10 Under-the-Radar Offseason MLB Moves That Already Look Like Steals
Assembling a successful MLB team is not necessarily all about hitting on top draft picks and spending big on high-profile free agents, though those things certainly help.
Teams also need to fill in the holes with under-the-radar signings and trades, and every team is looking to benefit from the next big bargain addition.
The Cleveland Indians took a flier on Scott Kazmir last season, and he wound up being an absolute steal in his return from the independent league. On a smaller scale, the Kansas City Royals took a chance on veteran Miguel Tejada, and he too made a positive contribution off the big league bench.
With that being said, here is a look at 10 under-the-radar moves that already look like steals for the teams that made them.
It's worth noting that a signing being a good value does not necessarily mean it qualifies as an under-the-radar move.
Guys such as Justin Morneau, Michael Morse, Nelson Cruz and Edinson Volquez all look to be good bargains in the early going, but their signings received plenty of attention and don't really qualify as being under the radar.
RP Matt Albers, Houston Astros
One-year, $2.45 million ($3 million club option for 2015, $200,000 buyout)
RP Joe Beimel, Seattle Mariners
IF/OF Kevin Frandsen, Washington Nationals
One-year, $900,000 (can earn an additional $300,000 in incentives)
2B Brandon Hicks, San Francisco Giants
RP Tommy Kahnle, Colorado Rockies
One-year, $500,000 (acquired from NYY in Rule 5 draft)
RP Pat Neshek, St. Louis Cardinals
One-year, $1 million
RP Josh Outman, Cleveland Indians
One-year, $1.25 million (acquired from COL via trade)
CF Grady Sizemore, Boston Red Sox
One-year, $750,000 (can earn an additional $6 million in incentives)
RP Fernando Abad, Oakland Athletics
Contract: one-year, $525,900 (acquired from WAS via trade)
One of the few southpaws in the Washington Nationals bullpen last season, Fernando Abad appeared in 39 games and posted a 3.26 ERA.
He actually fared better against right-handed hitters (.247 BA, .619 OPS) than he did against left-handed batters (.306 BA, .790 OPS), and the Nationals opted to deal him to Oakland for prospect John Wooten this winter.
He opened the season with 5.1 no-hit innings, and he has yet to allow his first run of the year, giving an already solid A's bullpen another plus arm.
IF/OF Emilio Bonifacio, Chicago Cubs
Contract: one-year, $2.5 million (can earn an additional $425,000 in incentives)
After signing free agent Omar Infante to a four-year, $30.25 million deal, the Kansas City Royals opted to release Emilio Bonifacio, and the Chicago Cubs jumped at the chance to add the versatile speedster.
Signed to a minor league deal, Bonifacio won a roster spot in spring training and quickly played his way into regular at-bats by collecting a record nine hits in his first two games.
Given his ability to play second, third and center field, he should continue to see regular at-bats despite not having an everyday position. The 29-year-old is probably not a long-term piece of the puzzle for the Cubs, but he could fetch a nice return at the deadline if he keeps it up.
RP Chris Capuano, Boston Red Sox
Contract: one-year, $2.25 million (can earn an additional $2.25 million in incentives)
Signed in February as insurance once Ryan Dempster decided not to pitch in 2014, Chris Capuano has found a home in the Boston Red Sox bullpen, where he has yet to surrender a run over 13 innings of work.
He missed the 2008 and 2009 seasons following Tommy John surgery but has made a nice comeback over the past few seasons, Most recently, he went 16-19 with a 3.91 ERA in two seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The 35-year-old may yet wind up in the rotation should injury strike, but he's been one of the most productive relievers in baseball, and he was a steal at $3.75 million less than he was making last season.
RP Kyle Farnsworth, New York Mets
Contract: one-year, $1 million (can earn an additional $1.5 million in incentives)
Last offseason, the New York Mets filled out their bullpen with some low-cost veteran signings just before the start of spring training. One of those signings, LaTroy Hawkins, wound up being a terrific bargain, as he closed games down the stretch for the injured Bobby Parnell.
The team employed a similar strategy this offseason, adding veterans Jose Valverde and Kyle Farnsworth to fill out the pen. With Parnell hurt once again and Valverde faltering in the role, the closer's job has fallen to Farnsworth.
The 38-year-old has some closing experience sprinkled throughout his 16 big league seasons, including a 25-save, 2.18 ERA season for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2011. If he can stick in the role and save 30 or so games, he'll be an absolute steal, even with the $1.5 million in incentives tacked on.
SP Aaron Harang, Atlanta Braves
Contract: one-year, $1 million (can earn an additional $1 million in incentives)
With Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy lost for the season to Tommy John surgery and Mike Minor also opening the season on the DL, the Atlanta Braves found themselves scrambling to put together a viable rotation at the end of spring training.
Among their solutions was the signing of veteran Aaron Harang to a minor league deal shortly after the Cleveland Indians released him. That after he posted a 4.91 ERA in five spring appearances and a 5.40 ERA in 26 starts during the 2013 regular season.
The hope was that he could eat some innings and be a place holder until the staff got healthy, but he has been one of the best starters in baseball in the early going. His last time out, he was removed after seven no-hit innings due to a high pitch count. If he keeps pitching like he has been, the Braves will have no choice but to keep him in the rotation.
3B Kevin Kouzmanoff, Texas Rangers
Contract: minor league contract (league minimum)
Once a top prospect, Kevin Kouzmanoff spent four seasons as an everyday player from 2007-10, posting an average line of .259/.303/.426 with 19 home runs and 79 RBI.
After spending 2011 in a bench role, he had not seen big league action the past two seasons before signing a minor league deal with the Texas Rangers this offseason. He again opened the year in the minors, but an injury to third baseman Adrian Beltre earned him a call-up.
He's made the most of the opportunity so far. He was named the AL Player of the Week last week after going 10-for-29 with eight RBI and 20 total bases. Obviously, he's not going to supplant Beltre, but he should stick around as a productive bench piece at a very low price once he gets healthy.
"He’s been a godsend in Beltre’s absence," manager Ron Washington told The Dallas Morning News. "He’s had every role a guy could have. There is no situation he has not been in. That’s important experience. That’s experience you like to have on your bench. It’s not going to be an issue for us when Beltre returns. I don’t know where we’d be without him.”
LF Jason Kubel, Minnesota Twins
Contract: one-year, $2 million (can earn an additional $1 million in incentives)
After spending the first seven seasons of his career with the Minnesota Twins, including one season with 28 home runs and 103 RBI in 2009, Jason Kubel joined the Arizona Diamondbacks on a two-year, $16 million deal prior to the 2012 season.
He was terrific in his first season with the team, posting an .833 OPS with 30 home runs and 90 RBI, but things went south last year, and he hit a combined .216/.293/.317 in 259 at-bats between Arizona and Cleveland.
Forced to settle for a minor league deal this winter, he rejoined the Twins and won a roster spot out of spring training. The Minnesota offense has been one of the bigger surprises in baseball in the early going, and a resurgent Kubel has certainly played a role in that.
3B Casey McGehee, Miami Marlins
Contract: one-year, $1.1 million (could earn an additional $450,000 in incentives)
Finding production at the hot corner on the open market is getting harder and harder, and it was slim pickings once again this winter. Juan Uribe, Michael Young and Kevin Youkilis were the cream of the free-agent crop.
Uribe re-signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Young retired, and Youkilis went to play in Japan, leaving teams in need of an upgrade without much in the way of viable options. Thinking outside the box, the Miami Marlins signed Casey McGehee, who spent last season in Japan himself.
After big seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2009 and 2010, McGehee saw his production and playing time fall off drastically. The move to Japan last year was really his best option, and the Marlins saw enough in his .891 OPS, 30 doubles and 28 home runs to give him a shot at the everyday job.
He's been solid so far and is certainly an upgrade, as Marlins third basemen hit a combined .248/.315/.300 last year, according to ESPN.com.
RP Will Smith, Milwaukee Brewers
Contract: one-year, $502,000 (acquired from KC via trade)
Looking to move outfielder Norichika Aoki to free up an everyday spot for Khris Davis, the Milwaukee Brewers found a trade partner in the Kansas City Royals, picking up 24-year-old southpaw Will Smith in return.
Smith broke into the majors as a starter in 2012, going 6-9 with a 5.32 ERA and 1.61 WHIP over 16 starts and 89.2 innings of work. He moved to the bullpen last season and posted a 3.24 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 11.6 K/9 over 33.1 innings.
The Brewers bullpen has been terrific in the early going, and while the decision to re-sign closer Francisco Rodriguez (11 IP, 0.00 ERA, 8-of-8 SV) will get the headlines, Smith has been a big reason for the group's success.
IF Yangervis Solarte, New York Yankees
Contract: minor league contract (league minimum)
The New York Yankees signed Yangervis Solarte as a six-year minor league free agent in the offseason after the 26-year-old spent the previous two seasons in the minor league system of the Texas Rangers.
A career .286/.336/.397 hitter in the minors, Solarte hit .276/.323/.403 with 12 home runs and 75 RBI at the Triple-A level last season. It was clear he had some offensive potential, but he had yet to make his big league debut heading into 2014.
An 18-for-42 (.429 BA) spring, which included a pair of home runs, earned Solarte a spot on the Opening Day roster, and injuries put him in a position to earn fairly regular at-bats from the get-go. He's made the most of the opportunity and has been perhaps the biggest out-of-nowhere contributor of the season so far.
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