Predicting 5 Players Who Will Be Best Bargains of 2014 Free-Agent Class
Free agency has a way of making some general managers look smart and some look dumb.
Then there's the signings of Fernando Rodney (Tampa Bay Rays) and Koji Uehara (Boston Red Sox) that have given their teams a lot of bang for their buck. Rodney signed for two years and $4.25 million in 2012, while Uehara signed for two years and $9.25 million prior to this season.
Both signings worked for their teams and showed those GMs could get the most bang for their buck.
So, what players will be the best bargains of this year's class? Here's a look at a number of players who will fit that category on this year's market.
Note: All stats obtained from Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
After struggling initially from 2010-12 with the Red Sox, Jarrod Saltalamacchia showed a better bat this season. He batted .273/.338/.466 with 14 home runs and 65 RBI in 121 games. It must also be noted that he had 25 home runs in 2012.
Among catchers, he was in the middle of the pack in most statistical categories. The one knock on him is that he struck out 139 times in 2013.
Regardless, Saltalamacchia is a valuable asset that any team would be lucky to have.
Tim Dierkes of MLBTradeRumors.com predicts Salty will receive a three- or four-year deal for about $8 million per year:
Among catchers, Salty is one of the biggest power threats in the game, ranking fifth with 55 home runs since 2011. He also ranks first in isolated power and third in slugging percentage.
Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported Saltalamacchia didn't want to go anywhere other than Boston, due to his familiarity with the pitching staff:
I don’t want to go anywhere else, Saltalamacchia said. I love it here, especially the way things are going this year. We’re heading in the right direction. I want to be a part of it for a long time.
Knowing that, if the Red Sox were to make him a fair offer, he'd likely stay with the team. It would be a hometown discount in a sense.
Omar Infante is the most underrated utility player in all of baseball. He can simply play wherever he's put on the field, and does so with a decent bat.
In 2013, Infante batted .318/.345/.450 with 10 home runs and 51 RBI. He's the classic example of a part-time player playing well enough to earn a full-time role.
While second base is his primary position, whoever signs him would be able to use him almost anywhere on the field, as he's played all positions but catcher and pitcher.
Tim Dierkes of MLBTradeRumors.com sees Infante getting a deal around three years, $25 million:
The most relevant contract for Infante might be Marco Scutaro's three-year, $20MM deal with the Giants signed in December last year. However, Scutaro's deal covers his age 37-39 seasons, while a three-year deal for Infante would cover his age 32-34 campaigns.
Infante's versatility and at the price predicted makes him worth it. After all, it's nice to have an everyday player who can give you multiple options should another player on the team go down.
Jesse Crain may not have pitched since June 29 after a shoulder injury, but there's no denying his value as a right-handed reliever.
Before the injury, Crain had 19 holds and a 0.74 ERA. He simply was one of the best relievers in baseball up until that point.
Because of the shoulder issues, Steve Adams of MLBTradeRumors.com believes Crain will get a one-year deal for $3.5 million so that he can show teams he's healthy:
A one-year deal would be beneficial to Crain and would also mitigate risk for a signing team that had some hesitation surrounding his shoulder. Were he to sign a one-year deal with no option and pitch well for a full season, Crain could hit free agency as a 33-year-old next season—the same age at which Joaquin Benoit inked his three-year, $16.5MM contract with Detroit.
If Crain can come in and pitch even a fraction of what he was doing in 2013, the money spent on him will be well worth it.
Brian Wilson has the potential to be the best closer on the market this offseason. While guys like Joe Nathan and Joaquin Benoit will likely receive more money, Wilson will end up giving the team that signs him the most bang for their buck.
In 18 appearances this year for the Dodgers, Wilson had a 0.66 ERA in 13.2 innings. In the playoffs, he pitched another six innings and gave up no runs.
It was a performance that screamed he's back to what we got used to seeing from him between 2008-11, when he had 163 saves.
As far as the market is concerned, it won't be set until the two mentioned above get signed.
If that is indeed the market, then $6-7 million for Wilson isn't out of the question. And for a closer who has been as good as Wilson, that's cheap.
A pitcher that will 38 next year normally isn't thought to be a bargain, but Tim Hudson is different.
Coming off an ankle injury that cut his 2013 season short, Hudson has been making $9 million a year over the last four seasons. And Steve Adams of MLBTradeRumors.com sees Hudson making that same amount on a one-year deal next year.
At $9 million, Hudson not only brings eight seasons of at least 15 wins, but in 13 of his 15 seasons, his ERA has been below 4.00, including the last seven years.
More than that, Hudson bring veteran leadership and someone you can confidently give the ball to on Opening Day or in Game 1 of a playoff series.