Roundtable: Impact players left?

With a few short weeks before the start of spring training, more than three dozen free agents remained unsigned. Besides Roger Clemens--who seems sure to play at least part of 2007--which remaining free agent is most likely to make an impact for someone this season?

This week alone saw several prominent players come to terms, including Jeff Weaver and Preston Wilson. Of course, writers in this roundtable discussion mentioned both.

Baseball's Remaining Free Agents (as of Jan. 28, 2007)

FIRST BASEMEN: Phil Nevin (Minn), Eduardo Perez (Sea), Brian Jordan (Atl)
SECOND BASEMEN: Ronnie Belliard (St. L), Jose Vizcaino (St. L), Eric Young (Tex)
THIRD BASEMEN: Fernando Tatis (Balt), David Bell (Milw)
CATCHER: Chris Widger (Balt), Sandy Alomar Jr (ChW)
OUTFIELD: Shannon Stewart (Minn), Bernie Williams (NYY), Todd Hollandsworth (Cinc), Ricky Ledee (NYM), Michael Tucker (NYM), Jeromy Burnitz (Pitts), Preston Wilson (St. L), Steve Finley (SF)
STARTING PITCHERS: LHP Bruce Chen (Balt), LHP Mark Redman (KC), RHP Rick Helling (Milw), RHP Steve Trachsel (NYM), RHP Jeff Weaver (St. L), LHP Sterling Hitchcock (SD), RHP Chan Ho Park (SD), RHP Tony Armas Jr. (Wash)
RELIEVERS: RHP Dustin Hermanson (ChW); LHP Ron Villone (NYY), LHP Eddie Guaradado (Cinc), LHP Kent Mercker (Cinc), RHP Mike DeJean (Col), RHP Matt Herges (Fla), RHP Dan Kolb (Milw), RHP Yusaku Iriki (NYM), LHP Arthur Rhodes (Phil), RHP Rick White (Phil), RHP Rudy Seanez (SD)

Jerry Beach,
Boston Red Sox

Ronnie Belliard has none of the red flags usually associated with players who remain unsigned deep into the winter. He's relatively young (32 in April), has been a durable and productive full-time player on both sides of the ball for several years — he's played in at least 140 games in each of the last three years, during which he's hit .279 and averaged 14 homers, 72 RBIs and 13 errors per season — and he manned second base down the stretch last season for the World Champion Cardinals.

But this was a lean market for second basemen: The Cardinals (Adam Kennedy) and Cubs (Mark DeRosa) were the only teams to dip into free agency for new starters at second, the Padres (Marcus Giles) and Indians (Josh Barfield) traded for starters and teams such as the Red Sox and Braves elected to fill vacancies with homegrown youngsters. But Belliard can still be a smart signing for a team in need of a utility infielder (he's also played third base) or a club with an unproven or underwhelming second baseman. Don't be surprised if he gets at least 400 at-bats with his next team.

Brian Walton,
St. Louis Cardinals

Jeff Weaver – Many clubs have shied away from the fallen Angel for good reason, as his failings in New York are also well-remembered. Yet, under the tutelage of the Cardinals' even-keeled pitching coach Dave Duncan, Weaver showed marked improvement from last August on.

He kept the ball down, minimized damage done by lefties and did a better job of controlling his emotions. Anyone watching the fifth game of the 2006 World Series witnessed what can happen when Weaver puts it together.

Scott Boras, may have been trying to manufacture a bidding war for the 30-year old, eight-year veteran but he signed a one-year deal with the Seattle Mariners. It could be a deal that pays dividends for the AL West squad.

James Renwick,
Arizona Diamondbacks

There are two ways to answer this question. One, which free agent would most affect the team he left, and two, which free agent could help a team most if he signed. So there are two answers.

The answer to the first question is Jeff Weaver. No one is going to be deluded into thinking Weaver is suddenly going to fulfill the promise he held back when he was the rising star and ace of the Detroit Tigers staff back when they couldn't possibly be World Series contenders. Nonetheless, the Cardinals starting rotation has been decimated, and losing Weaver, as they did on Monday, might just put them in the poor house. Dave Duncan is the best pitching coach in the National League (now that Mr. Mazzone has left Atlanta for the soft shell Orioles), but there has to be some measure of talent for him to work with, and even if the Cardinals move Adam Wainwright to the rotation, Weaver was a necessary cog in the wheel.

The other option is probably less obvious. Eddie Guardado is a veteran, he has a proven track record as a closer, and he's on his last legs. Guardado is also a lefty. He has pitched in pressure situations, he's Latin, he's perfect…for the New York Mets. Guardado isn't going to close for the Mets, or at least he won't for the majority of the season. But Guardado is going to go to New York, he's going to be a solid seventh and eighth inning guy, he's going to get Barry Bonds out once or twice, and Ryan Howard out seven or eight times, in pressure situations, and when Billy Wagner spends two weeks on the shelf in late August, Guardado is going to step in and go seven for eight in save chances and keep the Mets atop the NL East. And every team that thinks about signing him, but decides he isn't worth the $2 million one-year deal he's going to get from New York, will weep.

Jason Cole,
Texas Rangers

Former White Sox closer Dustin Hermanson could make a huge impact on a Major League team in 2007. The 34-year-old hurler was phenomenal for the White Sox in 2005, as he saved 34 games in 39 attempts while posting a 2.05 earned run average. Don't think that Hermanson's 2005 season was a fluke, either. A starting pitcher for much of his Major League career, Hermanson converted 17-of-20 save opportunities with the San Francisco Giants in 2004.

Back problems caused the right-hander to sit out for the majority of the 2006 season, but Hermanson returned to action in September and figures to be ready for opening day of the 2007 campaign. Any team that takes a chance on Hermanson with a one-year, incentive-laden deal should be pleased at the end of the season.

Chuck Hixson,
Philadelphia Phillies

Tony Armas. The 28-year-old right-hander didn't put up the sort of stats in 2006 that would make teams drool over him. The good news is that in the final month of the season, Armas seemed to be turning things around, posting a 4.09 ERA in six starts for the Washington Nationals.

Armas has had some arm problems in the past, but appears to be over any problems and should be 100 percent for the upcoming season. At this point, he'll be relatively cheap and with teams looking for pitching, Armas would be a nice addition at a good price.

Denis Savage,
San Diego Padres

Has the star that was once Preston Wilson fallen so far that he does not deserve a shot somewhere in the baseball universe?

While there is no doubt that he strikes out a ton, the former first round pick has to be able to help a team in need of a power outfield bat. He has averaged over 23 homers since 1999 and is a solid run producer, punching in an average of 82.5 over that same span.

The St. Louis Cardinals signed Wilson, who has never been outside the National League during his career, on Monday. The World Series Champions just received an offensive boost.

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