2014 MLB Free Agency: Best Bargains Still Available on the Market
Of the free-agent signings thus far, there are certainly a couple that could turn out to be bargains. If Josh Johnson (San Diego Padres) and Chris Young (New York Mets) return to form, they'll be well worth the one-year deals at the cost of $8 million and $7.25 million, respectively.
Same for David Murphy, who signed a two-year, $12 million deal with the Cleveland Indians, and LaTroy Hawkins, who will cost the Colorado Rockies no more than $2.5 million to at least start the season as their closer.
Here are five more potential bargains still available on the free-agent market.
Scott Baker, SP
With only three late-season starts to showcase his skills, Scott Baker is going to have a tough time landing anything more than another one-year contract. That is three more starts, however, than he had in 2012, and the Chicago Cubs gave him $5.5 million.
A few setbacks in his recovery from Tommy John surgery turned that into a waste for the Cubs, who were hoping they had landed a bargain in the former Minnesota Twins ace.
Another year removed from the surgery, it's very likely his price could go higher, although another one-year deal for no more than $6 or $7 million is probably the most he'd get. But at 32 years old, it wouldn't be a surprise if he can still be the pitcher who went 55-47 with a 3.98 ERA, 2.1 BB/9 and 7.4 K/9 for the Twins from 2007-2011 before his elbow injury.
Josh Johnson got $8 million from the Padres, but that limited price had as much to do with his performance as his injury troubles. Baker, if completely healthy and back at full strength, might even be a safer pick to bounce back in 2014.
Jesse Crain, RP
Despite making his last appearance of the season in late June—he was shut down due to a shoulder injury—Jesse Crain won't come cheap. The veteran setup man was dominant for the first three months of the season with a 0.74 ERA, 11 walks, 46 strikeouts and 19 holds in 36.2 innings pitched.
So why is he a bargain?
If he signs on as a team's setup man, he probably won't be. He could command a three-year deal in the $21-25 million range. That's a lot of money for a guy who isn't on the mound with his team ahead in the ninth inning.
But at this stage of his career, the 32-year-old might take less money for fewer years if a team were to guarantee him their closer's job. Instead of paying Grant Balfour, Joe Nathan or Brian Wilson more than $10 million on a multi-year deal, a team could get Crain for possibly two years and $12-$15 million. And he might end up being just as effective, if not more, should he continue pitching as he did in 2013.
Jason Hammel, SP
After a brilliant early-season performance in 2012 (8-2, 2.61 ERA in first 14 starts), his first season with the Baltimore Orioles, Jason Hammel became the forgotten man due to a knee surgery that limited him for the remainder of the season.
While he did come back to make two ALDS playoff starts against the Yankees, both losses, his season wasn't as memorable as it could've been had he stayed healthy. He wasn't nearly as effective in 2013, posting a 4.97 ERA and finishing the season in the bullpen.
That's not a great way for a free agent-to-be to finish his season, but it does keep him under the radar and in the price range for teams looking for an affordable mid-to-back-of-the-rotation starter.
The 31-year-old could be this year's version of Scott Feldman, who signed a one-year, $6.5 million deal with the Cubs and was traded after an impressive few months with the team. It might even be the Cubs who hope to catch lightning in a bottle for a second consecutive season.
Corey Hart, 1B
Corey Hart's value has dipped after he missed the entire 2013 season recovering from separate surgeries to each of his knees. By the time he's cleared medically with 100 percent health, which he says will happen on December 3, some teams that would have potentially been interested will have already filled their first base spot, and Hart's negotiation leverage could be limited.
Entering his age 32 season, Hart could even opt for a one-year deal to rebuild his value in order to remind teams of how good of a hitter he was when healthy.
In six full seasons with the Brewers, the right-handed hitting Hart posted an .830 OPS with an average of 24 homers, 33 doubles and 13 stolen bases per season while playing primarily in right field. As he builds up his strength, a move back to the outfield could also boost his value heading into next offseason.
And even if he does land a multi-year deal, it won't be anywhere close to what he would've gotten had he brought that track record to the table after a healthy and productive season. Whether it's a one-year, $12 million deal or a three-year, $30 million deal, some team will be getting a very good hitter at a below-market price.
Dioner Navarro, C
While some team will likely pay close to $100 million to sign Brian McCann for the next five to six seasons, a catcher who had an equally impressive performance at the plate in 2013 will probably be settling on a two-year deal for somewhere in the neighborhood of $12-$15 million.
That guy would be Dioner Navarro, a 29-year-old switch-hitter who posted an .856 OPS with 13 homers in only 89 games for the Cubs last season. And he only made $1.75 million doing it.
A former All-Star with the Rays back in 2008, Navarro fell off of the map after a terrible season in 2009. It wasn't until a late-season call-up with the Cincinnati Reds in 2012 that he showed signs of life again. His career has officially been resurrected after his solid season with the Cubs, and he's now hoping to land a starting job somewhere.
If he can play 100-130 games and hit 15-20 homers with a similar BB/K rate (23 BB, 36 K in 2013) and throw out at least 26 percent of attempted base stealers as he did last season, he's going to make his team very happy. And the general manager who signs will look like a genius.