Free-agent market offers slew of bargain opportunities
With plenty of big names available, some useful assets are flying under the radar
The rest of the Hot Stove season will be unpredictable. As of right now, everyone is waiting to see where Masahiro Tanaka will end up and how many years and dollars he'll get. Then, the market will be set for the rest of the big-name free-agent starting pitchers on the board. And perhaps the highest-profile position players will follow.
But hidden beneath the multiyear, multimillion-dollar signings, some cagey and impactful deals could be struck. There are quite a few players who haven't been talked about at all, and many can be had for the cost of a mere Spring Training invitation or a Minor League deal.
Here are some names to consider:
Michael McKenry, C: McKenry, who will turn 29 during Spring Training, is the youngest free-agent catcher still available. Although he's essentially been a career backup, as was the case last year when he played behind Russell Martin in Pittsburgh, he started to figure some things out in 2012, when he got 240 at-bats, hit 12 homers, and put up a .762 on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) and 1.8 wins above replacement (WAR), according to Baseball-Reference.com. If McKenry is healthy and ready to get back to that type of production, he can help a lot of teams.
Casey Kotchman, 1B: Kotchman never panned out as the can't-miss prospect he was billed to be while coming up with the Angels, and his last significant season in the Majors (2012 with the Indians) wasn't pretty. But that 2011 campaign for the Tampa Bay Rays is still somewhat intriguing. Kotchman, who turns 31 in a few weeks, put up a .306/.378/.422 line that season and is an excellent defender at his position.
Chris Coghlan, OF: Is it way past the time to look at Coghlan's National League Rookie of the Year Award-winning season of 2009 and think that he can play back to that year, when he hit .321/.390/.460 with 84 runs and 31 doubles? Perhaps, but he has had injury problems since, and he hasn't had more than 358 at-bats since, so it might be worth a non-roster invite to see if there's anything left in the tank, especially since he won't turn 29 until June.
Derrick Robinson, OF: Maybe Robinson doesn't get on base enough for the liking of a lot of teams, but he wasn't horrendous in that respect in his first taste of the big leagues last year for Cincinnati. He's shown throughout his Minor League career that he can steal bases when he gets on. Forty-four strikeouts in 192 at-bats isn't good, but 18 walks isn't bad. There might be a bit of plate-discipline upside here at the age of 26.
Grady Sizemore, OF: The Reds have talked to him this winter, and that could be an encouraging sign for a player everyone loved to watch (.281/.372/.496 from 2005-08) before multiple injuries squashed what was a thrilling beginning to a career. Sizemore was a perennial American League MVP Award candidate when healthy, and he's still only 31. If there's any way for him to stay healthy enough to play a full season and any way he can approach what he used to be, it would be a great bargain and a great story.
Tyler Colvin, OF: Colvin hit 20 homers for the Cubs in his rookie season of 2010 before suffering a slew of injuries. He came back to full strength in 2012 and hit 18 homers, drove in 72 runs and put up an OPS of .858 for Colorado. Last year he got only 75 big-league at-bats and hit three homers, but he had a .857 OPS in Triple-A. It might be too early to say Colvin's days as a productive Major League hitter are over, and it won't cost much to find out.
James McDonald, RHP: For much of 2012, McDonald looked like he might be a future fixture in the Pirates' rotation, but he struggled after the All-Star break. Still, the right-handed starter, who turned 29 in October, can reach 94 mph with his fastball and gave up only 147 hits in 171 innings, while striking out 151 that year. McDonald needs to iron out command issues, something he couldn't do while walking 25 batters in 29 2/3 innings with Pittsburgh in 2013. A change of scenery and a new pitching coach might help.
Suk-min Yoon, RHP: Most of the hype coming from Asia this winter has been about Tanaka, and rightly so, but this 27-year-old Korean right-hander wants to debut in MLB in 2014, too, and there's been some interest from the Red Sox and Twins of late, according to reports. Yoon projects as a starter or reliever, and he is certainly looking for a Major League deal, so he figures to be more expensive than most of the names on this list. But he'll be much more affordable than Tanaka, Garza and the rest of the high-profile free-agent starters. Whether Yoon will be that good remains to be seen.
David Aardsma, RHP: It was a long road back to the big leagues after several surgeries for Aardsma, 32, but he made it to the Mets last year and showed he can still strike batters out (36 in 39 2/3 innings in 2013). He'll have to be healthy and more refined to get close to where he was when he saved 69 games as the Mariners' closer from 2009-10, but there's no reason to think he can't be a useful bullpen arm at a great price.