MLB Offseason: Texas Longhorn free agents

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Major League Baseball’s GM meetings take place next week in Orlando, Florida. On Dec. 9, the annual Winter Meetings will kick off in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. These next few weeks are some of the craziest in the baseball year. There is expected to be a flurry of free agent signings almost immediately. The landscape of the league figures to look quite different by Opening Day 2014. Here are three former Texas Longhorn players who are currently free agents.

JP Howell—Relief Pitcher
2013 team: Los Angeles Dodgers
Previous contract: One year $2.85 million guaranteed, with $1.75 million in potential incentives

Howell is coming off an excellent 2013 season in Los Angeles. The 30-year-old southpaw posted a 2.03 earned run average in 62 innings. In those innings, he surrendered just 42 hits and featured a solid 2.35 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He’s a lefty specialist, and there isn’t a team in the majors that couldn’t use one. He doesn’t have plus velocity—he generally hits about 87 to 90 mph on his fastball—but this can really sneak up on hitters because he does have a dazzling off-speed repertoire. He is looking for a multi-year deal, and I think he gets it for around 4 to 6 million dollars per year. It’s likely the Dodgers, with their limitless cash, will re-sign Howell.

Drew Stubbs—Centerfielder
2013 team: Cleveland Indians
Previous contract: One year $2.825 million, with $50,000 in potential incentives

Stubbs can be a decent asset to a contending team off the bench, but he won’t get paid much this offseason. In 2013, he hit .233 with 10 home runs and 45 runs batted in. So he’s got some pop and also has an ability to spray the ball to all fields to drive in runs. The glaring problem is his atrocious strikeout rate. In 430 at bats, he fanned 141 times—that’s a whopping 32.7 percent. He does take walks at a respectable rate of 10.2 percent.

If he wants a chance to start in center field, Cleveland is about as good a team as he can be on. Otherwise, he’ll be in the dugout most of the time. His career .310 on base percentage is just far too low to merit consistent time with any contender.

Brandon Belt—First Baseman
2013 team: San Francisco Giants
Previous contract: One year, $531,500

Belt is far and away the best former Longhorn player in the majors right now. For just over $500,000, the Giants got a tremendous bargain for Belt’s production last season. Last season, he finished with a .289 batting average in 509 at bats. He hit 17 home runs and drove in 67 RBI. His OBP was a solid .360, so he takes his fair share of walks as well. He was also effective defensively at first base.

He is a left-handed power bat, and many teams envy a hitter who brings that to the table. Now, if the Giants want him to stick around, it’s time for them to pay up—Belt more than deserves it. But he’s been given one-year deals for the last three seasons and may want to get out of San Francisco for a bit to test his interest on the market. With his 2013 numbers, he’s earned a more secure and lucrative contract, maybe in the neighborhood of two to three years, 5 to 7 million dollars per year. The Giants likely have the room to re-sign him if they choose to.