MLB Free Agency 2013: 6 Hidden Values Teams Should Sign ASAP
The Winter Meetings, where many of the biggest trades and free-agent signings normally happen, don't even start until next Monday and it's already been one of the most eventful offseasons in recent memory.
With so many free agents coming off of the board so quickly and an unexpectedly high number of trades being made, there has to be a sense of urgency throughout the league to get things done before it's too late.
That means that players who may have normally been available at a discounted rate in January or February might have teams calling much earlier this offseason.
Here are six under-the-radar free agents who should come at a bargain price. They'll just need to be signed as soon as possible while the bigger names on the market are still overshadowing them.
Jeff Baker, IF/OF
There were several playoff contenders looking for some right-handed power to upgrade their bench prior to last season's trade deadline.
Jeff Baker wasn't available because he played for the playoff-contending Texas Rangers, but he's available now as a free agent.
Not only does he mash left-handed pitchers—he has a career .875 OPS against them and had a 1.073 OPS with 10 homers in 105 at-bats against them in 2013—he's one of the most versatile players in the game with experience at first base, second base, third base, left field and right field.
The 32-year-old will likely require a raise on his $1.75 million salary from 2013, and possibly even a multi-year deal. If Nick Punto is getting $3 million to be the backup infielder for the A's, Baker is easily worth two years and $7 million.
For everything he brings to the table, $3.5 million per season is still a great value.
Eric Chavez, 3B/1B
Eric Chavez hasn't been able to stay healthy for a long stretch of time since he averaged 148 games per season from 2000-2006 while starring for the Oakland A's. He played in only 212 games over the next five years, posting a .686 OPS during the rare occasions when he wasn't out with an injury.
But while he's had a good share of trips to the disabled list over the past two seasons, he's still managed to play in 193 games in a part-time role for the Yankees and Diamondbacks.
Just as importantly, the soon-to-be 36-year-old proved that he could still hit with an .829 OPS and 25 homers in only 506 at-bats.
Banking on him as your starting third baseman probably isn't the best idea, but with a handful of teams weak at the hot corner, it would be smart to bring in Chavez on a one-year deal in the $2.5-4 million range to make 2-4 starts per week and give the team some left-handed power off the bench.
Franklin Gutierrez, OF
Franklin Gutierrez's injury history far outweighs his list of accomplishments as a big leaguer. This is why he won't get much of a guaranteed salary in 2014.
However, as high as the risk will be in offering him any contract at all, the reward could be equally huge.
A former Gold Glove winner, the 30-year-old center fielder was on the field just enough in 2013 to remind teams of what he is capable of doing when healthy. In only 145 at-bats, he hit 10 homers and knocked in 24 runs.
His five walks and 43 strikeouts were also a reminder of the holes in his game, but his combination of power and defense is hard to find.
At the least, a team should give him an incentive-based, one-year deal with the expectation that he'll compete for a fourth outfielder's job with the opportunity to play more if he's productive.
With a career .818 OPS versus left-handed pitching, he could be an ideal platoon partner for a team with a lefty-heavy lineup.
Eric O'Flaherty, RP
There will be plenty of contending teams—even those with solid 25-man rosters in place—that will be looking to trade for a reliable left-handed reliever for the stretch run in 2014. One of those teams could get a head start by signing Eric O'Flaherty now and completely avoid shopping for a lefty reliever on the trade market in July.
The 28-year-old O'Flaherty, who posted a 1.99 ERA for the Braves from 2009-2013, will be about 14 months removed from Tommy John surgery as the trade deadline approaches and could be ready to contribute.
Setbacks do occur often in this particular recovery and there's a chance he doesn't pitch at all in 2014, but that's the only reason why he'll likely cost a team no more than $1 million rather than the three-year, $18 million he probably would've cost had he been healthy.
For a reliever who has held left-handed batters to a .531 OPS throughout his career, that would be a bargain of a deal if he can be utilized in the bullpen for the last two months of the regular season—and possibly into the playoffs.
Grady Sizemore, OF
From 2005-2008, Grady Sizemore was one of the best players in the game. He was a Gold Glove center fielder with an .868 OPS and an average of 27 homers, 41 doubles, 81 runs batted in, 116 runs and 29 stolen bases per season.
Injuries began to take their toll by 2009, though.
Over the next three seasons, Sizemore played in only 210 games while posting a .728 OPS with 28 homers and 17 stolen bases during that span. He never made it back to the field in 2012 while recovering from microfracture surgery on his right knee and also sat out all of 2013.
Still only 31 years of age, Sizemore is an intriguing possibility as a free agent. If he is completely healthy, which might be the first time he can say that in several years, how close is he to the player he was early in his career?
While it's hard to imagine he'd be anywhere close, he'd still be a great addition if he were 75 percent of that player. And it might not cost more than a one-year, incentive-laden deal for a team to find out.
Jake Westbrook, SP
At a cost of $9.5 million, the St. Louis Cardinals could've brought back Jake Westbrook for 2014, but they declined their end of the mutual option, making him a free agent.
With a deep and talented pitching staff in place, the Cardinals simply no longer have room for the 36-year-old Westbrook, who has a 42-39 record to go along with a 4.34 ERA over the past four seasons.
That doesn't mean he couldn't play an integral role on several other teams in the league.
After a disappointing season during which he battled multiple injuries and walked more batters than he struck out, Westbrook is contemplating retirement. It's hard to see that happening, though.
He'll be less than a year removed from being a very effective starting pitcher. Through his first 14 starts of 2013, Westbrook had a 2.88 ERA while averaging 6.1 innings per outing. Things went downhill from there and the injuries could've played a major factor.
While it might take more than a $1-2 million deal to convince him to keep pitching, a team could still find a great bargain for a guy who would be a very good No. 5 starter if healthy.
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