The 2012 MLB Free Agent Class is very top heavy, with players like Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder guaranteed to get monster contracts, but there are only a few teams that can afford to pay them what they want.
For everyone else, the bargain bin is the place to find those players that will help put their team over the top. There are plenty of them available this year, as there often are. The only problem is being able to define which ones will actually be able to do anything worthwhile in 2012.
The pitching market is incredibly thin once you get past C.J. Wilson. CC Sabathia's contract extension with the New York Yankees took a lot of the drama from the pitching side of the Hot Stove season.
But here are some players that you need to keep an eye on this winter because, if a few things break right they could be solid role players on contending teams.
Which Player Will Make The Biggest Difference For A Team In 2012?
Grady Sizemore, Outfielder
While I do not think that Sizemore will ever again be the player that he was from 2006-08, he is just 29 years old and still flashed some power when he did play last season. He hit 10 home runs in just 73 games, though he had no plate discipline and his defense was not close to what it used to be.
Sizemore has undergone four operations in the last two years, but he is bound and determined to prove himself in 2012.
Because he has had to deal with so many injuries and poor performance, a team is only going to have to give him a one-year deal with a low base salary and a lot of incentives.
Joe Nathan, Relief Pitcher
Relief pitchers are, by nature, very unpredictable. Teams should never invest big money in the bullpen, and one of the most attractive, cheap options available is Joe Nathan.
The long-time closer for the Minnesota Twins is on the market for the first time in his career, but is also coming off the worst season of his career (14 saves, 4.84 ERA, 43 strikeouts, 44.2 Innings Pitched).
To be fair, Nathan was coming off elbow reconstructive surgery and they say it usually takes two full years from the time of the operation before control comes back to where it was before.
Teams that have a need at closer or just a late-inning reliever will be able to get Nathan for a song and dance as he tries to prove that he is still capable of being a dominant pitcher.
Coco Crisp, Outfielder
While Crisp is not a great hitter, he is better than the .314 on-base percentage he posted with Oakland in 2011. His real value comes from his defense in center field.
In the A’s spacious ballpark, Crisp proved himself to be one of the better defensive outfielders in all of baseball the last two years. He is not in the Franklin Gutierrez category, but he can hold his own against anyone else.
For teams that have plenty of power and patience in the lineup, Crisp can make a valuable addition thanks to his speed on the bases and in the outfield.
Reed Johnson, Outfielder
Johnson is strictly a platoon player, but if you are a team that needs a pinch-hitter who can pound left-handed pitching he is perfect for your team.
Since the start of the 2009 season, Johnson has hit .307/.347/.475 against lefties. Those are very good numbers for most positions, though you would like to see more power since he plays a corner outfield spot.
Johnson's numbers against right-handers over the same period are not as impressive (.255/.307/.374). He plays solid defense and can give a team 300 quality at-bats every season.