A staggering 266 baseball players recently hit the free agent market, and between the sputtering economy and abundance of quality players for teams to choose from, their prospects for landing decent contracts don’t look good. There hasn’t been a worse time in years to be a free agent coming off a marginal or injury-riddled season. Bobby Crosby recently took $1,000,000 from the Pittsburgh Pirates, Andruw Jones got $500,000 (and presumably some Denny’s coupons) from the Chicago White Sox and we should be seeing more of the same on a larger scale over the next few months.
The good news for baseball’s small market teams, like the Oakland Athletics and Florida Marlins is that they’ll be able to restock on the cheap. Here are some of the good players who should be available well below their typical market value:
Vladimir Guerrero: News out of Anaheim is that the Angels are looking to sign Hideki Matsui, leaving their former franchise player Guerrero to look for new work. The 2004 Most Valuable Player made $15 million last season but struggled with injuries, only managing 383 at bats and hitting 100 points below his career slugging average. My guess is that he signs an incentive-laden one-year deal somewhere with a base in the $3-5 million range. Billy Beane loves these sort of signings: Frank Thomas, Matt Stairs, David Justice, Mike Piazza, Nomar Garciaparra, and Jason Giambi have been down this road before.
Garrett Atkins: I hope the Giants sign this guy. He slumped to .226 in 399 at bats last season, lost his third base job with the Colorado Rockies to Ian Stewart, and was not brought back after the season ended. From 2005 to 2008, though, Atkins looked like a cornerstone for Colorado, hitting in the range each year of .300, with 20 home runs and 100 runs batted in. He’s only 30, so he has plenty of time to bounce back.
Chien-Ming Wang: He may be a bit of a gamble, since he hasn’t been the same since getting injured running the bases in the middle of the 2008 season. However, prior to that, he twice won 19 games for the New York Yankees. Some team with a gloried tradition of garbage pitching (like perhaps the Kansas City Royals) could do worse than Wang as a fourth or fifth starter.
Rocco Baldelli: Healthy, this guy was touted by Sports Illustrated as the second-coming of Joe DiMaggio, but therein lies the rub. Baldelli is a lock to come down injured almost every year and has had just one full season, his first in 2003 where he finished third in Rookie of the Year voting. He’s also still young, 28 to start next season, and if he ever gets a clean bill of health, he could be something special. It couldn’t hurt to have him on the A’s bench, at the very least.
Miguel Tejada: Quietly, he’s been one of the biggest losers in the whole steroid mess. Jose Canseco named Tejada as a user in Juiced, he was subsequently convicted of lying to Congress, and he’s out of a job, even though the shortstop hit .313 with 199 hits and a league-leading 46 doubles for the Houston Astros last season. At 35, he’s not going to command the near $15 million salary he earned in 2009, but he’s probably got a few more good years in him, if someone gives him a chance. He’d be a good fit for the Detroit Tigers, where he could split time between shortstop, third base and designated hitter, depending on what happens with Magglio Ordonez. A return to the A’s for Tejada isn’t out of the realm of possibility, either, particularly with the departure of Crosby.
Jermaine Dye: He hit .250 for the White Sox last season, which is like hitting .300 for the Yankees. Dye has been a master at reinventing himself over the course of his long career. He’ll bounce back somewhere next year– I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if he returns to the Atlanta Braves, who chose not to resign Garret Anderson. Dye will be 36 to start next season and probably has a few more years of outfield in him. He’s the Moises Alou of this crop of free agents.