter’s park.

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