The Best Players Signed for Under $3 Million This Offseason
In an offseason highlighted by Robinson Cano's $240 million contract and more recently, per Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Masahiro Tanaka’s for $155 million, it’s easy to forget about the more "salt of the earth" millionaires during free agency.
And while Cano and Tanaka are sure to help their respective organizations more than the Nick Puntos and LaTroy Hawkins’ of the world, MLB teams are still just as obligated to prudently add roster-fillers as they are All-Stars.
Take maligned closer Chris Perez, for example. After pitching his way into an offseason release, the Los Angeles Dodgers inked the exiled right-hander to a mere one-year, $2.3 million contract. Even though Perez is at least third in line for saves with the Dodgers, Steamer projects that the 28-year-old will toss a 3.29 ERA (versus a 3.60 FIP) in 2014.
This makes Perez's minuscule salary an instant win for the spendthrift organization.
Read on to see all the best players signed for under $3 million this offseason.
Note: Paul Konerko and his one-year, $2.5 million contract with the Chicago White Sox is excluded from consideration because it was a special-case scenario (i.e. he specifically wanted to re-sign with the White Sox or retire).
Over the past three seasons, Jamey Wright has been one of the most quietly dependable relievers in baseball. Since 2011, Wright has combined for a 3.32 ERA (versus a park-adjusted 115 ERA+), 1.34 WHIP and 2.01-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio while averaging 69 innings per season.
Yet the 39-year-old has seen little job security despite the feat, playing for three different organizations (the Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays) over that span.
The Dodgers signed the veteran reliever to a one-year, $1.8 million deal this offseason, which will be the second time Wright has pitched in Los Angeles since 2011. And with a Steamer-projected 3.25 ERA (versus a 3.36 FIP) for 2014, it's quite possible Wright is one of the few players who has actually improved with age, as FanGraphs' Mike Petriello pointed out.
At age 41, LaTroy Hawkins hasn’t shown many signs of slowing down.
The New York Mets became Hawkins’ 10th organization last season, and the 19-year veteran impressed. Hawkins posted a 2.93 ERA (versus a 3.23 FIP), 1.14 WHIP and 5.50-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The right-hander even filled in at closer when Bobby Parnell went down with a herniated disc in his neck, recording 13 saves in Parnell's absence.
In the offseason, the Colorado Rockies were in need of a closer. Not wanting to overpay for a ninth-inning man, the Rockies instead inked Hawkins to a reasonable one-year, $2.25 million deal with a $2.25 million team option for 2015 or a $250,000 buyout.
Even if Hawkins cedes his job to 26-year-old Rex Brothers at some point during the season, the veteran is a steal at $2.25 million.
On the surface, a one-year, $2.75 million contract (with a $2.75 million 2015 team option or a $250,000 buyout) for a 36-year-old who hit .255 with just two home runs last season seems like an overpay.
But upon a closer look, the Oakland Athletics can chalk up the Nick Punto addition as yet another savvy move.
While Punto is a classic light-hitting infielder, his 15 doubles over 335 plate appearances in 2013 fueled his respectable park-adjusted 90 wRC+. And with a 9.9 percent walk rate to boot, the switch-hitter's offense was slightly better than critics might have thought at first glance.
But Punto's comparatively sparse contributions on offense are hardly what makes the A's signing a good one. The 13-year veteran's bread and butter is his ability to play multiple positions and do so quite well.
Punto logged more than 100 innings at second base, shortstop and third base in 2013—and recorded either passable or elite defensive gradings at each of them.
With defense arguably being the new “market inefficiency,” the Athletics’ acquisition of Nick Punto was a prudent allocation of limited finances—and subsequently, a quintessential Billy Beane maneuver.
Chris Perez did not have a fruitful 2013 season.
Despite a solid 3.04 ERA in the first half, his 4.74 FIP served as foreshadowing for his dismal second half. Like clockwork, Perez tossed a 5.60 ERA (versus a 5.43 FIP) after the All-Star break.
The Cleveland Indians, for whom Perez had closed since 2009, released the reliever at season’s end, instead inking John Axford to shut the door in 2014.
Even though Perez may not be worthy of closing, the right-hander still has substantial value as a bullpen arm.
And that’s why the Los Angeles Dodgers signed him. Acquired on a shockingly reasonable one-year, $2.3 million contract, Perez is projected by Steamer to post a helpful 3.29 ERA (versus a 3.60 FIP) in 2014.
Behind both Kenley Jansen and Brian Wilson in the pecking order, it would be odd to see Perez get any save chances in 2014. But then again, the Dodgers will just need the former first-round pick to get outs in the seventh inning.
Like many players before him, Kelly Johnson received a shot of rejuvenation by spending a year with the Tampa Bay Rays.
In the first half of 2013, Johnson hit to the tune of a park-adjusted 114 wRC+ with a 9.3 percent walk rate and 13 home runs. And even though the 31-year-old’s second half was dismal (a 70 wRC+, 6.9 percent walk rate and three home runs), it’s not as if Johnson was earning Alex Rodriguez money.
Speaking of which, Johnson, whom the New York Yankees signed to a one-year, $3 million contract to replace the suspended Rodriguez, will start at third base for the Bombers in 2014.
Considering his Steamer-projected 1.4 fWAR for 2014, Johnson is not only in the rare position to start for the Yankees, but he also could prime himself for his first multi-year deal—if he produces well—following the season.
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