Who ever said you have to spend big to get a quality player on the free agent market? Well, I mean aside from Scott Boras. But who really listens to him anyway?
Sure, some of those big money free agents carry their team's to new heights, but others can drag teams to new lows (for reference, please see all of the recent big free agent contracts handed out by the Red Sox). Why not go shopping for a bargain instead? Make a small investment in a player with a big upside. If it works out, you look like a genius. If it doesn't, no harm, no foul. Of course, finding those types of free agents isn't an exact science. Really, who could have seen Bartolo Colon coming before last season?
Here are just a few of the available free agents who could prove to be the best bargain basement buys of the off-season.
Ryan Doumit - After seeing what Mike Napoli did for the Rangers this year, there are bound to be some teams willing to take a chance on another slugging catcher that fell out of favor with his old team. After two straight disappointing seasons, Doumit had a big bounceback season with a .303/.353/.477 slash line. He'll turn 31 just before Opening Day, so he probably won't blossom into an MVP-caliber backstop like Napoli, but given the dearth of catchers that can hit in the league right now, some lucky team is going to give Doumit a few million bucks and possibly get themselves 20 homers out of the deal.
Rafael Furcal - As the Cardinals found out during their championship run, Rafael Furcal can still be a heck of a player when he is healthy. Furcal can do a little bit of everything, hit for contact, draw some walks, steal some bases and play solid defense. When he is on his game, he is a viable everyday shortstop and top of the order tablesetter. But what makes him such a bargain is that his last few seasons have been marred by nagging injuries. Those injury concerns are going to keep his price pretty well supressed and some "poor team" is going to be feeling sorry for themselves after losing out on Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins this off-season and end up settling for Furcal at a fraction of the price and end up getting a lot of the same production with arguably only a little more injury risk than Reyes and Rollins.
David DeJesus - The Athletics were generally applauded for their acquisition of David DeJesus before the 2011 season. Who wouldn't want a slick fielding right fielder who had proven he could hit for average and draw walks and complement it with a respectable amount of gap power? Back then, there would have been a long line to grab DeJesus, but after he hit .242 and fell on his face in Oakland, the line is going to be a lot shorter. Instead of getting a nice raise from his $6 million 2011 salary, DeJesus is probably looking at a bit of a paycut, making him a pretty nice bargain for a guy who has posted a WAR between 2.2 and 4.4 in six of his last seven seasons.
Jorge Posada - Posada is 40 years old and coming off of his worst professional season. The end is clearly drawing near from the soon-to-be former Yankee star, but he still has some utility left in his old bones. A major reason for his .714 OPS last season is that he can't hit southpaws anymore, registering an embarrassing .277 OPS against lefties in 2011. But against righties, his OPS was .814 and his ISO was a rock solid .197. Plus, Posada can still draw walks, a skill that never goes out of style. He probably can't catch more than a time or two a week at this stage of his career, but mixing him in as a back-up catcher, part-time first baseman and platoon DH and Jorge can still provide plenty of bang for the buck.
J.D. Drew - I know, Red Sox fans are moaning at this right now, but stick with me. A major reason Drew has been so reviled the last several years was because he was vastly overpaid. But now, his reputation for being fragile and generally disliked by fans is going to flip the spectrum on him. He'll be lucky to make much more than a million dollars next season, and even that might be a lofty projection since Drew was terrible in the rare event that he was healthy enough to take the field last season. However, before 2011, Drew could put up some strong numbers. With a career .212 ISO and 14% walk rate, Drew can provide plenty of value. And since he has basically had since July to rest his multitude of minor injuries, he could pleasantly surprise someone by providing a big return on a minimal investment.
Casey Kotchman - The Rays already got a big bargain last off-season when they signed Kotchman to a minor league deal. However, one good season after two and half very disappointing ones isn't going to suddenly convince everyone that he is good, so he should remain pretty cheap. If it turns out that he has finally figured out how to consistently hit for average in the majors, his strong glove and above average patience will make him a great bargain buy two years running.
Javier Vazquez - Somehow Javier Vazquez managed to post a 3.69 ERA in 2011 despite being so bad in the first half of the season that the Marlins were giving serious thought to just releasing him. But after an excellent second half, Vazquez looks like he might actually have a few good years left in him after all. Even at his worst, Vazquez is a pretty safe bet to pitch 180+ innings while striking out at least 150 batters. At his best, he can be second in the league in strikeouts while carrying an ERA under 3.00, just like he did in 2009. The best part about him is that he wants to remain on the East Coast and probably in the National League, so he is supressing his own market and thus his price, making him even more of a potential bargain than he already was. He'll almost certainly max out at a $7 million annual salary, which is like playing for peanuts compared to some of the other stupid contracts that are bound to be handed out to much lesser starting pitchers this off-season.
Jonathan Broxton - Giving an incentive-laden deal to a guy who used to throw in the high-90s and be a dominant closer is never a bad idea. Back when his elbow started acting up in 2010 and his velocity started dropping, he still managed to fan more than 10 batters per nine innings and registered a FIP just a hair over 3.00. So, if his surgically repaired elbow doesn't allow him to come all the way back to being his old self, he can still be pretty darn good if he just gets 85-90% of the way back.
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