MLB's Best Penny-for-Penny Values Still Available on the Winter Markets
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Teams looking for help this winter picked the wrong year to try to find some. Prices on both the free-agent market and the trade market are through the roof.
It cost the Detroit Tigers $80 million to sign a pitcher who's never logged more than 200 innings in a season. The Atlanta Braves paid $75 million for a center fielder with a .316 OBP over the last four years. The Kansas City Royals had to give up several of their best prospects to land one ace starting pitcher.
With the supply of top players running low and plenty of needs still out there to be filled, teams have to be wondering if there are any players available who are both good and cheap.
Why, yes. There are. Here's a look at a mix of free agents and trade targets who could provide great returns for small prices.
10. Ryan Sweeney (FA)
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Ryan Sweeney has had his moments, but it's pretty clear by now that he's better off being a platoon outfielder than a starter.
He could, however, be a way above-average platoon outfielder.
Sweeney's best asset is his versatility in the outfield, as he can play all three outfield positions and he's traditionally played them well. He's best in right field, where he owns a career UZR/150 of 14.1, according to FanGraphs.
As a hitter, Sweeney has very little extra-base power in his bat, but he does have a smooth stroke from the left side of the plate, and he had a tendency to be a patient hitter before his patience disappeared in Boston in 2012. This was after he hit .373 in April, of course.
Sweeney made $1.75 million as a member of the Red Sox, but he could be signed for even less than that after being non-tendered. He doesn't have much leverage to jack his price up, as he didn't hit very well after a hot start and ultimately made a fool of himself by injuring his hand punching a door in July.
Any team looking for a bargain-buy versatile outfielder with a decent left-handed bat should give Sweeney a look.
9. J.P. Howell (FA)
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Everyone had their eyes on Fernando Rodney in 2012, but the bridge to him in Tampa Bay was made up of a very strong cast of relievers.
J.P. Howell did his part. He shook off a lost season in 2011 to post a 3.04 ERA in 55 appearances, holding lefty hitters to a .612 OPS.
But Howell is more than your run-of-the-mill lefty specialist. He had a better K/BB against righties in 2012, and for his career his BAA for righties and lefties is pretty even. Righties tend to hit his mistakes hard when he makes them, but he certainly has the ability to get them out.
Howell is due a nice raise in free agency after making $1.35 million in 2012, but it's doubtful that he'll be able to do any better than the three-year, $7.5 million contract that Randy Choate got from the St. Louis Cardinals this winter.
Choate has a longer track record than Howell, and has proved to be considerably more durable. If he's getting $2.5 million per year, then Howell could probably be had for $2 million per year.
In a day and age when relievers like Brandon League and Jonathan Broxton are getting $20 million contracts and Rafael Soriano is looking for $15 million per year, $2 million per year for Howell is a steal.
8. Brett Myers (FA)
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Brett Myers was once a top prospect. Now he's a 32-year-old journeyman with no obvious role to play. He's either a back-of-the-rotation starter or a reliever.
How about both?
Myers is no stranger to either starting work or bullpen work, and he's enjoyed the best of both worlds in the last two seasons. He compiled a 3.31 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP in 70 relief appearances in 2012, and he gave the Houston Astros 216 innings as a starter in 2011.
As a starter, Myers would fit well at the back end of pretty much any rotation in the majors, and his performances in 2010 and 2011 suggest pretty strongly that he could at least be counted on to eat innings.
As a reliever, he could be used as either a long man or a closer, a role he played in 2007 with the Philadelphia Phillies and again with the Astros in 2012.
Myers earned an $11 million salary in 2012, but his next contract won't have to be for nearly that much. Any team that signs him as a starter shouldn't have to pay him any more than $5 or $6 million, a la the contracts of Scott Baker and Scott Feldman.
Any team that signs him as a reliever will have to pay him even less, and could squeeze value out of him as both a bullpen man and as a spot starter.
7. Scott Hairston (FA)
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Scott Hairston is not unlike Ryan Sweeney in that he can play all three outfield positions, a talent that should appeal to any team looking for a versatile outfielder.
One key difference between Hairston and Sweeney is that Hairston is right-handed. Another main difference is that Hairston actually has some pop in his bat.
Hairston is coming off a season in which he hit a career-high 20 home runs with a career-high .504 slugging percentage and a career-high .803 OPS. He also achieved a new career high for games played with 134.
It's no wonder Hairston is looking to get his while the getting is good. Any team viewing him as a one-year stopgap should look elsewhere, as Hairston has told ESPNNewYork.com that he aims to find a multiyear deal this winter.
The best contract to use as a template for his next deal is probably the two-year, $10 million deal that Jonny Gomes signed with the Boston Red Sox. Hairston doesn't have as much power as Gomes does, but he has Gomes beat by a mile in the versatility department.
After making only $1.1 million in 2012, Hairston may not say no to a $5 million-per-year offer.
6. Aaron Harang (Trade)
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They don't make 'em much more mediocre than Aaron Harang. He has a career record of 105-104, a 4.19 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP.
However, Harang is coming off a solid season. He posted a 3.61 ERA, and he also gave the Dodgers just about 180 innings. Surprisingly, he was better away from the pitcher friendly confines of Dodger Stadium.
According to Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com, Harang is "very available" in a trade now that the Dodgers have a surplus of starting pitchers with Zack Greinke coming aboard.
The Dodgers are also open to moving Chris Capuano, who Knobler says is drawing far more interest than Harang. They'd prefer to move Harang, though, which isn't surprising given how well Capuano performed in 2012.
A team willing to deal for Harang wouldn't have to give up much in a trade. He could probably be had for a mid-level prospect or two, or perhaps for a utility player who could fit on the Dodgers' bench.
The bigger dilemma for interested parties is Harang's contract, which will pay him $7 million in 2013 with a $7 million mutual option for 2014. The total price for two years of Harang could thus come to be $1 million less than the Angels will be paying Joe Blanton over the next two years.
But seeing as how Harang had a better year than Blanton in 2012 and has pitched roughly 120 innings more than him over the last two years, the thought of paying him $14 million over the next two years isn't so bad.
5. Vinnie Pestano (Trade)
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Quick, name the best reliever on the Indians in 2012.
It actually wasn't Chris Perez. He saved 39 games, but he posted a pedestrian 3.59 ERA and watched his opponents' OPS climb for a third straight year.
Vinnie Pestano was better. He posted a 2.57 ERA in 70 appearances, holding hitters to a .631 OPS and striking out 9.8 per nine innings.
ESPN's Buster Olney says that Pestano may be one of several Indians players up for grabs:
As Cleveland remakes its young starting pitching, it still has Asdrubal, Masterson, Vinnie Pestano to deal. Not much action on Chris Perez.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) December 12, 2012
Because Perez bears the "proven closer" label, he's not going to come cheap in a trade. But since Pestano is the better pitcher of the two and still has years of controllability, he won't come cheap either.
However, Pestano is worth it because he has the stuff to be a closer, and he's not going to get expensive in a hurry with his first year of arbitration still a year away.
For a reasonable price, Pestano could provide huge returns for cheap over the next couple of seasons.
4. Rick Porcello (Trade)
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Now that the Tigers have brought back Anibal Sanchez, they have an excuse to trade Rick Porcello.
The interest, according to Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com, is definitely out there. National League teams are eyeing Porcello, as are the Texas Rangers.
Porcello's appeal isn't immediately apparent thanks to his 4.55 career ERA, which is skewed by the 3.96 ERA he posted in his rookie season in 2009. Over the last three years, Porcello has a 4.75 ERA.
These numbers say Porcello is little more than a fifth starter. His sabermetric stats, on the other hand, say he's more like a No. 3.
Per FanGraphs, stats like FIP, xFIP and SIERA—which are meant to measure a pitcher's actual performance based on only things he can control—all say that Porcello has been unlucky the last three seasons. This is largely because he's a ground-ball pitcher on a team with a weak infield defense. On another team with a strong infield defense, Porcello would be much more successful.
That partially explains why the interest in him is high. Other factors include his low trade value after his poor year in 2012 and the fact that he's still under club control for a few more seasons.
It wouldn't take much to get Porcello. The Tigers may be willing to trade him for a quality reliever, or for a right-handed platoon partner for Andy Dirks in left field.
If so, these aren't bad prices to pay for a potential No. 3 starter.
3. Shaun Marcum (FA)
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With Zack Greinke, Anibal Sanchez, Ryan Dempster and others all taken, teams looking for dependable starting pitchers on the free-agent market are running out of options.
Shaun Marcum isn't a star, but "dependable" is a word that suits him nicely.
Marcum's production over the last three seasons has been like clockwork. He posted a 3.64 ERA in 2010, a 3.54 ERA in 2011 and a 3.70 ERA this past season. His numbers over the last two seasons would be better if not for a 4.74 ERA at Miller Park, which favors hitters far more than it favors pitchers.
The red flag where Marcum is concerned is the health of his right elbow. He had to have Tommy John surgery in 2009, and he missed a good chunk of this past season with an elbow strain.
However, health concerns didn't stop Brandon McCarthy from getting a $15.5 million contract from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Marcum has a better career track record than McCarthy, and he doesn't come with as many medical red flags.
This likely means that Marcum is looking for a deal worth more than the $7.75 million-per-year deal that McCarthy got, but he could still probably be had for less than $10 million per year.
This wouldn't make him cheap, but it would make him a lot cheaper than Dempster and probably a lot cheaper than Kyle Lohse once he signs a new contract. Since he's likely to put up similar numbers to both guys, Marcum will be a steal for his new team.
2. Mike Minor (Trade)
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The Braves have plenty of starting pitching depth lined up for 2013, so they can afford to part with a starter to fill a need in a trade.
Mike Minor may be the most sought-after Atlanta starter, and for good reason. He's going to be 25 on Opening Day, and he's not due to hit free agency until 2018.
Oh, and Minor has plenty of talent as well. He entered the 2011 season as one of the top prospects in baseball, and he performed well in his first full season as a starter in 2012, compiling a 4.12 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP in 30 starts.
Minor gave a glimpse of how great he could be in the second half, as he posted a 2.16 ERA and a 0.87 ERA over 87.1 innings in 14 starts. He upped his K/BB from 1.95 to 4.19.
According to Troy Renck of The Denver Post, the Colorado Rockies tried to get Minor by offering the Braves Dexter Fowler, who hit an even .300 with an .863 OPS in 2012. Since the Braves didn't take the bait even when they needed an outfielder—this was before they signed B.J. Upton—that goes to show just how highly they think of Minor.
So it's going to take at least a legit starter to land Minor. The trade-off is that he's going to be dirt-cheap over the next couple of seasons, and he has the potential to be a No. 2 or even a No. 1 starting pitcher.
Down the line, Minor could prove to be the best starting pitcher acquired this winter. Given the talent of the top free-agent starters and how much they signed for, that's saying something.
1. Peter Bourjos (Trade)
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The plan was for the Angels to start Peter Bourjos in center field with Mike Trout in left field and Mark Trumbo in right field in 2013, but that plan got nixed as soon as the club signed Josh Hamilton.
That means somebody is now expendable, and Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com has suggested that Bourjos is more available than Trumbo.
And that makes sense. Trumbo still fits in right field after the Hamilton signing, whereas there's nowhere for Bourjos to go with Hamilton likely to play left and Trout likely to play center. The Angels can either stash him on their bench or dangle him as trade bait.
Bourjos is desirable because of his youth, controllability and talent, but there's a limit to how much the Angels can ask for him in a trade. He did serve as a full-time player in 2011, but he served as a mere part-time player in 2010 and 2012. He has talent, but he hasn't done enough for the Angels to shop him as an All-Star.
However, teams should certainly view Bourjos as a potential All-Star. He's a tremendous defensive outfielder, and he has decent enough on-base skills, good speed and a little bit of pop in his bat.
It may not cost a team an All-Star to get Bourjos in a trade, but he could quickly become an All-Star at very cheap rates. He could thus provide huge returns for what will be a very reasonable price in retrospect.
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