The Five Players You Meet In Free Agency

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The names change, but the faces at the bottom of free agent lists remain the same.

In this morning's Mug I mentioned that Matthew Pouliot of Hardball Talk has released his annual free agent rankings. 150 players are ranked this year and Yuniesky Betancourt, the lowest-ranked 2013 Brewer, is 130th. As I should have expected, today's first Mug comment wondered how 20 players could be below Yuni. After all, it's strongly possible Yuni is the least valuable position player in Brewers franchise history.

Personally I would've ranked Yuni lower, but that's not the point of this post. Instead, I'd like to take a look at the 20 players ranked below him, and the five categories they all fit into:

Never Quite Caught On

2013 examples: Reliever Alfredo Aceves, third baseman Wilson Betemit, pitcher John Lannan, outfielder Andres Torres

At one point there was a fair amount of hope surrounding this guy. He may have been a top prospect (Baseball America ranked Betemit #8 overall in 2002) or a minor league standout, but he came to the big leagues and something was different. He struggled under the spotlight.

Now he's been toiling in the majors for years as a fringe player, and fans who remember his hype use his name as a synonym for failure. Of the five guys here, he's perhaps the most likely to be a productive big leaguer again: All it would take is the coach that can correct his mechanical flaw or the teammate that teaches him a new grip for his off-speed pitch. Until then, though, he'll remain semi-anonymous and a cautionary tale about treating young players as sure things.

Walking Wounded

2013 examples: Pitchers Brett Myers, Jeff Karstens, Frank Francisco, Clayton Richard and Rich Hill, outfielder Grady Sizemore

This guy had some solid seasons in the upper minors or majors, giving him some glory years to tell his kids and grandkids about. Recently, though, he's spent more time around surgeons and trainers than his teammates.

If he could go back half a dozen years, he'd be one of the hottest free agents on the market. Now, though, he's just as likely to spend the whole season on the DL as he is to provide marginal improvement to your roster, so teams are unlikely to take more than a minor risk when signing him.

(For what it's worth, I singled out Richard as a possible fit for the Brewers last week.)

Likely Retirements

2013 examples: Infielders Placido Polanco and Jamey Carroll, outfielders Juan Pierre and Reed Johnson, pitchers Roy Oswalt and Octavio Dotel.

This guy could and perhaps should have retired a year ago. He came back for one more payday and had a major league season that ranks among his worst. He's had big years: All Star appearances, postseason moments, days where everyone knew who he was. Now, though, he's a role player at best and his new team's fans will have to be reminded he's still around.

As a role player this guy may have some value. Often, though, he's more likely to retire than accept a bargain basement salary to sit on someone's bench.

Struggling Imports

2013 examples: Pitchers Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tsuyoshi Wada

This guy has a lot in common with "Never Quite Caught On," but the fact that his original MLB team won a bidding war to bring him to the US adds a layer of intrigue and challenge. He could be an interesting player to watch in a US spring training, but he's also 10,000 miles from home and it'd be understandable if he'd rather go back to the site of his original success.

Sometimes he finds the right fit, turns his MLB career around (see Nomo, Hideo) and goes on to have several more productive seasons. He's more likely, though, to struggle for another team or return to the Far East.

Backup Catchers

2013 examples: Catchers Yorvit Torrealba and Wil Nieves

At some point, someone will need this guy. He sprang from the womb with a catcher's mitt on and caught a bullpen session later that month, the first of thousands in his career. Maybe he was a dangerous hitter and a big league regular at one point. Now, he's only likely to see game action when your regular catcher needs a day off. On those days he won't embarrass himself behind the plate, but you may not want to watch when he's batting.

He'll have no problem finding a job before spring training, when everyone needs an extra catcher. He's unlikely at best to add any major value to your team, though.

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