MLB Free Agents 2014: Finding the Best Values at Each Position
For every player who puts together a great contract season and cashes in on the free-agent market, there is someone who struggles in the final year of his deal and has to settle for far less money than he hoped.
Whether it was a matter of battling injuries or simply a down season, these are generally the players who wind up being the best values of the offseason. Just last year, Francisco Liriano and Marlon Byrd were two guys who signed for cheap and wound up being steals.
Here is a look at one player at each position who could wind up being a great value signing this offseason.
Catcher: Kurt Suzuki
The Oakland A's everyday catcher from 2008-2011, Kurt Suzuki averaged a line of .259/.317/.386 with 12 home runs and 61 RBI during that span, earning him a three-year, $15.65 million contract prior to the 2011 season.
However, he struggled to the tune of a .218/.250/.286 line through 262 at-bats in 2012 and was traded to the Washington Nationals at the deadline. The Nationals traded him back this past July, and he managed to go 10-for-33 in limited action down the stretch.
Now 30, Suzuki may not get another chance at a starting job, but he's one of the more intriguing backup options on the market and someone capable of surprising if he gets an extended look.
First Base: Michael Morse
It was not until his age-29 season in 2011 that Michael Morse finally broke through, and he did it in a big way, posting a .910 OPS and launching 31 home runs for the Nationals.
He followed that up with an injury-plagued 2012 campaign, but he still managed 18 home runs and 62 RBI in 102 games. With Adam LaRoche re-signed and Denard Span acquired last offseason, Morse wound up being the odd man out in Washington and was traded to the Seattle Mariners last offseason.
After hitting six home runs in the first nine games of the season, he struggled to provide much of anything the rest of the way. Now, he finds himself likely headed for a one-year deal from someone in an effort to boost his stock, and he could certainly surprise.
Second Base: Kelly Johnson
After a decent start to his career with the Atlanta Braves, Kelly Johnson joined the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2010 and broke out in a big way, hitting .284/.370/.496 with 26 home runs and 71 RBI. He's been chasing those numbers ever since in what has been an up-and-down three seasons.
Johnson joined the Tampa Bay Rays on a one-year, $2.45 million deal last offseason and managed to hit 16 home runs in just 366 at-bats, splitting time between second base, third base and left field.
He's hit just .226/.307/.395 over the past three years, but he has managed 53 home runs over that span, as the 31-year-old provides solid versatility and plus power when slotted at second base.
Third Base: Kevin Youkilis
One of the most overpaid players of the 2013 free-agent class when he received a one-year, $12 million deal from the New York Yankees to be an insurance policy for Alex Rodriguez, this time around, Kevin Youkilis could wind up being a bargain.
Back issues limited him to just 28 games this past year, and they will likely be an ongoing concern for the 34-year-old. But he's still capable of being a plus run producer when he's on the field and is one of the better options in a paper-thin crop of third basemen.
He's worth taking a chance on if he accepts a one-year, incentive-laden deal and a team is not expecting him to give it 500 at-bats.
Shortstop: Willie Bloomquist
As usual, the shortstop market is incredibly thin this year. Stephen Drew and Jhonny Peralta are viable starting options, but there's a sharp drop-off after them to veteran Rafael Furcal, who is coming off of Tommy John surgery, and the defensive-only duo of Clint Barmes and Brendan Ryan.
One guy flying under the radar who could make an impact at the position is Willie Bloomquist. He's not an everyday option, but used the right way, he could provide solid defense, good contact ability and even a few stolen bases.
The 35-year-old can also play second base and the outfield, and after being limited by a strained oblique and a broken hand this past season, he won't cost any more than the $1.9 million he made in 2013.
Outfield: Chris Young
The A's bought out their $11 million option on Chris Young already this offseason; the outfielder spent one uneventful season in Oakland after coming over from the Diamondbacks in a three-team trade last offseason.
A legitimate 30/30 threat during his time in Arizona, Young went 32/27 as a rookie in 2007 and posted back-to-back 20/20 seasons in 2010 and 2011. That mix of power and speed is rare, and anyone who takes a chance on him in free agency will be hoping he can return to that level.
He strikes out a lot and has limited on-base skills, with a .315 career on-base percentage, but on the right low-cost deal, Young could provide a nice offensive spark for a team looking to bolster its outfield attack.
Starting Pitcher: Tim Hudson
It has been a terrific nine-year run in Atlanta for Tim Hudson. The right-hander went 113-72 with a 3.56 ERA during his time with the Braves and was still pitching at a high level when a broken ankle ended his season on July 24.
The 38-year-old was 4-3 with a 2.73 ERA in the 10 starts leading up to his injury, and he picked up career win No. 200 this past year, quietly put together a fantastic career.
Hudson is expected to be back to 100 percent well before the start of spring training, according to MLB Trade Rumors, so he should have plenty of time to prove to scouts that he's healthy this offseason. Still, there is some risk here, and if someone can get him to sign a one-year deal at the $9 million he made in 2013, he could be a great deal.
Relief Pitcher: Jesse Crain
Jesse Crain was in the midst of one of the best relief pitching seasons in recent memory, one that included a streak of 29 straight scoreless appearances, when a shoulder injury landed him on the shelf on July 2.
He didn't pitch again, as he was named to the AL All-Star team and traded to the Tampa Bay Rays all while on the disabled list. Now, he looks to be one of the better risk/reward options on the market.
The 32-year-old has dealt with shoulder issues before, and the fact that he was not able to come back down the stretch to prove his health certainly makes him a risky signing. As long as a team protects itself with an incentive-heavy deal, though, he could be a great addition.