MLB Free Agency: 9 Best Potential Bargains Still Available
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The latest free-agent buzz in Major League Baseball has surrounded three clients of Scott Boras, all currently left out in the cold of winter with spring training fast approaching.
Rafael Soriano, Kyle Lohse and Michael Bourn have yet to find new homes this offseason, in large part because all three are attached to draft-pick compensation after their former employers extended them qualifying offers.
Ultimately, Boras may get his clients the paydays they are seeking. However, unless the signing teams finished in the bottom ten in the overall standings last season, it'll cost them a first-round pick to sign any of the Boras guys.
Rather than pony up the big bucks and a first-round pick, most teams would be wise to do their remaining winter shopping in the bargain aisles.
Need another outfielder but don't want to shell out for Bourn? Scott Hairston remains available.
Need another starting pitcher but aren't quite sold on Lohse as a frontline guy? Jeff Karstens, Shaun Marcum or Joe Saunders can provide value in the middle of your rotation for a reasonable sum.
And, if you need another right-handed reliever, Kyle Farnsworth, Matt Lindstrom, Vicente Padilla or Brandon Lyon can pitch at the back-end of your bullpen.
Finally, in a tepid second-base market, Kelly Johnson remains available with virtually no reported interest to this point in the offseason.
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Marcum is a right-handed pitcher with a history of arm trouble who never cracks 90 MPH on the radar gun. Yet in three seasons since returning from Tommy John surgery, he's gone 33-19 with a 3.62 ERA and a 3.06 strikeout-to-walk ratio despite pitching in Toronto and Milwaukee, two good places to hit.
He only made 21 starts last season due to a right elbow strain, but he pitched effectively when he was healthy enough to take the ball.
Marcum should be able to match the two-year, $15.5 million deal that the injury-prone starter Brandon McCarthy received this winter.
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Hairston hit 20 home runs and slugged .504 in just 398 plate appearances with the Mets last season. A team looking for a lefty-mashing fourth outfielder would do well to sign the 32-year- old veteran.
Jonny Gomes (two years, $10 million), Cody Ross (three years, $26 million) and Shane Victorino (three years, $39 million) are three veteran outfielders with platoon issues who cashed in this winter.
Hairston probably isn't going to come close to Ross or Victorino in contractual terms, but the Gomes deal is a reasonable comparison.
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Like Marcum, Saunders isn't going to light up the radar gun or wow scouts with his stuff. However, he's a durable left-handed sinker-ball pitcher who throws strikes and can get ground balls.
He doesn't miss bats, and he's a bit homer-prone, but his 3.86 combined ERA over the last two seasons is good enough for the back of any rotation.
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Karstens has issued only 42 unintentional walks over the last two seasons, which helped him put up a combined 3.59 ERA.
With a fastball in the 88-90 MPH range, he's not going to miss many bats or strike fear into the hearts of opposing batters. However, he doesn't walk anyone, and he improved significantly against left-handed hitters last season.
If he can stay healthy after battling shoulder issues over the past few seasons and continue his improvement against lefties, he can settle into the middle of a rotation next season on a bargain contract.
If Karstens were more durable, the two-year, $10 million deal that former Pirates teammate Kevin Correia signed this winter would be a good starting point. However, given Karstens' injury history, he may have to settle for an incentive-laden one-year deal.
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Johnson will only be 31 years old this season, and he's just two years removed from hitting .284/.370/.496 with 26 home runs. Strikeouts have sapped him of his production over the last two seasons, in which he's combined to hit just .228/.303/.390.
If a team can get him to start making contact again so that he can hit .270 instead of .220, he could be the steal of the winter. He still managed to hit 37 home runs over the last two seasons in between all those whiffs, and there just aren't many middle infielders with that kind of power.
In fact, there is really no other starting second basemen available on the free-agent market besides Johnson, yet there are plenty of teams that can use an upgrade at the keystone.
If the Royals signed Johnson and got him back to where he was in 2010, it could be enough to propel them into a playoff spot in 2013, given the other moves they've made this winter.
Right-Hand Relief Market
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Kyle Farnsworth pitched well in 2010 and 2011 before struggling through an injury-plagued campaign last season. He had a combined 2.80 ERA and 3.61 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2010-2011 before experiencing a down season in 2012.
Matt Lindstrom lights up the radar gun with a mid-90's fastball, but he doesn't miss as many bats as his velocity would indicate. He is able to keep the ball on the ground and in the ballpark, which is why he's put up a combined 2.85 ERA over the past two seasons.
Vicente Padilla isn't known as the best clubhouse guy, but he has a low-to-mid 90's fastball and a starter's arsenal out of the bullpen. He struck out more than a batter per inning with the Red Sox last season, but a high home-run rate inflated his ERA to 4.50. He has above-average stuff and command, and he should come cheaply.
After struggling through an awful 2011 season that ended in surgery, Brandon Lyon set career-bests in strikeouts, strike-out-to-walk ratio and Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP). In 61 innings of work for the Astros and Blue Jays, he struck out 63, unintentionally walked just 17 and allowed only five home runs en route to a 3.10 ERA.
In an offseason in which similar relievers Jonathan Broxton (three years, $21 million with a club option) and Brandon League (three years, $22.5 million with a club option) cashed in with long-term deals, these four relievers can produce similar production for a fraction of the price at the back-end of a bullpen.
Bargain-hunting and buying low during the winter doesn't boost season ticket sales or excite the fan base the way signing a marquee free agent does. However, teams that win the offseason with big splashes don't often win the most games during the regular season or in the playoffs.
Teams looking to finalize their roster before spring training don't have to meet the demands of super-agent Scott Boras to fulfill their needs. There are plenty of potential bargains still looking for work with just a month remaining before pitchers and catchers report.