Posted: Wednesday November 8, 2006 10:56AM; Updated: Wednesday November 8, 2006 4:05PM
Also in this column: The latest on Matsuzaka Sheffield's likely landing spot Burrell softens trade stance More news and notes
Bargain hunting in baseball may be tougher than ever this winter, when the free-agent list is mostly mundane and contracts are nonetheless expected to rise significantly.
The early signs all add up to a bonanza for the precious few available stars, with Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Lee, Jason Schmidt, Barry Zito and Japanese League wunderkind Daisuke Matsuzaka -- who only gets to negotiate with one team, today's winning bidder -- about to cash in big. The low-rated, wet World Series notwithstanding, baseball is thriving. It's now a $6 billion industry, and there's lots of loot to go around. As usual, of course, a lot of it will be spent foolishly (you know Orioles owner Peter Angelos is itching to overspend).
Yet, there will still be a few deals out there, and shrewd general managers (Billy Beane, Omar Minaya and Kenny Williams, to name a few) are sure to find them. I'm not sure if anyone is going to be able to duplicate the steal of last winter, Frank Thomas,whom Beane grabbed for a guaranteed $500,000 (plus $3 million in incentives). But if you look hard enough, you'll surely find some worthwhile purchases, even on the decidedly unexciting list of 191 free agents. Here's my 20 potential bargains:
Randy Wolf went 4-0 with a 5.56 ERA but figures to be stronger next season as his comeback from Tommy John surgery continues.
1. Randy Wolf, starting pitcher. They say it takes a full year to recover from Tommy John surgery, a normally successful procedure that requires patience. Wolf came back last year and didn't lose a game, but he probably wasn't yet at full strength. Now he should be.
2. Frank Catalanotto, outfielder. Name another .297 career hitter who's never made more than $2.75 million. The essence of consistency, he's batted between .293 and .301 the past four years. He's a solid everyday player at a backup's price.
3. Thomas, DH. The only reason he makes the list is that the reported figures being talked about aren't even close to what he's worth. One report suggested they were discussing a two-year deal for $9 million, another was two years for $15 million.
4. Vicente Padilla, starting pitcher. One former MVP said Padilla had "the best stuff of any free-agent pitcher.'' And yet his pay isn't expected to be close to the top-tier pitchers, thanks to a driving mishap and some career inconsistency.
5. Moises Alou, outfielder. Sure, he's old (40). Yes, he's injury prone. No question, he can make Barry Bonds look fleet. Even so, the man can rake. When he plays, he's one of the more productive corner outfielders around. Better yet, he might have to settle for a one-year contract.
6. Chad Bradford, reliever. One of Minaya's many bargain-basement acquisitions that worked, Bradford won the confidence of Willie Randolph to the point where he got as much October airtime as any other Mets reliever.
7. Jason Schmidt, starting pitcher. He's going to get a huge deal but maybe not one to match Zito or Matsuzaka. Schmidt's main problem is a lack of hype. The second is the belief he's headed home to Seattle. If he goes anywhere else, it will be a surprise.
8. Bonds, outfielder. A lot of teams will avoid him because he doesn't move like he used to, and more will avoid him because they don't want to deal with his considerable baggage. The Giants started what appears to be testy talks by saying they no longer are aiming to build around him. But the guess here is they take him back for something just north of $10 million. Considering someone is going to trade players for the right to pay Gary Sheffield $13 million, Bonds, who finished strong and had a .999 OPS overall, looks reasonably priced from here.
9. Juan Pierre, outfielder. He won't come cheap, but at say $7 million a year, that's still barely half what Rafael Furcal makes. Not bad for a bonafide leadoff hitter.
10. Steve Trachsel, starting pitcher. OK, so he isn't getting a Purple Heart for that abbreviated playoff appearance. But he produced 15 wins for $2.5 million in 2006, a bargain by any standard.
11. Ron Villone, reliever. The guy is a pro who takes the ball and doesn't complain. The one worry would be whether he suffered from the same Torre Burnout that got Paul Quantrill and Tanyon Sturtze before him.
12. Bernie Williams, outfielder. He only wants to play for the Yankees, if he plays at all. That sort of hurts his leverage, even with Scott Boras representing him.
13. Kerry Wood, starting pitcher (or reliever). He's a huge gamble. But think of the possibilities if he makes it back. When healthy, he's as talented as anyone.