Major League Baseball, like any other business, is all about getting the most bang for your buck. Teams are going to spend in free agency to improve the team enough to win a World Series, or at least compete for a playoff spot, in order to drive their revenue up.
However, your top-tier free agents are not going to come cheaply. They have earned the right to maximize their value on the open market, and most of them take full advantage of it.
But every year there are a few bargains to be found out there, especially from older players who are entering the final phase of their career.
The market no longer values aging players with a specific skill set the way it used to because most teams would rather plug a hole using a cheap, inexpensive option in their system. That's why you will see some names out there a lot longer than you might think.
As we make our way towards the MLB free agent period, here are a few aging stars who are worth a gamble this offseason.
A.J. Pierzynski, C (36 Years Old)
Catching in Major League Baseball is a virtual wasteland of talent. There are a few names at the top—Yadier Molina, Buster Posey, Matt Wieters, Carlos Santana, Joe Mauer, Miguel Montero—but things drop off substantially after that.
But once you get past the top tier, you are basically looking for someone who can play defense and do enough with the bat so as not to embarrass themselves.
A.J. Pierzynski is not a great defensive catcher. His game calling is not bad, he can frame a pitch and has a good enough arm to throw out a respectable number of would-be base-stealers.
With the bat, however, Pierzynski keeps defying the odds. In 135 games this season, he hit .278/.326/.501 with 27 home runs. Among catchers with at least 500 at-bats, those 27 home runs led all catchers.
Another factor working in Pierzynski's favor is durability. Catcher is the most physically demanding position on the field. It has taken its toll on a lot of great players over the years—look at Mauer—yet Pierzynski has managed to play in at least 130 games in eight of the last 11 seasons.
If there is a team out there looking to get some production at catcher without wanting to invest a lot of years or money, Pierzynski is a great option.
Marco Scutaro, 2B/SS (37 Years Old)
Scutaro was one of the great bargains of the season, acquired by San Francisco from Colorado in July for infielder Charlie Culberson and cash. The Rockies paid the Giants to take Scutaro and all he did was hit .362/.385/.473 in 61 games after the deal.
Now, no one expects Scutaro to keep up that pace next season, but there is a lot to like about where his game is at. Even if he isn't a shortstop anymore—he played just 27 games at the position this season—his bat will play well enough to make him an above-average second baseman.
The biggest advantage that Scutaro has is his ability to put the ball in play. He struck out just 49 times in 683 plate appearances this season. For his career, he has struck out just 533 times in 4,926 plate appearances.
In an era where strikeouts are on the rise due to the overwhelming number of pitchers who throw at least 95, Scutaro is an extremely valuable asset with the bat.
His defense is certainly not going to have him in the Gold Glove conversation, but he handles himself well enough at second base to get by without embarrassing himself.
Ryan Madson, RP (32 Years Old)
Madson was supposed to be the great bargain of last offseason, signing a one-year contract for $8.5 million with the Reds, before blowing out his elbow and undergoing season-ending Tommy John surgery in March.
There is an $11 million mutual option that could bring Madson back to the Reds, though that price is way too high for the team, in my opinion.
If Madson does find himself back on the market, he could end up being a great bargain for a team in need of relief help this offseason. He is just 32 years old and was one of the best relief pitchers in baseball from 2009-11 with Philadelphia.
Given the volatile nature of relievers, there is going to be a lot of bad money thrown at a lot of mediocre closers. Madson is not going to cost a lot of money and could end up being a steal if his fastball and changeup come back close to the level they were at before the surgery.
The biggest obstacle for any pitcher coming back from Tommy John is command. It is going to take Madson at least a couple of months to get the full feel for his pitches that he used to have, so there are likely going to be growing pains along the way.
If a team can work with him long enough to see the process through, Madson has all the ingredients needed to be one of the most dominant relievers in the game again.
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