Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Keith Law ranks Reds free agents

There isn't a lot of star power available in the free agent market this time around, but there are plenty of quality role players. Keith Law of ESPN.com recently noted this while compiling his list of the Top 50 Free Agents in the 2012-13 class. Three players who were members of last year's Reds squad landed in the rankings and here is a look at what Law had to say about them:

#41 Jonathan Broxton

After Broxton returned in the NL in July, his ground-ball rate dropped closer to his career norm while his strikeout rate jumped and he stopped walking guys.

The sample with Cincinnati was smaller, but he was much more aggressive when behind in the count after the move from Kansas City, especially when he was in a three-ball count. (Interesting if possibly meaningless factoid: Broxton walked just one batter in his last 18 appearances of the year.)

His slider still isn't back to where it was before his injury, but he has shown he can pitch more effectively with his fastball than he has in years, and if the slider should return he could be worth up to two wins above replacement.

#27 Ryan Ludwick

Ludwick's performance in 2012 produced the second-best WAR of his career (per FanGraphs), after his extreme outlier season in 2008, but this time around it looks just as unsustainable. He fattened up on a lot of weak pitching in 2012, especially within the NL Central, and is very vulnerable to off-speed stuff, especially changeups.

He's a below-average defender in left, good enough to fill the position but a net negative once he's there. If he's challenged by better competition and has a little less randomness go his way, he'll be back to extra-outfielder status this year.

#21 Ryan Madson

Madson seemed like a better bet than most relievers to stay healthy when he signed a once-year deal with Cincy last winter, but he blew out his elbow before ever throwing a pitch for the Reds and now reenters the market off a lost season.

Before his injury, Madson had evolved into a mostly two-pitch reliever, with an above-average fastball at 92-95 mph and a plus-plus changeup with great deception and late downward action. He'll mix in the occasional cutter to keep hitters off his four-seamer, but it's nothing more than a show-me pitch to mess with hitters' minds.

He'll probably need lighter handling in his first full year back from Tommy John surgery, and his control might take some time to fully return, but by the second year he should be back to his pre-injury form and workload.

Other notable players who made the cut include Cincinnati native Kevin Youkilis (#24) and former Reds Jonny Gomes (#44), Jeff Keppinger (#40), and Kyle Lohse (#6). A guy who the team is rumored to be interested in, OF Michael Bourn, occupied the #4 slot.

So, what should Cincinnati do with regards to these players? Here is my take for what it's worth.

I wouldn't even entertain the thought of bringing Madson back unless it's at a rock-bottom price. The fact that he's recovering from major reconstructive arm surgery in addition to his age (32) makes him a risky investment indeed. The Reds bullpen has shown to be just fine without him and that didn't even include a healthy Nick Masset and Bill Bray this year.

Ludwick is a guy who I would pursue very hard if I were GM Walt Jocketty. With that being said, I would also proceed with caution. Ludwick posted a level of production well above his career norm in '12 and that makes me a little nervous to immediately reward him with a multi-year deal worth well more than what he is accustomed to making. There is no guarantee that he will repeat that kind of success in 2013, but I would be willing to roll the dice on him as long as the contract was in reason.

The decision on whether or not to bring Broxton back was probably made at the time they traded for him. The club likely saw him as a "rental" player and have no intention of re-upping him for future seasons. He provided insurance to the league's top bullpen for the last two months of the season and proved to be a valuable asset to have. However, it is unclear how he would fit into next year's picture once Masset returns and the Reds decide on what to do with Chapman (reliever or starter?). And above all, Broxton's services are wanted by much more than just Cincy's. The big right-hander is probably looking to be the closer somewhere and he is going to warrant that type of money no matter where he goes. Broxton may be a perfect example of being "over-qualified" for the Reds to bring back as a middle relief guy and/or setup man.

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