Some clubs have real payroll concerns and can’t go out and spend millions of dollars on multiple players. Those teams need to scour the free-agent bargains to find guys who are undervalued, or who they believe might thrive in a different situation.
[Elsewhere: Robinson Cano is not happy in Seattle]
That is not easy. For every Ryan Madson, there are millions of Brandon Morrows. One of them came out of nowhere to provide excellent value for his club, while the other is fighting for a job and still hoping he can do the same.
We’re trying to find the next Madson here by picking some more obscure guys. The truth is, probably none of them pan out and we look like fools. But we’ve looked like fools before, so we can deal with it. In order to do this, we’ll be relying on Jeff Passan’s ultimate free-agent tracker.
With that said, let’s take a look at five of the biggest bargains on the market.
CHRIS YOUNG, STARTING PITCHER
After not pitching in the majors during 2013, Chris Young has resurrected his career the past two seasons. During that period, Young has a shiny 3.40 ERA over 288 1/3 innings. While ERA is hardly the best pitching stat out there, it’s significant for Young. Despite some troublesome peripherals, he continues to post better ERAs than his FIP or xFIP would suggest. Young doesn’t strike out a ton of batters and issues a decent amount of walks. He also allows home runs at a decent clip because he’s quite possibly the most extreme fly ball pitcher in the majors. It’s a dangerous tight rope, but it has worked for Young. On top of that, we can’t discount what Young did out of the bullpen in the playoffs. His stuff ticked up slightly, and he looked like a legitimate shutdown reliever. He can be a useful backend rotation guy for some clubs, or possibly an above average reliever. That’s good enough to earn the 36-year-old at least a two-year deal.
J.A. HAPP, STARTING PITCHER
Happ’s velocity jumped in 2014, leading some to predict a breakout in 2015. It happened, but not the way many expected. Happ was pretty average with the Seattle Mariners, but turned into a legitimate ace after being traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Down the stretch, Happ posted a 1.85 ERA over 63 1/3 innings with Pittsburgh. His strikeout rate exploded, and he just refused to give up walks. Aside from the small sample concerns, the breakout appeared to be real. A good deal of that is probably due to Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage. He’s been able to turn around a number of guys recently, including Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett and Edinson Volquez. The big question is can Happ succeed if he leaves Searage? Happ turned his performance around in Pittsburgh by throwing more strikes and relying on his fastball more often. It seems like those skills would translate to any team, but leaving the right pitching coach can be terrifying. He’s absolutely a bargain if he re-signs in Pittsburgh, but he still has a shot to be incredibly useful elsewhere.
MIKE NAPOLI, DH/OF
In 91 plate appearances with the Texas Rangers, Mike Napoli resurrected his value, hitting .295/.396/.513. Prior to that, things were looking pretty bleak. So, what changed? Well, the Rangers used Napoli primarily against lefties. That might be Napoli’s only standout skill at this point, but he’s really great at it. In 2015, Napoli hit .278/.391/.563 against southpaws. That’s excellent. He was virtually useless against righties, though, and that’s less than encouraging. The main issue with Napoli is that he’s extremely limited other than the lefty-mashing. He can’t play defense well, and he can’t hit righties. Those are major deficiencies. A cheap American League team could scoop him up and get one heck of a platoon player/pinch hitter.
DOMONIC BROWN, OUTFIELDER
Brown is the ultimate change of scenery candidate. Admittedly, getting any value out of him moving forward is probably a long shot. That said, Brown turned in an exceptional first half in 2013, hitting .273/.320/.535 with 23 home runs over 384 plate appearances at age-25. Over the past two years, he’s hit just .233/.285/.349 with 15 home runs over 716 plate appearances. Brown is only 28, though, so there’s still a chance he can find his old form. He can up through the Philadelphia Phillies‘ system as a highly regarded prospect, ranking as high as fourth overall on Baseball America’s top-100 in 2011. There’s a ton of talent there, even if the track record has been pretty awful. The Phillies jerked him around quite a bit the past few seasons, altering his swing and sending him to the minors multiple times. Maybe he has a useful second act as a Travis Snider type (another former top prospect who has emerged as a valuable fourth outfielder), maybe he becomes something less. Still, considering his age and former prospect status, that makes him a better lottery ticket than a lot of other players on the market.
BARTOLO COLON, STARTING PITCHER
The ageless wonder continues to provide value even though he’ll be 43 next season. Colon proved last season that he’s still an effective innings-eater, and that he’ll post around a league-average ERA. That’s good enough to make him a back end starter on a number of teams who need pitching help. On top of that, he turned in some strong performances out of the bullpen during the New York Mets’ World Series run, and could be used as an above average reliever when needed. He’s got a similar skill set to Chris Young, but with better peripherals and with a much better chance to toss 200 innings. The only concern with Colon is age, but he’s reached a point where you just depend on him until he fails. He won’t get a huge deal, but he’ll likely provide a solid return.
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