Strictly speaking, the practice of free agency is much like investing. There are your penny stocks, your blue chip stocks, and everything in between. But there is one type of investment that would make any Wall Street person happy— a low-risk, high-reward gamble.
That is exactly what we will be discussing today. Every year, dozens of veterans, many past their primes and some who have lost their way, will be invited to Spring Training by teams as non-roster invitees. Many of these players sign minor league contracts and, if they play well enough in the spring, are added to the major league roster.
Major contributors last year included Ryan Vogelsong (pictured) of the Giants, Casey Kotchman of the Rays, and Freddy Garcia of the Yankees.
Today, we'll look at some veteran free agents who could find some Spring Training invitations at their doorstep, along with the teams most likely to send those invitations.
We'll start it off with one of baseball's most colorful, controversial and potentially productive players. Although Manny Ramirez is far past his prime, there are many teams who could use his services. Though his very brief stint with the Rays in 2011 was an absolute disaster even before his suspension, many view Ramirez as a potential MLB contributor.
Teams to watch: Marlins, Yankees, Orioles, Brewers, Mariners, Blue Jays
For teams that want a veteran who can provide some spark at the plate as well as a decent glove, Mike Cameron may be a great option. He's only played 126 games over the past two years, but a full season could prove that Cameron might have a little bit left in the tank.
At his peak, he was a .260/25/80 guy. He won't provide that for his signer, but he will give some meaningful at-bats and a good glove.
Teams to watch: Surprise! As I was writing this slide, I learned that the Nationals signed Cameron. It's a good pickup.
Just over five years ago, Brandon Webb won the NL Cy Young award for the Diamondbacks. Two years after that, he won 22 games for that same team. But following that 2008 season, a series of injuries derailed the career of 32-year-old Brandon Webb, and now he is a free agent.
But if teams want to take a chance on him, much like the Rangers did (to no avail), he could be a cheap option as a bullpen guy or perhaps even a spot starter.
Teams to watch: Red Sox, Dodgers, Yankees, Royals, Nationals
After declining arbitration with the Red Sox, reliever Dan Wheeler put himself back on the open market. Although a 34-year-old reliever who throws no faster than 89 miles per hour may not be of much interest to fans, Wheeler provides a fairly effective arm coming out of the bullpen. The Red Sox got a decent year out of him after the Rays got several.
He is a very good control pitcher, someone who is vulnerable to collapses but, more often than not, will get guys out.
Teams to watch: Mets, Twins, Astros, Reds
The future Hall of Fame catcher is available this offseason, and there are many benefits associated with signing Pudge Rodriguez. Though he is a far cry from the monster offensive numbers he put up in Texas and Detroit, he can still swing a good bat. Obviously, his reputation of being one of the best defensive catchers in baseball history still holds true, and though he may not be as quick as he used to be, he can still gun down runners.
Having a great veteran presence and a guy who can possibly still play would be positive for many teams.
Teams to watch: Astros, Rays, Mets
It's odd that I've included Drew on this list now that I think about it, because he honestly might be too good for a minor league contract. 2011 was just an awful year for him, where he played half a season and hit just .222. But this is coming off five straight productive years for him, including a 2010 season in which he hit 22 home runs.
He could be not only a good bench player, but also a potential starter for several teams. He's definitely worth a look.
Teams to watch: Giants, Cardinals, Rangers, Rays, Braves
After missing most of 2011 with a shoulder injury, Jon Garland has largely fallen off the radar of MLB teams. But this is a guy who, for the nine seasons from 2002-2010, won at least 10 games each year. He can potentially still be an effective starting pitcher, depending on how his shoulder holds up following surgery.
He's never been a low-ERA guy, but he gets the job done. He could provide some important innings and possibly even surprise whichever team signs him.
Teams to watch: Twins, Padres, Pirates
The market for Pineiro always seems to be more competitive than it should. He is not, and has never been, a great pitcher. He is an innings-eater who will give you fairly consistent starts. But as he showed last year in Los Angeles, those starts may not be too satisfactory. After posting an ERA of over 5.00 in 2011, Pineiro will sign with a new team.
That team will likely be one with a poor rotation who needs a veteran presence to help throw some innings.
Teams to watch: Orioles, Twins, Athletics, Cubs
After playing fewer than 75 games combined in 2010 and 2011, Mark DeRosa has fallen off the baseball map. But as Giants and Cubs fans will recall, he can be a very productive player when healthy and utilized properly. He can play almost any defensive position and does still wield a pretty good bat.
If a team wants a player who could potentially plug a lot of holes while providing a steady stream of offense, DeRosa would be a terrific option.
Teams to watch: Nationals, Royals, Rangers, Indians, Pirates
Much like DeRosa, Willie Harris is a very versatile player. The big difference is that Harris is not nearly the hitter that DeRosa is. However, teams that sign Harris are likely not doing so for the offense. He is a very good fielder at multiple positions, and his speed somewhat negates how poor his career batting average is. That said, he still is fairly good at getting on base.
Think of Harris as a poor man's Mark DeRosa. He isn't quite as good, but he could be nearly as valuable if he lives up to his upside.
Teams to watch: Mets, Nationals
The last remaining player born before the Civil War, Tim Wakefield may provide limited value to a team that signs him. However, Wakefield has pitched against almost every hitter in the league, knows the teams and knows the game. He could serve as a kind of pitching player-coach for a young pitching staff.
He won't win many games or possibly pitch many innings, but signing the 45-year-old knuckleballer might have some benefit.
Teams to watch: Red Sox, Orioles, Padres, Astros, Rockies
So are we in agreement that this is the coolest spring training picture ever?
Anyways, Rodney can still pitch and, even at 34, could be a valuable option out of the bullpen. It's been years since he's posted an ERA of under four, but the righty has a powerful arm and might be a low-cost alternative to more expensive relievers.
Teams to watch: Rays, Athletics, Mets, Mariners, White Sox
The longtime third baseman had been a rock of consistency up until a few years ago. He would give his teams a consistent 140 games, 15 to 20 home runs and a batting average in the upper .200s. Now, at 39 going on 40, Mora's career is in its twilight.
However, he can still be a good option off the bench. He'll be one of those veteran presences that announcers love to talk about when games get boring.
Teams to watch: Orioles, Indians, Braves, Mets
It may be easy to assert that Duchscherer's career is over, seeing as how he has just pitched five games in the majors since 2008. But like I said, this is a low-risk, high-reward business, and teams who have faith that Duchscherer is fully healed from all of his operations could take a chance. He will probably never be a starter again, and his bullpen impact might be minimal.
However, there's always the chance that he sees a resurrection. At 34, this might be his last shot to prove he can pitch.
Teams to watch: White Sox, Athletics, Tigers
Although all the attention this offseason is on another Japanese product, Yu Darvish, an under-the-radar commodity could be Hideki Matsui. The DH still can hit, though maybe not like he used to. There are many teams out there that could use his bat, though, and he will almost certainly land in the American League.
He probably won't be hitting .300 or hitting more than 15 to 20 home runs, but Matsui could be a great low-cost signing.
Teams to watch: Rays, Mariners, Indians, Orioles, Royals