Although the MLB playoffs are just getting underway and the World Series trophy won't get claimed until the end of October, teams that missed the postseason are already looking ahead to next season. It's a process that starts by identifying key potential free agents.
Stars like Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury and Matt Garza will attract an enormous amount of attention should they hit the open market. For teams that can't afford those possible bidding wars, it comes down to finding players who can provide value without the high price tag.
Here's a look at a trio of players that should fall into that category over the winter. While there are risks associated with all of them—otherwise they would fall in that top-tier category—they should be worth the investment for teams looking to fill a void.
When Lincecum claimed his second straight National League Cy Young award in 2009, it would have been hard to believe that a few years later, he'd be fighting to prove he deserved a rotation spot. But that was the case for most of 2013 after his numbers dropped off last year.
Lincecum didn't bounce all the way back to elite form, but there were positive signs. The San Francisco Giants starter lowered his ERA to a more reasonable 4.37 in 32 starts, thanks in large part to improved command without sacrificing his strikeout rate.
While he still walks a lot of batters, it wasn't on a level where the a lack of control completely derailed his season. If he can make even marginal further strides in that area next season, he can once again start producing ace stats, which makes him an intriguing option if the Giants don't re-sign him.
After some good seasons with the Los Angeles Angels, Morales moved to the division-rival Seattle Mariners and put together another solid campaign. He posted a .336 on-base percentage with 23 home runs and 34 doubles.
Those numbers are a perfect example of what the first baseman brings to the table. He's not an elite force in the middle of a contending lineup, but he provides above-average production, including power that would be better suited outside of Safeco Field.
He's a streaky player, though, and that's the risk. For example, he hit .343 with five home runs in May, but just .235 with one home run in June. There's always a concern players with those type of ups-and-downs will eventually get caught in a very prolonged slump, but Morales has been able to avoid that.
Grant Balfour is a typical closer. He doesn't come in from the bullpen with a fastball approaching triple digits to simply overpower hitters. Instead, he uses a wider repertoire of pitchers and mixes them well to keep opponents off-balance.
It's worked well for him since taking over the closer role for the Oakland Athletics last season. He's racked up 62 saves while blowing just five opportunities. His reliability at the end of games helped Oakland reach the playoffs as AL West champions.
The lack of dominant stuff paired with his age (35) will likely cause some teams to shy away, but Balfour is a perfect target for a team looking for a short-term answer to close out games. He's thrived in the pressure situations over the past two years.
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