Boston Red Sox: 5 Under the Radar Free Agents Who Paid off
By now there's not one Red Sox fan who needs to be reminded of the free agent disappointments of the past.
Mike Cameron, John Lackey, Julio Lugo and Edgar Renteria. Everyone knows who they are, what they cost and what the results were. It's been harped on and regurgitated for years.
In lieu of some recent low-profile signings, it's worth noting that historically the Red Sox have gotten some decent returns from the less heavily hyped free agent signings.
Cody Ross, Nick Punto and Vincente Padilla. All of these players will enter Spring Training with tempered expectations. They don't come with perennial all-star resumes, highlight footage on Youtube or endless platitudes from baseball experts new and old.
They won't all work out either, or maybe they will? One thing is for sure they're all fairly low-risk financially and if they do in fact break out with decent seasons, then that will be a nice feather in the cap of new general manager Ben Cherington.
Who are some of the better "bargain" free agents in recent Red Sox history?
Alfredo Aceves 2011
Last year, the Adrian Gonzalez trade and Carl Crawford signing dominated the coverage of the Red Sox during the offseason.
The Red Sox got about what they expected from Gonzalez, who made the All-star team, won a Gold Glove and finished seventh in the MVP voting.
Crawford was a well-documented disappointment.
For a mere $635,000 Alfredo Aceves probably provided the highest overall return on investment.
The versatile pitcher made 55 appearances and started four games. He had a 10-2 record and an earned run average of 2.61.
In a year of multiple pitching disappointments, Aceves stood out as one of the very few members of the Red Sox staff that exceeded expectations.
It was such a nice season that Aceves may have a shot at a spot in the Red Sox starting rotation this coming season. Even if he doesn't start, another season similar to last year's will net Aceves a considerable raise the next time his contract comes up.
Hideki Okajima 2007
Hideki Okajima was one of the best short-relief pitchers in baseball for two years.
The team may have clung to Okajima for too long waiting for him to regain the form that made him nearly untouchable in the 2007 season, but that doesn't change the reality that Hideki Okajima was a very good late-inning relief pitcher at one point.
On Nov. 30, 2006, Theo Epstein signed Okajima for two years at $2.5 million. That first season he was both an all-star and finished sixth in the Rookie of the Year voting. He was a dominant short-relief pitcher that played a key role in both the march to a World Series title in 2007 and the team that made it to game seven of the ALCS in 2008.
Okajima fell off considerably and eventually was released by the Red Sox but his initial contract was not one that grabbed headlines or made the cover of Sports Illustrated. It still played a key role in the forming of a few very good Red Sox teams though.
Bill Mueller 2003
It was back in the years before Theo Epstein was a legend, it helped to build that legend though.
On Jan. 10, 200,3 Bill Mueller inked a three-year $6.7 million contract with the Red Sox. At the time, he was nothing more than a solid but unspectacular third baseman who had spent time with both the Giants and Cubs.
With the Red Sox, he flourished far more than anyone would have imagined.
In 2003, he earned the American League batting title. In 2004, he seemed to collect key hit after key hit as the Red Sox embarked on a legendary march to their first World Series title since 1918.
In a game plagued by brawls against the hated Yankees in July, it was Muelller who ended the game with a dramatic walk-off home run against closer Mariano Rivera. Then, on Oct. 17, 2004, starting down elimination it was a Bill Mueller single up the middle against Rivera once again that tied Game Four and helped spark one of the greatest comebacks of all time.
Those two hits alone were probably worth $6.7 million, the rest was gravy.
David Ortiz 2003 and 2004
If one was to measure free agent signings by comparing initial expectations and monetary cost versus actual returns and results then the signing of David Ortiz may in fact be one of the greatest signings in major league history.
On Jan. 22, 2003, the Red Sox signed David Ortiz to a one year deal for the tidy sum of $1.25 million. Then following a break out 2003, the Red Sox signed Ortiz to a two-year extension worth $9.8375 million. Both contacts represent bargains.
When one considers that Ortiz seemed to be not just an unstoppable force over the course of those three seasons but a force that was at its strongest when the game was on the line. Well, that's when it becomes apparent that this signing was almost too good to be true.
Ortiz has made clutch hit after clutch hit over the course of those three seasons. He didn't stop there either as Ortiz has become a fixture in Boston and one the cities most beloved athletes.
When he first signed, all that was expected was that he would provide a little power off the bench behind Jeremy Giambi and Kevin Millar. Instead Theo, the Red Sox and Red Sox fans got the legendary "Big Papi."
Troy O'Leary 1995
Before Theo Epstein, before the 2003 and 2004 wars with the Yankees, the bloody sock and even before the current ownership group there was Dan Duquette.
Duquette left Boston maligned by many of his critics and even some of his previous allies. Yet in his time as general manager of the Boston Red Sox he made some very influential decisions.
Pedro Martinez - Duquette.
Manny Ramirez - Duquette.
Nomar Garciaparra - Duquette again.
On April 14, 1995, Duquette plucked Troy O'Leary, who had recently been released by the Milwaukee Brewers, off the waiver wire.
O'Leary would end up becoming a fixture in the Red Sox outfield for seven seasons. He never had amazing seasons but considering it cost the Red Sox just $125 thousand to initially sign him it's safe to say that investment more than paid off.
O'Leary did have a signature game though.
It was Game Five of the 1999 ALDS against the Cleveland Indians. The Red Sox had battled back from the brink of elimination down two games to none to tie the series at two games each. Pedro Martinez was supposed to start Game Five but a back injury made him unavailable and in his place manager Jimy Williams opted for veteran Bret Saberhagen.
Saberhagen was crushed and the Sox fell behind but they rallied behind the unlikely power of Troy O'Leary who hit two home runs including a three-run shot in the seventh inning to break an 8-8 tie and give the Red Sox a lead they would not relinquish.
It was a memorable performance and it made that initial $125,000 investment worth every cent.