All the attention is on Josh Hamilton and Zach Greinke as the MLB free-agency period opens up this winter. While the big-time signing has put teams like the Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Angels on the map, it's often the key signings later in the process that prove to be the most valuable.
How many people thought the Angel Pagan trade would be so big for the San Francisco Giants? Who predicted that Mike Napoli would be the man at catcher for the Texas Rangers the past two years? What about Edwin Jackson and Gio Gonzalez for the Washington Nationals?
Granted, those are all trades. However, the under-the-radar move by management often turns out to be the one that makes the most sense from a baseball standpoint—and pays the most dividends financially (Jason Bay doesn't come to mind in that category).
Here's a look at several guys that might not reap big bucks on the free-agent market. However, they'll be solid pickups for new teams looking to contend for a World Series championship.
The Rangers first baseman/catcher is going to get looks in the free-agent market, but I think his value will be a little bit understated because he obviously is looking for a big contract.
He's getting looks from the Boston Red Sox, but if he's their biggest offseason target, then things aren't going well for management.
Napoli made $9.4 million this year, so you can bet he'll decipher through the market after once again being a valuable piece on a championship-caliber team. For the right price and in the right role, he's a big bat that can put it out of the park with one flick of the wrist.
He's not worth more than a one- or two-year contract, but if the attention on Hamilton diverts the attention off of Nap being a quality bat, then teams are in for a treat.
The second basemen had an up-and-down professional season for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2012. Leading off, he had a decent .313 OBP, but hit only .225 and struck out (159) far too much in that role.
Johnson is a better hitter down the lineup and can produce in the right situation. He started the year off right with home runs and run production that was near the top of MLB, but tapered off down the stretch as his club did the same.
There appears to be little room left in the infield after the Jays inked Maicer Izturis to a three-year deal, but Johnson could still be a fit for a team looking to upgrade at the position. Even in a utility role, he's worth a look.
The lefty has only spent time in the AL Central, but at the right price, he could be headed for a number of teams across MLB. He's a former top prospect that's tapered off after a few successful early seasons with the Minnesota Twins, but hasn't done much since.
His SO/9 numbers have stayed pretty constant over the course of his career, sans the ridiculous numbers he was putting up as a rookie.
For a team looking for a fifth starter, or even a guy with talent who can afford to experiment near the bottom of the rotation, Liriano is that guy. The Chicago Cubs apparently have interest, which shouldn't be a surprise with Theo Epstein running the show.
It's likely Liriano, who went 3-2 in 11 starts, could get paid by a team that is desperate. But if he pans out to his potential, he'll likely be worth it, as no one will pay him ace money on the promise of potential.
These three guys won't be in the headlines over the next few days, giving way to the bigger names like Hamilton, Greinke and Torii Hunter. All could make an immediate impact, though, and should be sought after in a low-key manner.
Ethan Grant is a featured columnist for B/R's Breaking News Team.
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