MLB Free Agents 2012: The All-Bargain Team
The 2012 MLB free-agent class will be headlined by three of the greatest players in the league in Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Jose Reyes.
Each of these players will be looking for deals around—if not more than—$150 million.
But what about the next tier of free agents?
Not every player will be looking for a deal this winter that puts them at the top of their new team’s payroll.
Former players such as Andre Dawson, David Ortiz and Ryan Vogelsong all signed free-agent contracts for less than $2 million and wound up either playing in All-Star games, at the World Series or in the Hall of Fame.
So while the big-name free agents sign their deals this offseason with teams that have money to spend, which players will be available for those teams looking for a bargain?
Catcher: Rod Barajas
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The Dodgers may try to resign Barajas to remain behind the plate with A.J. Ellis until Tim Federowicz is ready to take the job.
However, the Dodgers will also look at signing Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Clayton Kershaw to long-term deals.
That means Barajas may slip to a new team this offseason.
And after playing in fewer than 100 games and making a little more than $3 million this season, the 36-year-old may make for a solid bargain for a team looking for a veteran catcher to split time next season.
Barajas batted .230 with 16 home runs (the second-highest total for the Dodgers) and 47 RBI this season.
He also batted .357 with six homers and 19 RBI in August, while seeing his highest hit total (20) of any month this season.
While Ramon Hernandez leads the list of potential free-agent catchers this offseason, Barajas may be a solid bargain option for a team looking to bridge the gap to its young player behind the plate.
First Base: Casey Kotchman
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Kotchman recently finished a regular season in which he saw his batting average increase to .306 from .217 a year ago.
The 28-year-old played in 146 games this season while hitting 10 homers, 48 RBI and 153 hits.
And he did this after signing a minor league deal with the Tampa Bay Rays this past offseason.
Kotchman began this season with a .336 average prior to the All-Star break.
However, Kotchman also plays first base—the same position as fellow soon-to-be free agents Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Carlos Pena.
This means that Kotchman is likely to be overshadowed when it comes to signing a first baseman to a lucrative deal.
But it also means that a team looking for a bargain deal with a free-agent first baseman who had a .998 fielding percentage this season may have just found their match.
Second Base: Jamey Carroll
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Similar to Barajas, Carroll is another player who the Dodgers may try to re-sign until Justin Sellers takes over full time.
But, again, the Dodgers may also have more pressing deals to complete, meaning any team looking for a veteran second baseman or utility infielder will have a chance to sign Carroll this offseason.
Carroll batted .290 in 146 games this season and drove in 17 runs while smacking 131 hits.
This season saw the highest number of games played in a season in Carroll’s career, and it was the second consecutive year that he batted at least .290.
Carroll also played 66 games at shortstop, which means that any team in need of a veteran middle infielder may show interest in him this offseason.
Shortstop: Orlando Cabrera
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The 36-year-old recently finished with his lowest batting average since the 2000 season after splitting time between the Cleveland Indians and San Francisco Giants.
And after playing for seven different teams in five seasons, the veteran shortstop will be looking for a new landing spot again this offseason.
However, Cabrera is also just two seasons removed from batting .284 with nine home runs and 77 RBI in 160 games.
Cabrera batted .238 with five homers and 51 RBI this season.
He also made $1 million.
While players such as Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins headline this offseason’s group of free-agent shortstops, Cabrera may make for a solid bargain-signing for a team looking for a veteran infielder.
Third Base: Wilson Betemit
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Betemit has not played in more than 100 games in a year since the 2007 season, but he has also batted at least .285 the past two seasons.
After being acquired by the Detroit Tigers from the Kansas City Royals in a midseason trade, Betemit went on to bat .292 in 40 games.
On the season, Betemit batted .285 with eight home runs and 46 RBI.
Although he played in just 97 games, Betemit still had his highest RBI total since the 2007 season and his highest hit total since 2006.
After Aramis Ramirez, Betemit may gain interest this offseason as a third baseman with a solid presence at the plate.
Depending on who he signs with, he may also be one of this offseason’s bargain free-agent signings.
Left Field: Raul Ibanez
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Ibanez just finished a season in which his batting average was his lowest since the 2000 season.
However, prior to this season, he also had 10 consecutive seasons in which he batted over .270.
Ibanez is 39 years old and made more than $12 million this season while seeing some of his lowest offensive numbers.
Ibanez batted .245 this season but still hit 20 home runs and 84 RBI in 144 games.
That means that whichever team signs him this offseason is going to sign him for much less, acquiring a bargain free agent.
Center Field: Rick Ankiel
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Ankiel has had a difficult time matching the offensive success he had in 2008 with the St. Louis Cardinals, but he did manage to play in more than 100 games this season for the third time in his career.
Ankiel also finished the season with a .996 fielding percentage in center field.
The 32-year-old batted .239 in 122 games with nine home runs and 37 RBI while playing for $1.5 million.
Following Carlos Beltran and Michael Cuddyer, Ankiel may be an intriguing candidate for a team looking to sign an outfielder to a bargain deal this offseason.
Although his batting average is not what it once was, Ankiel’s ability to bat at the top of the lineup may be enough to increase his value to a team in need of a veteran outfielder.
Right Field: Reed Johnson
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Johnson is another player who played this past season on a minor league deal.
He also batted .309 through 111 games while doing so.
Johnson finished this season with five home runs, 28 RBI and 76 hits for the Chicago Cubs.
His batting average was the second-highest of his career, as well.
He also had a .985 fielding percentage in right field this season while playing in his highest number of games since 2006.
After playing for less than $1 million this season, Johnson may make for a solid bargain-signing this winter as teams attempt to sign this offseason’s group of free-agent outfielders.
Starting Pitcher: Aaron Harang
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Harang has a $5 million mutual option for next season, which means that it is not a guarantee that he even hits the free-agent market.
However, after finishing in the top 10 in the National League in wins this season, $5 million may be a bargain in itself.
Harang went 14-7 with a 3.64 ERA in 28 starts this season. He also had 124 strikeouts in 170.2 innings for the San Diego Padres.
His 14 wins were the ninth-highest in the National League, while his winning percentage was the sixth-highest.
Harang also had a 7-2 record prior to the All-Star break.
Harang may remain in San Diego instead of entering the free-agent market.
Either way, he could be a solid bargain at the starting pitcher position for a team next season.
Relief Pitcher: Kyle Farnsworth
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Farnsworth is another player who may not hit the free-agent market due to a club option in his contract.
The 35-year-old went 5-1 with 51 strikeouts in 57.2 innings for the Tampa Bay Rays this season.
His 25 saves were the 10th-highest total in the American League.
Farnsworth also held opponents to a .211 batting average, including a .194 average versus left-handers.
After playing on a one-year, $2.6 million deal this season, Farnsworth has a $3.3 million club option for next season.
Whether Farnsworth plays for this amount or signs a new deal this offseason, he may still be a free-agent bargain going into next season.