2013 MLB Free Agents: Ranking the Top 10 Potential Steals
The MLB offseason is dominated by swirling rumors of where the top free agents will sign, and this season will be no different with Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke expected to cram the headlines.
However, it is often the under-the-radar signings that mean the difference between being a contender and actually making the postseason.
While players often boost their stock greatly with a good contract year (Kyle Lohse) or impressive postseason (Marco Scutaro), players also effect their stock in the other direction thanks to injuries or poor performance leading up to them hitting the open market.
With that in mind, here is a look at the 10 guys I feel have the best chance of being a steal this offseason.
10. CF Grady Sizemore
The Indians turned down their $9 million option on Grady Sizemore last offseason after the former All-Star played in just 210 games from 2009-2011.
However, they brought him back on a discounted $5 million deal, with $4 million in options that would have allowed him to earn his full option salary. Instead, he suffered a back injury before he even suited up for a spring-training game that ended his season.
He's still only 30 years old, and if he can stay on the field, he still has the tools to be a difference-maker. However, this time around he'll likely have to settle on a one-year, $1 million deal or, perhaps, even a minor-league deal. At that price, anything a team can get out of him will be a great bargain.
9. 2B Freddy Sanchez
Freddy Sanchez signed a two-year, $12 million extension following the Giants' run to the World Series title in 2010, but he played just 60 games last year before his season ended with a dislocated shoulder.
Expected back to start this season, he instead underwent back surgery to repair a nerve issue and was sidelined all season as a result.
He'll be 35 next season, but the .297 career hitter has been working hard to get back. While he will no doubt have to settle for a one-year deal, he could be one of the biggest steals of the offseason.
Considering how thin the crop of talent is at second base, he could get a chance at a starting gig if he can prove he's healthy. From there, if he can perform even close to his pre-injury levels, he'll be a great scrapheap signing for whoever ends up with him.
8. RP Ryan Madson
After serving as a setup man the bulk of his career, Ryan Madson assumed closing duties in Philadelphia in 2011 and saved 32 games with a 2.37 ERA.
That earned him a one-year, $8.5 million contract with the Reds, with an $11 million option for the 2013 season. However, he was lost before the season began to Tommy John surgery.
With Aroldis Chapman thriving in the closer's role, the Reds will undoubtedly decline that option, and Madson will find himself in a position similar to where Jonathan Broxton was last offseason.
Broxton settled for a one-year, $4 million contract after missing much of 2011, and has boosted his free-agent stock significantly this time around with a strong 2012 campaign. Expect a similar contract for Madson and the potential for similar results.
7. LF Scott Hairston
Scott Hairston has carved out a niche as one of the best platoon players in baseball, as he absolutely destroys left-handed pitching (.867 OPS in 2012) and has plus power regardless of who's on the mound.
He set a personal best with 20 home runs this season, needing just 377 at-bats to reach the mark, and as a result he represents perhaps the best low-cost power option on the market.
Chances are he'll remain in a platoon role wherever he signs, as that is where he is best suited. And while he'll no doubt earn a raise on the $1.1 million he made this season, he's likely to still wind up as a bargain given how deep the pool of outfield talent will be this offseason.
6. SP Ervin Santana
Ervin Santana bounced back well from a rough 2009 season, going 28-22 with a 3.65 ERA combined over the last two years entering the 2012 season.
Expected to be perhaps the best No. 4 starter in baseball, pitching in a deep rotation behind Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and C.J. Wilson, the right-hander instead turned in one of the worst seasons of his career.
A 9-13 record with a 5.16 ERA and an AL-high 39 home runs allowed will no doubt be the reasons the Angels turn down a $13 million option on the 29-year-old. However, the talent is certainly still there, and if he can be had for somewhere in the neighborhood of a two-year, $8 million deal, he has a chance to be the biggest steal of the year.
5. 1B James Loney
James Loney has spent the past five years trying to live up to the expectations that came with a .331 batting average, 15 home runs and 67 RBI in 344 at-bats as a rookie back in 2007.
He's come far from matching those numbers though, and had been on the outs in Los Angeles for the past few seasons before being traded to the Red Sox in the August blockbuster.
If anyone is going to benefit from a change of scenery, it's Loney, and I think he'd be the perfect fit for Tampa Bay. The Rays caught lightening in a bottle for one season with Casey Kotchman in 2011, and they could get similar production at a similarly low price from Loney.
4. SP Shaun Marcum
The Brewers thought highly enough of Shaun Marcum that they traded Brett Lawrie to the Blue Jays for him prior to the 2011 season. They'd no doubt take a mulligan on that trade if given the chance, but that speaks more to the type of player Lawrie has become than anything else.
Injuries limited Marcum to just 21 starts this season, but he was solid in his two seasons with the Brewers, going 20-11 with a 3.60 ERA over 54 starts.
He earned $7.73 million this season in his final year of arbitration, and despite a solid track record he remains a second-tier option on this year's market. If he can be had for under $10 million per season, he would be a major bargain for whoever winds up signing him.
3. RP Joakim Soria
From 2008-2010, Joakim Soria was one of the best closers in all of baseball despite pitching for some bad Royals teams.
In that span, he saved 115 games and made the All-Star team twice, but he struggled in 2011 as his ERA spiked to 4.03 and he saved just 28 games.
That was followed by Tommy John surgery that kept him out of action for the entire 2012 season, and as a result the Royals will likely turn down their $8 million option on him and turn closing duties over to Greg Holland.
The 28-year-old will likely have to accept a one-year deal to prove he's healthy, but as long as he doesn't suffer any setbacks, there is no reason to think he can't return to his elite form while playing for a long-term deal.
2. LF Melky Cabrera
Melky Cabrera's breakout 2012 season was sullied by a positive PED test that resulted in a season-ending suspension and a likely departure from San Francisco.
The question now is: Which Cabrera can we expect to see next season? The one who hit .255 with four homers and 42 RBI with the Braves in 2010, the one who was a bona fide MVP candidate earlier this year, or someone in between?
His chances at a long-term deal seem slim now, but he'll be playing for redemption and a second chance at a big payday, so expect him to be a steal at the bargain price he's likely to sign for.
1. SP Brandon McCarthy
Brandon McCarthy is a high-risk, high-reward starting pitcher. He has only started 20 or more games twice in his MLB career, but he is 17-15 with a 3.29 ERA over his last two seasons. If McCarthy stays healthy over a full season, he could become one of the top starters in baseball.