Bargain-basement shopping is where a vast majority of Major League Baseball teams are going to find the players who will save them.
Everyone knows you win championships in this sport with stars, but you need the right complement of players around them in order to play at a high enough level over the course of 162 games to have a chance to play in the postseason.
Look at a team like the Detroit Tigers. They are very heavy at the top of the roster, with three legitimate superstars (Justin Verlander, Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera), a star-level center fielder (Austin Jackson), and another potential star in the rotation as long as he is healthy (Max Scherzer).
They struggled in the regular season because of a poor defense and lack of depth beyond those players. Put them in the postseason, where players like Delmon Young and Jhonny Peralta can thrive in a short series, and you have a World Series team.
The market this winter is going to be very interesting, because, like the Tigers, there is star-level talent at the top and not a lot of depth. But that is where the bargains come in. Just because the stars aren't there, as long as you are finding quality players on short-term deals, you will get a lot of bang for the buck.
Here are our predictions for the biggest bargains in free agency this offseason.
Mike Napoli, Catcher
As good as Napoli was in the second half of 2011 (.383/.466/.706), we are going to have to accept that as an anomaly rather than a sign he had figured something out.
However, there is no reason to think that Napoli will be as bad, at least with his batting average, in 2013. He hit just .227 for the Rangers last season, but his .273 batting average on balls in play was 26 points lower than his career mark.
You also have to accept that he is probably only going to play in 120 games and will need to split time between catcher, designated hitter and first base. But in an era without a lot of power, Napoli still holds value, especially on a one- or two-year contract.
In 417 plate appearances last season, Napoli still hit 24 home runs. Lest you think that was all a product of Texas' hitter-friendly park, he hit better on the road (.243/.348/.491) than he did at home (.212/.340/.419).
If you can live with the slightly below-average defense behind the plate that Napoli provides, he will make up for it with the bat.
Plus, because he is coming off an injury-riddled season, Napoli will likely take a short deal to re-establish some value for 2014.
Melky Cabrera, Outfielder
Ignore, for a moment, the performance-enhancing drug suspension that ended Cabrera's season prematurely.
Try focusing on what Cabrera did on the field for the Giants in 2012, and even going back to his time with Kansas City two years ago. He has hit .305 and .346, got on base at a .339 and .390 clip, and slugged .470 and .516.
All that and he is just 28 years old. If he didn't have that scarlet letter next to his name, Cabrera would be looking at a big multi-year deal for probably $10 million per season.
The best thing that could have happened to teams interested in Cabrera was the suspension, because his value has plummeted, likely to the point where he will be lucky to get more than two years.
Even if you think there is regression coming with Cabrera—for the record, I do, because it is extremely difficult to maintain the high BABIPs he has posted the last two years with no real evidence he has changed his approach—the risk is considerably less on a two-year deal.
Brandon McCarthy, Starting Pitcher
If there was any way that McCarthy could stay healthy long enough to pitch 200 innings in a season, he would be one of the great bargains of the offseason anyway.
But because he has been limited to just 281.2 innings the last two seasons, McCarthy will enter this offseason as a risky bargain that could pay huge dividends.
McCarthy has drastically altered the way he pitches since the start of the 2011 season, adding a cutter to his repertoire that helps induce weak contact and keeps the ball in the park.
Playing in Oakland's spacious Coliseum did help keep his numbers down, though he wasn't exactly terrible elsewhere. He posted a 3.66 ERA and allowed seven home runs in 51.2 innings on the road, compared to a 2.88 ERA and three homers in 59.1 innings at home.
Despite being around since 2005 with the White Sox, McCarthy is just 29 years old. He has a track record of performance when he is on the field, and has a lot of upside if he can make 30 starts.
By McCarthy's own admission, he feels much better after taking a line drive off his head that ended his season on September 5.
Teams are always desperate for starting pitching help. A 29-year-old who keeps the ball in the park and can post at worst a respectable ERA has great value in a market without a lot of starting pitching.
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