2012 MLB Free Agency: The Most Underrated FA at Every Position
When the Major League Baseball offseason begins, general managers will heavily pursue top free agents like Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Jose Reyes and David Ortiz.
These star players will probably sign with the top payroll clubs, so who would a GM look for to improve their team without needing to break the bank?
The following list tracks the best underrated free agents at each position that bigger ball clubs might overlook.
Catcher: Dioner Navarro
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With Boston Red Sox captain Jason Varitek and St. Louis Cardinal Yadier Molina in the open market, the Los Angeles Dodgers backup catcher Dioner Navarro will likely be overlooked.
Navarro, 27, is a good defensive catcher (.989 career fielding percentage) who started three seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays (2007-2009).
He has thrown out 135 baserunners in his career for a 29.8 percent average.
While Navarro hit .193 and .194 the past two years, an American League team could designate hit for him when he provides spot-duty at catcher.
First Baseman: Casey Kotchman
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Milwaukee Brewer Prince Fielder, St. Louis Cardinal Albert Pujols and Chicago Cub Carlos Pena will be the top first baseman free agents come November.
However, Tampa Bay Ray first baseman Casey Kotchman, 28, is a serviceable option who will command far less salary than those three.
Kotchman set an MLB record by going 2,379 chances without an error at first base. His career fielding percentage is .998—the result of only 11 career errors in 727 games.
Kotchman is also coming off his best hitting season, going .306 with 10 homers and 48 RBIs.
Second Baseman: Brandon Phillips
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If the Cincinnati Reds buy out second baseman Brandon Phillips' contract, he would instantly become one of the premier free agents on the market.
Phillips, 30, is a .272 lifetime hitter who has belted 130 homers. He would be an excellent pickup for anyone missing out on possible New York Yankee free agent Robinson Cano.
He is a solid second baseman with a .987 fielding percentage and has some speed (135 stolen bases the past six years).
Shortstop: Ronny Cedeno
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Jose Reyes of the New York Mets and Jimmy Rollins of the Philadelphia Phillies are receiving significant attention from prospective teams.
If a general manager finds himself unable to afford either, the Pittsburgh Pirates Ronny Cedeno would be an excellent choice.
Cedeno, 28, had two home runs and 32 RBIs in 2011. He does not have a lot of power, but he can provide timely hitting.
The seven-year veteran can also sub at second base and in the outfield.
Third Baseman: Kevin Kouzmanoff
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The Chicago Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez will be pursued heavily because of his bat and pedigree.
One free agent third baseman who should get an extra look is the Colorado Rockies' Kevin Kouzmanoff.
Kouzmanoff, 30, is a five-year veteran who has started ever since he first broke into the bigs. He is an excellent fielding third baseman, setting a National League record with a .990 fielding percentage in 2009.
No. 15 can also swing the bat, averaging about 19 home runs and 79 RBIs a season from 2007-2010.
Left Fielder: Jonny Gomes
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Gomes is a solid player whose contract is due to expire this offseason.
While he would not get the same fanfare as the Tampa Bay Rays' Johnny Damon or Philadelphia Phillies' Raul Ibanez, Gomes is a good starter, and a proven contributor.
The 30 year old has been a starter for the last two seasons and boasts a career .983 fielding percentage.
He career average of .242, coupled with 118 dingers, is no slouch effort. He did bat a disappointing .209 in 2011, so he might have to be hit for in an American League lineup if he struggles.
Center Fielder: Rick Ankiel
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Another Washington National due for free agency could be a serviceable option for a team in need of an extra outfield option.
Center fielder Rick Ankiel, 32, can get some timely hits and is a solid fielder (.983 percentage in center field).
He had nine home runs and 37 RBIs last season.
While Ankiel is not certainly not in the same ballpark as San Francisco Giants superstar Carlos Beltran, he would be a nice addition to any team.
Right Fielder: David DeJesus
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With J.D. Drew and Michael Cuddyer on the open market, Oakland Athletics right fielder David DeJesus might just slip through the cracks this offseason.
DeJesus, 32, is a nine-year veteran who is coming off a disappointing year with Oakland. A .284 career hitter, DeJesus mustered a career-low .240 in 2011. However, he averages eight homers and 48 RBIs a season and could use a fresh start to reinvigorate his stagnant production.
His biggest asset is defense, as he has a .992 career fielding percentage.
Designated Hitter: Jason Kubel
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Jason Kubel of the Minnesota Twins would make an excellent designated hitter.
While teams might clamor for Boston Red Sox David Ortiz or Baltimore Oriole Vladimir Guerrero, the 29-year-old Kubel provides a solid bat without breaking the bank.
Over the last five seasons, Kubel has averaged about 19 home runs and 79 RBIs a year.
He can also play in the outfield, where he sports a .982 fielding percentage.
Starting Pitcher: C.J. Wilson
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New York Yankee starting pitcher C.C. Sabathia might hit the market and other big names like fellow teammate Dontrelle Willis, Chicago White Sox Mark Buerhle and Arizona Diamondback Brandon Webb will also be available.
Wilson, 30, should be in the same conversation as all those players. The Rangers' hurler has been lights out over the past two years, where he's gone a combined 31-15 with a 3.14 ERA in 427.1 innings of work.
He is a strikeout pitcher (376 punch-outs since 2010) and does not give up too many home runs or walks.
Relief Pitcher: Juan Cruz
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The Tampa Bay Rays' Juan Cruz, 33, has been a solid relief pitcher throughout his career and will come at a more reasonable price than teammate Kyle Farnsworth and the San Francisco Giants' Jeremy Affeldt.
Cruz was 5-0 with a 3.88 ERA in 2011 while holding batters to a .211 average. He also had 46 strikeouts in 48.2 innings.
Closer: Jonathan Broxton
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Many closers will be available this off-season, including the Phillies' Brad Lidge and the Tigers' Jose Valverde.
Broxton, 27, is a solid young closer who missed most of 2011 with a bone spur and loose chips in his right elbow.
In 2009-2010, Broxton had 58 saves, a 3.26 ERA with 188 strikeouts in 138.1 innings pitched. He held batters to just .165 hitting in 2009.