Under-the-Radar Impact Free Agents Still Available at Every Position
There are still diamonds in the rough to be found on the MLB free-agent market.
A few big names in their primes are surrounded by a host of inconsistent veterans in the available talent pool, but this is still a crucial part of the offseason even with most of the marquee players off the table. There are only a few days left until the holidays, so expect a small flurry of action in the near future.
Here's a position-by-position look at under-the-radar players, international and domestic, who could still have big impacts on their teams in 2014 and beyond.
Yenier Bello, C
Cubans like Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig have taken MLB by storm in recent years. According to Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com, there could be a whole new wave of Cuban defectors who become MLB free agents this offseason.
Among them is catcher Yenier Bello, a 28-year-old who has drawn the interest of several MLB teams. Homobono Briceño of solobeisbol.com.mx (Spanish link) recently reported that scouts and/or executives from the Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers each evaluated Bello earlier this month in Tijuana.
Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca wrote that 15 to 20 teams were on hand to scout Bello in November, with the catcher's agent Bryce Dixon saying, "Bello’s throwing arm and his power are his two calling cards. He’s training constantly to prepare to join a big league team in 2014."
Nicholson-Smith notes that Bello hasn't played for a team this season and may need some minor league time to polish up in 2014. One thing working in Bello's favor is that MLB has cleared him, per Nicholson-Smith, but he's still waiting to be unblocked by the United States Office of Foreign Assets Control, a process that could take months.
Bello was an established slugger in Cuba's top league, batting .276/.324/.458 during his nine-year career which concluded after the 2011-12 season. He turned a corner during the 2006-07 campaign, averaging 15.6 homers and 56.8 RBI in 86 contests per year, and that type of power makes him an intriguing option for MLB teams.
Luke Scott, 1B
Luke Scott can be a slugging first baseman when healthy, but he's been slowed by injuries in recent years.
According to Baseball Prospectus, Scott has made six trips to the disabled list in the past three seasons, missing a total of 166 contests in that span. In 2013, he was out the first month of the season with a calf strain, while missing another 16 games late in the year with back spasms, a recurring problem since 2011.
But during his prime seasons from 2007-10, Scott batted .264/.348/.499 with yearly averages of 23 HRs and 70 RBI, solid numbers for his position.
His history of back problems makes him a prime candidate to be a designated hitter, so American League teams like the Los Angeles Angels or New York Yankees make sense as possible destinations. A club in need of a left-handed power bat would be wise to offer Scott a low-risk, incentive-laden deal.
Jayson Nix, 2B
Second base is one position on the free-agent market where the available group has been tapped heavily already this offseason.
Among the remaining candidates is infielder Jayson Nix, who could be a very valuable utility guy in 2014. Nix has been something of a journeyman, playing for five MLB teams in six seasons. He spent the past two seasons in pinstripes with the New York Yankees.
His upside is limited at this point, but Nix hit 26 combined homers in 2009 and 2010 and has since been a bench player. The 31-year-old can play second base, third base, shortstop and even outfield and should have no problem finding work this winter.
Chris Nelson, 3B
The former 2004 first-round pick took a while to get to the major leagues, but he made his impact felt in 2012.
But after struggling to start 2013 with the Colorado Rockies, Chris Nelson was designated for assignment before spending time with the New York Yankees and finally the Los Angeles Angels to wrap up his season.
In all, he batted just .227/.273/.327 with three homers and 24 RBI in 64 contests, failing to ever establish any momentum with any of his three teams, as he was non-tendered by the Angels and made a free agent.
According to Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com, the 28-year-old Nelson is expected to make $1 million this offseason in his first year of arbitration eligibility, so he wouldn't cost much in 2014.
If Nelson could be anything close to his 2012 form, he would be a steal. Although advanced defensive metrics suggest he struggled in the field, he batted .301/.352/.458 with nine HRs and 53 RBI in 111 games for Colorado that season.
Last year's slow start derailed his season before it even got started, but in today's landscape, $1 million isn't much for a player with Nelson's potential.
Aledmys Diaz, SS
Like catcher Yenier Bello, shortstop Aledmys Diaz is expected to be among this year's crop of Cuban free agents, per Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com.
Sanchez recently spoke to Diaz's agent, Jaime Torres, who had this to say about Cuba's talent pool:
There are some very good players out right now and more are coming. Let's put it this way: I can predict that a few of the Cuban players that sign between now and Spring Training are going to contribute in the big leagues in the 2014 season and their contribution is going to be significant.
According to Sanchez, eight teams (Braves, Cardinals, Dodgers, Giants, Orioles, Rays, Red Sox and Yankees) are interested in Diaz's services, and he will become eligible on Feb. 19. At 23 years old with a long list of suitors, Diaz figures to have a bright future in MLB.
Paul Maholm, SP
Paul Maholm's name hasn't surfaced much in the MLB rumor mill this offseason, as he isn't considered in the same class as other free-agent starters like Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana.
That's not to say the lefty can't produce at similar levels in 2014, and at a fraction of the cost.
The 31-year-old southpaw never found a groove with the Atlanta Braves in 2013, finishing with a 10-11 record, 4.41 ERA, 1.41 WHIP and 6.2 K/9 ratio. It wasn't up to par with the solid two-year run he had in 2011-12, when he went a combined 19-25 with a 3.66 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 6.1 K/9.
Left wrist and elbow issues limited Maholm to 26 starts this past season, but he's a great option for any team looking to fill the middle of its rotation. Given the inconsistency of top options like Jimenez and Santana, Maholm would be a smarter alternative for teams in the market for a starter.
Andrew Bailey, RP
Like many other players on this list, Andrew Bailey has dealt with injuries the past couple of seasons that have diminished his value, but he still has plenty of upside heading into 2014.
Bailey missed 116 games in 2012 due to thumb surgery before arm issues caused him to miss 86 more contests this past season. He showed flashes of dominance when healthy in 2013, posting a career-best 12.2 K/9 ratio in 30 appearances, along with a 3.77 ERA and 1.22 WHIP.
Bailey burst onto the scene with the Oakland Athletics as a rookie closer in 2009, converting 26 saves with a 1.84 ERA en route to winning the American League Rookie of the Year Award and making his first of two consecutive All-Star teams.
At this point, he's best suited for a setup role, but he could also serve as closer insurance for any team. Bailey is 29 years old—relatively young compared to other free-agent relievers—making him an attractive candidate for long-term success if he can stay healthy.
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