Only a handful of high-end free agents remain and while some of those players may still receive very lucrative deals, some of the middle-of-the-road guys might have to settle for less than what they hoped for. Below are some of the remaining free agents that could turn into bargains for the team that is willing to wait the market out.
Carlos Pena, 1B – Signed for $10M in 2011, might have to take a pay-cut in 2012 due to lack of teams needing a 1B. Could settle for one year and $7-8M.
Skills: Power and plate discipline. For two straight seasons, Pena has crushed 28 home runs, however, his all-or-nothing swing leads to a lot of fly-ball outs, so a lot would have to go right for him to hit much higher than .240. The good thing is that Pena has such a good eye at the plate that even with a .225 AVG last season, he was able to draw enough walks to post a well above average .357 OBP. He hasn’t posted a walk rate under 15 percent since re-emerging as a regular in 2006.
Downside: Pena does tend to strikeout a lot and he has battled injuries on and off over his career. In 2010, he posted a very poor .732 SLG and was only worth 1.1 wins above replacement.
Upside: If not for a right thumb injury early in the 2011 season, Pena probably would have hit 30-plus home runs while posting his .350-plus OBP. As it was, he was worth 2.6 wins above replacement. If he can stay healthy, a line of .240/.360/.470 with 30-plus home runs and 3.5 wins above replacement is not out of the question.
Potential bargain hunters: Blue Jays, Brewers, Cubs, Indians, Pirates, Rays
Derrek Lee, 1B – Signed for one-year and $7.25M in 2011 and failed to improve his numbers. A one-year, $5-6M deal could be in order for 2012.
Skills: Power and consistency. While Lee is getting up there in terms of baseball age (36), he still proves to be a consistent source of line-drives and around 20 home runs while playing above average defense at first base.
Downside: Lee has dealt with nagging injuries as he has gotten older and, at this point, there isn’t a lot of hope that he’ll have a completely healthy season in 2012. Another concern is the fact that his walk and strikeout rates are trending in the wrong direction.
Upside: See the second half of 2011: .323/.379/.576 with 10 home runs. Now, there is almost no way that Lee would post those numbers over a full season, but it does show that he’s not done just yet. If he can stay healthy enough, a line of .275/.350/.470 with 20-23 home runs and about 2.5 wins above replacement is not out of the question.
Potential bargain hunters: Brewers, Cubs, Indians, Pirates, Rays
Wilson Betemit, 1B/3B – Signed for one year and $1M in 2011, should be in line for a similar deal in 2012.
Skills: Hits right-handed pitching well and can play multiple positions. While Betemit should not be viewed as a full-time player, he would make for a nice platoon partner in the right situation.
Downside: Betemit doesn’t hit lefties well and his defensive skills have eroded to the point where he shouldn’t be used as a regular third baseman.
Upside: Last season, Betemit hit .303/.365/.500 with six home runs in only 234 at-bats against right-handed pitching. In a strict platoon, he might be able to keep up numbers close to those.
Potential bargain hunters: Astros, Athletics, Cubs, Reds, Rockies, Tigers, Twins, White Sox, Yankees
Edwin Jackson, SP – Last contract was 2 years and 13.35M and he was worth roughly twice that over the length of the deal. However, the market seems only lukewarm on Jackson, which could result in a two-year deal for about $16M.
Skills: It took a while, but eventually, Jackson found a way to harness his electric offerings and control his walk rates. He still features a mid-90s fastball and the ability to post around league average K/BB rates.
Downside: Despite excellent velocity, Jackson has not developed the ability to generate a ton of strikeouts. Because of the erratic start to his career and apparent lack of upside, teams seem unwilling to commit to him. At this point, his ceiling seems to be that of a third starter, but there’s plenty of value in having a solid one of those in any rotation.
Upside: Jackson has posted just under four wins above replacement in each of the last three seasons and at 28 years of age, should be able to continue that trend for the next few years.
Potential bargain hunters: Blue Jays, Cardinals, Diamondbacks, Mariners, Marlins, Orioles, Rangers, Red Sox, Tigers, Yankees
Jeff Francis, SP – Signed for $2M in 2011 and could be in line for a similar incentive-laden deal once again in 2012.
Skills: Command and the ability to generate ground balls.
Downside: Francis was once a top prospect due to his elite command and left-handedness, but arm injuries sidetracked his career. When he broke into the bigs, he was throwing 88-89 MPH. Now, he’s just above the Jaime Moyer range of 84-86 MPH.
Upside: Even Jaime Moyer proved to be a valuable pitcher working with great command and a mid-to-low 80s fastball. Francis has posted two or more wins above replacement the past two seasons, despite the ugly ERAs. If he lands in a pitcher’s park with a solid defense behind him, he could become a cheap and valuable back-end starter.
Potential bargain hunters: Cardinals, Mariners, Marlins, Mets, Tigers, Twins