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Still Looking For 2011 Homes

Spring training is about a month away, and there is still talent out on the open market. Looking through the list of remaining players, here are 10 that should get signed between now and then:

RHP Justin Duchscherer - Injuries are Justin's big problem, but when he is healthy, he is productive. Perhaps a return to the bullpen (where he made his first All Star appearance) would be good for him. Ducscherer's best weapon is pin-point accuracy, so he has a chance to age well. He will be 33 years old in 2011, so it's worth thinking what kind of pitcher he will be like as he loses velocity. Justin's recent injury history will probably limit him to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training, but if he's healthy he is a candidate to break camp with whatever team that signs him.

  • UPDATE: Duchscherer signed a 1-year MLB deal with the Orioles on February 4, reportedly with a base salary of $700,000 that could escalate to $4.5 million if all incentives are reached.

DH Vladimir Guerrero - Even though Guerrero certainly is showing signs of his age, I can't believe he is still a free agent. He probably only makes sense for an American League club these days, but could you imagine him as a pinch hitter? Would any pitcher really want to see him enter the on-deck circle? He's still Vlad the impaler, no matter how old he gets, and he's still liable to swing at anything thrown - and square it up. Some team with playoff aspirations should sign this guy.

  • UPDATE: Guerrero is set to sign a 1-year, $8 million contract with the Orioles once he passes a physical, according to reports.

INF Jerry Hairston - Middle infield depth is always good, and Hairston is the perfect AAAA type of backup. He has experience, will provide a professional at-bat, and play solid defense up the middle. It isn't flashy, but helpful. I'm not sure why a contender hasn't picked him up for added depth yet.

  • UPDATE: Just two days after this post, Jerry signed with the Nationals for $2 million, with the potential to earn $1 million more in incentives.

OF Scott Hairston - Scott struggled through a tough season at the plate, which is probably one of the bigger reasons he is a free agent right now. However, he played his home games in spacious PETCO Park, and his BABIP was .236 (versus a career mark of .278.) With a little regression to the mean on his balls in play, and home games in a little more hitter-friendly confines, Hairston could bounce back to be a league-average hitter. Combine that with league-average defense, and Scott is a league-average player. Average isn't sexy, but we are talking about the chance to pick up a potentially serviceable everyday player for next to nothing at this point in free agency. Scott is a player every team should be looking at.

DH Nick Johnson - Whenever Nick is healthy, he is one of the best hitters in baseball, bar none. He sees a ton of pitches, and knows how to slash gaps when he sees an offering to his liking. The problem is that Johnson has a long, long injury history. It is safe to assume that he will miss a huge chunk of the season. Still, if I were a team like the Mariners, I would have signed Nick before Jack Cust. Somebody should take a chance on his health at this point, because I'm pretty sure he will be so cheap that the benefit easily outweighs the risk.

OF Lastings Milledge - It is hard to believe that Milledge is only 25 years old, but he is. Furthermore, for all his troubles, his WAR numbers each year suggests that he has at least been a serviceable bench player every year in the majors. Lastings is young enough to still dream on a little. In the right situation, he might still blossom. Some team without much to lose should give him a little guaranteed money, and see what happens.

INF Nick Punto - I am quite surprised that Punto is still available. He is what he is - an aging, no-hit, slick-glove infielder. I don't see any real reason he shouldn't put up numbers next year similar to 2010, and that is definitely good enough to make him a nice utility player. Much like Jerry Hairston, Punto should find a home on some contender.

  • UPDATE: Punto signed a 1-year, $750,000 deal with the Cardinals on January 22, presumably to be a reserve infielder. Why didn't they just keep Brendan Ryan?

DH Manny Ramirez - Manny comes with a well-documented attitude, but he also still possesses a tremendous bat. If his head is on halfway straight, he is still a viable force in the middle of any lineup. Somebody needs to make him their DH. Any marriage with Manny could go sour, but I'm not sure a season provides enough time. He looks to me like a player where everyone will debate how much his attitude could bring a team down, and then once he starts spraying drives all over the field, people will remember just how good of a hitter he is.

  • UPDATE: Ramirez officially signed with the Rays on February 1, reportedly for only $2 million!

RHP Chris Ray - The past couple seasons have been odd for Ray. He seems to have recovered from arm surgery well, as his velocity hasn't dropped in the couple seasons he's been back. However, he was horribly unlucky in 2009, and then quite lucky in 2010. Chris lived on batted balls as his strikeout rate dropped considerably, even without a change in velocity. According to pitch f/x data, the culprit might be a curve ball he debuted this past season, which more or less took the place of his splitfinger. A team might be able to sign Ray, coax him to use his splitfinger again, and get themselves a nice arm for the back end of their bullpen.

  • UPDATE: The Mariners signed Ray to a minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training on January 25.

C Gregg Zaun - The ageless catching wonder is still available, and for cheap. All he does is give a team professional at-bats with the sage tricks behind the plate that come with experience. At 40 years old, Zaun is no catcher of the future, but he would make a great back-up (and even a decent part-time starter) for a number of teams.

  • UPDATE: Zaun signed a minor league deal with the Padres on January 19, where he will battle with old friend Rob Johnson for a spot on the opening day roster.

There are other free agents out there that should sign with someone in the next month. This is simply a list of some of them, particularly ones that are not getting talked about all that much. I like the chances of somebody on this list playing a big enough role on some team to make people ask how nobody thought to pick him up sooner.