MLB Free Agents 2014: The 8 Best Bargains Remaining

Kyle NewportFeatured ColumnistJanuary 20, 2014

MLB Free Agents 2014: The 8 Best Bargains Remaining

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Many moves have been made by MLB teams this winter, but there is still a long way to go before this offseason is over. With many of the top free agents off the market, teams need to start searching for the best bargains.

    Robinson Cano and Shin-Soo Choo are gone, but the top pitchers are still available. The pitching market is likely to heat up in the next week or so after Masahiro Tanaka makes his decision. For the small-market teams, there are plenty of options besides the high-priced free agents.

    Bargain players can be the missing pieces for any contending team.

    A guy like Bronson Arroyo will make around $12 million per season, so it's tough to consider him a bargain. He is good for 200 innings a year and is a relative bargain compared to the market, but his price is too big for this list.

    What exactly makes a player a bargain? A low price certainly helps the cause, but a player can still be a relative bargain in comparison to the rest of the market. Veterans who get overlooked on the market are classic bargain finds. Players recovering from injuries are the best bargains, but they can also be risky signings.

    Let's take a look at which players made the list of the best bargains remaining.

     

    *All stats are via MLB.com 

No. 8: Jair Jurrjens, RHP

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    2013 stats: 2 G/1 GS, 7.1 IP, 0-0, 4.91 ERA, 1 HR, 6 K/1 BB, 1.364 WHIP

     

    Jair Jurrjens has plenty of potential in his right arm. He has put up strong numbers in the past, but it's pitching effectively on a consistent basis that has him looking for a job.

    It was only three years ago that Jurrjens made the National League All-Star team. He went 13-6 with a 2.96 ERA in 2011. It looked like he was going to be a major force in the Atlanta Braves rotation.

    Injuries have been a big reason as to why the 27-year-old has struggled. He hasn't made more than 23 starts in a season since 2009. A thumb injury was the latest setback for the right-hander last year.

    When he is able to make a lot of starts in a season, the numbers look impressive. He has made at least 23 starts in a season three times, including at least 31 starts twice, in his seven-year career. Here are his earned run averages in those three seasons: 3.68 (2008), 2.60 (2009) and 2.69 (2011).

    The key for him is to make sure he stays on a normal schedule and takes the ball every fifth day. When he hasn't made more than 20 starts in a season, he hasn't posted an earned run average below 4.64.

    Obviously injuries have affected his performance, but he is a very good pitcher when healthy. After the Braves decided not to bring him back, the Baltimore Orioles gave him a chance. An injury cost him, and he was designated for assignment.

    The Detroit Tigers gave him a chance on a minor-league deal, but he never reached the majors. 

    Jurrjens will have to accept a minor-league deal if he wants to get back to the majors. It's a low-risk, high-reward move for any team looking for pitcher. Jurrjens has the potential to be a good starter. Teams will have to work with him in order to help him avoid injuries, and a minor-league deal could pay off in a big way for any team.

No. 7: Mitchell Boggs, RHP

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    2013 stats: 27 G, 23.1 IP, 0-3, 2 SV, 8.10 ERA, 28 H, 16 K/20 BB, 2.057 WHIP

     

    The St. Louis Cardinals had relied on Mitchell Boggs for many years. He had been a big part of the team's bullpen for five years, but his struggles last year cost him his job.

    Boggs went 0-3 with an 11.05 ERA and a 2.455 WHIP in 18 games with St. Louis last year. Those struggles came after he had improved his earned run average in each of his first five seasons in the majors.

    The 29-year-old was traded to the Colorado Rockies in July. He made two appearances for the Rockies in July, but he appeared in more games in the minors than he did in the majors after the trade. In Triple-A, the reliever posted an 8.27 ERA in 16.1 innings.

    His numbers in the minors don't look pretty, but he did rebound nicely when he got back to the majors. Boggs had a 3.12 ERA and a 1.385 WHIP over nine appearances with the Rockies.

    If you look at Boggs' track record, he deserves another shot in the majors. He is one of the better relievers still on the market, so look for him to be a strong addition to a roster once the pitching market heats up.

No. 6: James McDonald, RHP

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    2013 stats: 6 GS, 29.2 IP, 2-2, 5.76 ERA, 29 H, 1 HR, 25 K/20 BB, 1.652 WHIP

     

    James McDonald showed promise in 2012, but 2013 was not kind to him.

    The right-hander went 9-3 with a 2.37 ERA prior to the All-Star break in 2012. He wasn't named to the National League All-Star team that year, although he was certainly deserving.

    He put up great numbers through those 17 starts, but he hasn't been able to put up similar numbers since then.

    McDonald went 3-5 with a 7.52 ERA in the second half of the 2012 season, and his 5.76 ERA in a limited number of starts last year didn't do anything to impress teams. 

    A shoulder injury kept him from getting back on the mound in 2013. He pitched through April but didn't throw another pitch the rest of the season, and the Pittsburgh Pirates designated him for assignment in September.

    McDonald has shown that he can be a dominant starter over an extended period of time. He hasn't put together a full season, but a team in need of pitching should be willing to take a chance on him. The 29-year-old is a low-cost option with the potential to be a solid starter.  

No. 5: Jose Valverde, RHP

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    2013 stats: 20 G, 19.1 IP, 5.59 ERA, 18 H, 6 HR, 19 K/6 BB, 1.241 WHIP

     

    For a span of about six years, Jose Valverde was one of the better closers in baseball. The wheels fell off quickly as he had a disastrous 2013 season.

    The right-hander didn't sign with the Detroit Tigers until after the season started, and he didn't last with the team very long. He made his season debut on April 24 and was gone less than two months later.

    Now Valverde is looking for a job.

    The 35-year-old has led the league in saves three different times, and he has piled up 289 career saves. He has a 3.19 ERA over his 11-year career. Although he struggled last year, he has proven to be a reliable reliever.

    From 2007 to 2012, his highest earned run average for a season was 3.78. That season, in 2012, was the only year that his earned run average was above 3.38 during that span. Those are pretty impressive numbers.

    The biggest concern would be that Valverde isn't striking out batters as frequently as he had been. He had only 48 strikeouts in 69 innings two years ago, compared to 69 strikeouts in 72.1 innings in 2011.

    Valverde is likely available to be signed to a minor-league contract. He accepted one with the Tigers in 2013, and he did nothing to help his value when he pitched. A minor-league deal for the reliever could turn into a big steal for some team.

No. 4: David Aardsma, RHP

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    2013 stats: 43 G, 39.2 IP, 4.31 ERA, 39 H, 7 HR, 36 K/19 BB, 1.462 WHIP

     

    David Aardsma has battled injuries in recent seasons, but he could be a solid addition to most bullpens.

    He posted a 2.52 ERA back in 2009 and a 3.44 ERA in 2010, but he has pitched in only 43 games since then. The results have been mixed.

    The 32-year-old has no trouble getting left-handed batters out. He held left-handers to a .218 average and allowed only one home run. Right-handed batters hit .278 with six homers against him, which is unusual for a right-handed pitcher.

    Aardsma has been around the league, which could explain why he has rarely put up consistent numbers. He has pitched for seven teams in his eight-year career. The only time that he pitched in the same place in back-to-back year, in 2009 and 2010 with the Seattle Mariners, he put up the best numbers of his career.

    A team willing to work with Aardsma and give him a multi-year deal would be able to get strong results. A multi-year deal would still be a low-cost option. His injury history and inability to get right-handers out consistently will hurt his leverage, so teams should be willing to give him a chance.

No. 3: Paul Maholm, LHP

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    2013 stats: 26 GS, 153 IP, 10-11, 4.41 ERA, 169 H, 17 HR, 105 K/47 BB, 1.412 WHIP

     

    A few years ago, Paul Maholm was a coveted pitcher. Now he is looking for a place to pitch.

    Maholm looked like he was beginning to put things together entering last year. He posted a 3.66 ERA in 2011 and a 3.67 ERA in 2012, which were the best marks of his career. Unfortunately for him, he was unable to put up similar numbers during his walk year.

    The southpaw isn't going to blow hitters away, so he has to rely on pitching to contact. He held left-handers to a .226 average and allowed only one home run. Right-handers were a different story, however. They hit .299 with 15 homers against the pitcher in 2013.

    The 31-year-old battled with consistency issues last year. One month he would be solid, but he had trouble posting consecutive strong months. He never posted an earned run average under 4.00 in back-to-back months.

    He also spent time on the disabled with a left wrist injury. The injury cost him a month, starting in late July. Before the injury, he had been pitching well. He had posted a 3.98 ERA through June, and he had a 3.98 ERA right before he went down with an injury.

    When he returned to the rotation, Maholm threw four quality starts in six outings. He showed that he was healthy enough to be effective.

    Maholm isn't going to be an extremely cheap option—in comparison to the rest of the market. He has thrown 175 innings six times in his nine-year career, including one season with more than 200 innings. The left-hander threw the ball well after coming off the disabled list, so teams shouldn't be too worried about his health.

    For a pitcher like Maholm, teams can get him for a relatively cheap cost. He may be willing to take a cheap, short-term deal in order to rebuild some value. A team that is looking for a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher would be wise to sign him.

No. 2: Derrick Robinson, Outfielder

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    2013 stats: 102 G, .255/.322/.323, 0 HR, 7 2B, 3 3B, 8 RBI, 4 SB

     

    Not many fans outside of Kansas City and Cincinnati know who Derrick Robinson is, but the outfielder is one of the best bargains still available.

    The 26-year-old got his first shot to show what he could do in the majors in 2013. The former fourth-round pick spent the first seven years of his careers in the minors, but the Reds gave him a chance to be a reserve outfielder in his first season with the organization.

    Robinson made the Opening Day roster as a bench player, but it wasn't long before he got a chance to play a lot. Left fielder Ryan Ludwick went down on Opening Day and was out until August. Robinson was one of three outfielders who rotated playing left field during Ludwick's absence.

    By June, Robinson had earned a lot of playing time.

    The switch-hitter doesn't have much pop in his bat. However, he did show signs of being able to get on base. He hit .288/.367/.375 as a left-handed batter last season.

    He has good speed and could thrive on a team that uses him well. Cincinnati didn't steal many bases last year, but Robinson has the speed to pile up stolen bases. From 2008 to 2011, the speedster had at least 50 stolen bases in each season in the minors.

    Robinson is a strong bunter as well. With his ability to place the ball where he wants, he can help any team that needs a bunt in a key situation.

    He can play any outfield position and is a strong defender.

    Robinson's not a superstar, but he is a good player for a cheap price.  

No. 1: Eric O'Flaherty, LHP

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    2013 stats: 19 G, 18 IP, 3-0, 2.50 ERA, 12 H, 11 K/5 BB, 0.944 WHIP

     

    If Eric O'Flaherty wasn't recovering from Tommy John surgery, he probably would already be signed, likely by the Atlanta Braves. However, teams are being cautious about signing the southpaw as he tries to get back on the mound.

    Before the injury, O'Flaherty was arguably the best left-handed reliever in baseball.

    He got off to a rough start to his career in Seattle, but he has been great in five years in Atlanta. He has a 1.99 ERA and a 1.155 WHIP in 295 appearances over his five seasons with the Braves. Here are his earned run averages from 2010 to 2013: 2.45, 0.98, 1.73 and 2.50. Pretty impressive.

    O'Flaherty owns left-handed hitters. He has held lefties to a .200 average with only five home runs in his eight-year career.

    The numbers don't lie. O'Flaherty is as good as it gets against left-handed batters.

    Unfortunately for the 28-year-old, he underwent Tommy John last June. He will miss the beginning of this upcoming season, so teams may wait until he proves that he is healthy before signing him. Whatever team takes a chance on him will be rewarded with a dominant arm.