Finding the MLB Free Agency All-Value Team
There have been several free-agent signings thus far that, at least potentially, have a solid chance of becoming great values for their new teams.
The Blue Jays picked up catcher Dioner Navarro for two years and $8 million after he posted a .856 OPS with 13 homers in 89 games last season. Corey Hart signed a contract with Seattle that guarantees him only $6 million. If he bounces back from knee surgery and returns to the player who posted a .830 OPS between 2007 and 2012, the additional $13 million he could earn from incentives will still be a great bargain.
Joe Nathan signed a two-year, $20 million deal to fill a major void in the Tigers bullpen, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia's $7 million per season deal with the Marlins after his impressive 2013 campaign could end up looking like a steal compared to Brian McCann's five-year, $85 million deal with the Yankees.
Teams still hoping to find a great free-agent value signing aren't out of options just yet. While it has gotten extremely thin at certain positions, particularly at catcher, second base and third base, I've found a potential free-agent value still available for each position.
With so many front-line starting pitchers still available, it's easy to overlook Bronson Arroyo (pictured). He'll be 37 next month and barely cracks 87 mph with his fastball.
But he's one of the most durable and consistent pitchers in the game with a 4.10 ERA and an average of 33 starts and 207 innings per season over the past decade. And he's done most of that while pitching a majority of his games at the hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park.
His asking price may be too high, which is why he remains unsigned. But if there ever was a 37-year-old pitcher who deserves a three-year deal, it's Arroyo. And yet, it might not take more than two years and $20 million.
Considering that several teams, such as the Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays, are lacking starting pitching options that they can count on for more than 25 starts and 150 innings in 2014, there should be much more of a sense of urgency to sign the right-hander.
Even at two years and $15 million, the amount that Grant Balfour (pictured) and the Baltimore Orioles had agreed upon before the deal fell through because of the team's concern with Balfour's medical records, the former A's closer appeared to be signing at a lesser rate than had been anticipated.
Despite Rays team doctor Koco Eaton, who is very familiar with Balfour, claiming that the MRI appears the same as it did three years earlier, the 36-year-old right-hander will find it difficult to get a deal that isn't less than the O's were about to give him.
With a handful of teams still in need of a late-inning upgrade, including the New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners, Balfour shouldn't have a hard time finding another closer's gig. But instead of a two-year deal, he might have to settle for a one-year deal for around $6-8 million.
For a guy who posted a 2.56 ERA with 3.6 BB/9, 9.4 K/9 and 62 saves the past two seasons, that contract would be a huge bargain for whichever team signs him.
The last time John Buck (pictured) was a free agent, he landed a three-year, $18 million deal for his ages 30-32 seasons. But he was coming off of a career year with Toronto (.802 OPS, 20 HR, 66 RBI, All-Star).
Now at age 33 and with a subpar .661 OPS over the span of his last contract, Buck is not appearing to draw much interest even though what was initially a very deep catching free-agent market has dwindled to almost nothing.
With only a handful of teams seeking a backup catcher at this point, it's unlikely that Buck can get anything more than a one-year, $2 million deal, if that.
That's not a bad deal for a veteran with 973 career starts behind the plate and mediocre overall numbers (15 homers in 2013 while throwing out 29 percent of attempted base stealers). Plenty of teams would benefit from giving him 60-80 starts in 2014 for a very low cost.
Kendrys Morales could very well sign at a discounted rate with many teams currently shying away from his contract demands and the draft pick compensation attached to his signing. But even then, he probably wouldn't cost any less than one year and $10-12 million.
For a guy who's limited defensively and has a sub-.800 OPS over the past two seasons, it's hard to call that a bargain.
But for a cost of one year and possibly as little as $2 or 3 million, a team could sign Mark Reynolds (pictured), who has more power and is a better defensive first baseman.
Sure, he probably shouldn't be allowed to play over 120 games because the massive slumps he endures throughout the season would certainly hurt a team.
But if he's limited to three or four starts per week, sitting against the toughest right-handed pitchers, he could still hit double-digit homers while providing his team with a legitimate power threat coming off the bench late in the game.
Keep in mind that utility infielder Nick Punto signed a one-year, $3 million with the A's. A very good defender, Punto has some value. But he's unlikely to play very often or produce much at the plate. Reynolds and his 20-homer potential as a part-time player could cost about the same.
Second Base/Third Base
There's really not much available in terms of a starting second baseman or third baseman on the free-agent market. But for a team looking for some help at either spot, or maybe both, Jeff Baker (pictured) can at least play both positions.
He may be less than adequate as an infielder, but the 32-year-old utilityman has started 131 games at second base and 64 at third base during his nine-year career. He can also play first base and the corner outfield spots. Most importantly, he crushes left-handed pitching (1.073 OPS, 10 HR in 105 at-bats versus left-handed pitchers in 2013).
A team that has at-bats for him outside of second base or third base is ideal. But having him around as a backup plan, in case of injury or in case the team is getting zero offensive production from either spot, would be another great reason to sign him to a two-year deal that shouldn't cost more than $7 or 8 million.
After a strong bounce-back season with the Boston Red Sox in 2013, Stephen Drew (pictured) appeared primed to land a big-money, multi-year deal. With Jhonny Peralta, the second-best free agent shortstop available, signing a four-year, $53 million with the Cardinals, the 30-year-old Drew appeared to be in line for at least four years and $60 million.
But now word is that the Mets, who have been widely viewed as one of the favorites to land the shortstop, aren't willing to offer him more than a one-year deal, according to Andy Martino of the New York Daily News. Could it be that the market isn't as strong as it was thought to be?
Unless more teams step up their pursuit, he could just settle for another one-year deal to return to the Red Sox. Even at a cost of $13-15 million, that's a very good deal for the Sox as they look to maintain some veteran stability on the left side of the infield with 21-year-old rookie Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks, who struggled early in 2013, currently penciled into the lineup.
Early in the offseason, it seemed as though there would be a huge market for power-hitting Nelson Cruz (pictured), despite his late-season suspension for PED usage. But with teams like the Diamondbacks, Mets, Phillies, Rangers and Royals all opting to fill needs for outfield help with players other than Cruz, his current options appear to be few and far between.
If he finds that a one-year deal would benefit him most, giving him a chance to prove that he can put up his typical season without the aid of a performance-enhancing drug—he has an .842 OPS with an average of 27 homers per season since 2009—he could return to the free-agent market in much better shape next offseason.
Cruz could probably land a one-year, $14-$16 million deal, which isn't a bad risk at all for a team that doesn't have payroll limitations for next season and might not want to invest long term in a 33-year-old coming off a PED suspension.
Delmon Young (pictured) gets a bad rap, and it's mostly deserved. But there's no mistaking how productive he's been in the postseason throughout his career. In 117 career at-bats in the playoffs, the 28-year-old has an .859 OPS with nine homers and 18 runs batted in.
He hasn't been good during the regular season since 2010, though, which is why he's still available on the free-agent market and why you probably haven't heard his name mentioned very often.
Teams hoping to contend probably figure they can pick him up later in the season after he's dumped by whichever team takes a shot at him early in the regular season.
If a team can place him in a part-time role, where he's not expected to play on the field very often or start more than a few times per week, he could become a nice value at a price that is unlikely to exceed $1 million for 2014.
With a career .812 OPS against left-handed pitchers, you'd figure a team like the Rays, who currently have Sean Rodriguez, Jerry Sands and Brandon Guyer as right-handed bench options and employed Young at the end of 2013, could find a spot for him.