Guerrero and Glaus front group of winter bargains paying off
Last winter's top free agents haven't lived up to their deals so far this year
Dozens of players signed to shorter and cheaper deals have offered big returns
Atlanta Braves are getting big production from Troy Glaus and Billy Wagner
None of the biggest of the free agents from last winter -- Matt Holliday, John Lackey and Jason Bay -- has quite lived up to the hype or his big contract yet. All three are terrific players with long track records of success who have performed reasonably well, and it's way too early to judge their deals. But a little over a quarter of a billion dollar ($268.5 million in all) was spent on that trio that comprised easily the top three free agents from last year, and while all of them are playing solid, sound baseball, it's hard to say any of them has produced beyond or even up to expectation (the fourth biggest, Chone Figgins, has struggled far worse.)
Meantime, many of the medium- and small-priced free agents have produced well beyond any expectation or hope. Here are the best signings so far this year (with help from Cot's Baseball Contracts). Unless noted, all contracts are one-year deals.
1. Vladimir Guerrero, Rangers, $6.5 million. Texas' longtime nemesis has bolstered its lineup and helped the Rangers stay about even with Guerrero's former Angels team in the AL West. He has 13 home runs, 49 RBIs, a .330 batting average and .919 OPS, better numbers than he's had in recent years in Los Angeles/Anaheim. Word is, he rededicated himself this winter, and it shows.
2. Troy Glaus, Braves, $2 million. This former star appears to have found his stroke and a home with the surging Braves. After a slow start and an adjustment to first base, he has 11 home runs, 45 RBIs and a .279 batting average.
3. Jon Garland, Padres, $5.3 million. He's been the veteran rock on an exceptional and surprising rotation, with his 6-3 record and 2.68 ERA.
4. Rod Barajas, Mets, $900,000. After failing to land longtime target Bengie Molina, they settled for Barajas, who's been about their best power hitter, with a shocking 11 home runs and 30 RBIs in pitcher-friendly Citi Field. His pull stroke really seems to fit the park.
5. Billy Wagner, Braves, $7 million. He's making his last year a special one, with a 4-0 record, 10 saves, 0.94 WHIP and 1.69 ERA. Hasn't lost a bit off his velocity after coming back from Tommy John surgery. Could pitch five more years if he wanted to but he won't.
6. Jonny Gomes, Reds, $800,000. Gomes is a DH-type who has survived nicely in the NL, with seven homers, 36 RBIs and a .304 batting average.
7. Alex Gonzalez, Blue Jays, $2.75 million. The replacement for Marco Scutaro (they basically switched teams, with Scutaro going to Boston) is outdoing him by far. The Jays have been baseball's No. 1 power-hitting team, and Gonzalez's 12 home runs have been as stunning as anything. Supposedly, he's a fielding specialist.
8. Jose Valverde, Tigers, $14 million, two years. The enthusiastic closer has been just as good in the AL as he was for the Diamondbacks and Astros in the NL, saving 12 games with a 0.39 ERA.
9. Adrian Beltre, Red Sox, $9 million. He turned down a multiyear offer from the A's (at least $16 million for two), but a one-year deal makes sense for both Boston and Beltre. He has 40 RBIs and a .514 slugging percentage, which are a fairer reflection of his ability than what he did for the Mariners the past few years and a testament to the difficulty of hitting in Seattle's Safeco Field.
10. Kelly Johnson, Diamondbacks, $2.35 million. Bargain basement pickup has 12 home runs and a .911 OPS. Arizona had his eye on him for years, and pounced as soon as the Braves replaced him with Martin Prado, who happens to be leading the NL in hitting.
11. Colby Lewis, Rangers, $5 million, two years. He resurrected his career in Japan after a slow start in MLB and has been more than solid in a tough pitchers park (5-4, 3.40 ERA). He also has 71 strikeouts already.
12. Orlando Hudson, Twins, $5 million. Even though he's now on the DL with a wrist issue, the late signee has been a good one for Minnesota, with a .305 batting average. He has stabilized their infield and lengthened the Twins' lineup in what may be a great season in the first year in Target Field.
13. Marlon Byrd, Cubs, Cubs, $15 million, three years. He's performed very nicely in an uneven Cubs lineup. With seven home runs, a .313 batting average and .514 slugging percentage, no one can complain.
14. Brett Myers, Astros, $5 million. The Phillies resident goofball seems to have found a home in Houston. He's 4-3 (which is excellent considering that awful team) with a 3.01 ERA.
15. Matt Capps, Nationals, $3.5 million. Capps has an NL-leading 19 saves and is holding down the spot nicely until rookie Drew Storen is ready to close.
16. Placido Polanco, Phillies, $18 million, three years. He's provided help at the top of their lineup and with a .319 average, five home runs and 23 RBIs he's been a rare bright spot in the surprisingly weak Phillies' offensive output. Better still, predecessor Pedro Feliz has been absolutely dreadful with the bat for Houston. Polanco has been solid at third base but he's no Feliz there, either.
17. Darren Oliver, Rangers, $3.5 million. He's picked up right where he left off with rival Los Angeles/Anaheim now that's back with his old team. He has 33 strikeouts (compared to only seven walks), seven holds and 1.59 ERA.
18. Clay Hensley, Marlins, $425,000. After a shockingly good spring, he's carried it over, with 39 strikeouts (to 14 walks) in 31 innings, eight holds and 2.32 ERA.
19. Livan Hernandez, Nationals, one-year, $900,000. Based on the numbers so far (4-3, 2.22) he probably should be even higher. But he started 4-0 and it's hard to imagine him holding up. Could lose his spot with Stephen Strasburg and others coming to the Nationals rotation.
20. Scott Podsednik, Royals, $1.75 million. The classic overachiever is hitting .292 with 17 stolen bases.
21. Juan Uribe, Giants. $3.25 million. Underrated player is having his second nice year in San Francisco's tough park (9, 38, .277).
22. Jose Contreras, Phillies, $1.75 million. He looks like he's found a home in the Phillies' pen, even working successfully as the closer in Brad Lidge's place. Contreras has a 0.96 WHIP and 1.02 ERA to go with three saves.
23. Ivan Rodriguez, Nationals, $6 million, two years. The amazing I-Rod is hitting .325 and aiding a very young Nationals staff in what's looking like a very exciting season for the Nationals. Came of the disabled list to catch phenom Stephen Strasburg in his historic debut Tuesday night.
24. Joaquin Benoit, Rays, $750,000. He is just what this bullpen ordered, with 18 strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings and a 0.71 ERA. Rafael Soriano was basically like a free agent pickup as well, as he was acquired as a salary dump. For $8 million, he has 15 saves, a 0.88 WHIP an 1.59 ERA. That's huge.
25. Aubrey Huff, Giants, $3 million. The Giants' second choice to Adam LaRoche has done about as well as LaRoche, in a tougher park. Huff is batting .291 with 7 home runs and 26 RBIs and also hasn't been as poor defensively as predicted.
26. Joe Beimel, Rockies, $850,000. The late sign has nine holds and a 0.89 ERA.
27. Fred Lewis, Blue Jays, $455,000. Offensively inept with the Giants, he's joined the hit parade in Toronto, where he's hitting .291 with four home runs and 17 RBIs.
28. Hisanori Takahashi, Mets, $1 million. He's 4-2 with a 3.80 ERA and filled in beautifully in the rotation after Ollie Perez and John Maine struggled.
29. Andruw Jones, White Sox, $500,000. He's back to struggling with his batting average (.216) but he's in much better shape physically, he has 10 home runs and an .823 OPS and still plays a decent center field.
30. R.A. Dickey, Mets, $600,000. The journeyman has joined the Mets rotation and is 3-0 with a 3.20 ERA in four starts.
The Orioles already are looking for a fulltime manager, which means interim Juan Samuel better do the impossible and put together a big winning streak in a hurry. The Orioles are wisely looking at the accomplished Bobby Valentine, according to the Baltimore Sun, and former Indians manager Eric Wedge also appears to be on the short list. It's no slam dunk the Orioles will get who they want with the team on their way to a 13th straight losing season. Joe Girardi turned them down before they hired Dave Trembley last time. Meanwhile, they've lost 11 of 12 and are 16-42. Injuries to Brian Roberts, Mike Gonzalez and others haven't helped, but this team has badly underperformed.
One of many issues for the Orioles is a lack of leadoff hitter. Without Roberts, they've tried several guys who are ill-equipped for the job, even Corey Patterson.
The Yankees have been thinking about who they might acquire to be their No. 2 hitter with Nick Johnson out and his return uncertain. But Nick Swisher, a high on-base guy, is doing a great job in that spot for now.
Two coaches that deserves plaudits are Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley and Blue Jays hitting coach coach Dwayne Murphy.
The early call is that the Red Sox hit a home run in the draft. The Nats (Bryce Harper), Pirates (Jameson Taillon) and Orioles (Manny Machado) have to be considered winners, while the Cardinals and Rays also received praise. But of course, it takes years to figure out who did best.
Harper expected to be moved from catcher and has no issue with it, according to people close to him. While there have been reports about maturity issues (of course he's only 17) he did very well on his interview on MLB Network.
MLB couldn't very well challenge the Mets' decision to put Ollie Perez on the disabled list since the Mets' doctor and an MRI support the stay.
It's a great day to be a Nat. Anyone think Stephen Strasburg's $15.067-million signing bonus was out of line now? It's easy to make a joke about how Strasburg's domination of the Pirates showed again how intimidated Triple-A hitters are by him, but the Pirates aren't a big strikeout team and they went down 14 times in seven innings vs. Strasburg. What's amazing is that he hit 100 mph with a moving fastball, and his curveball was just as superb, or even better.
As many pointed out, Albert Pujols was an inadvertent omission from the list of draft coups in Monday's column. Picked in the 13th round by the Cardinals (No. 402 overall) in 1999, he is generally considered baseball's best player. He should have been at or near the very top of the list. Some other slightly less glaring omissions than Pujols (which inspired hundreds of emails) but players who still deserve to be on the draft "bonanza'' list but were omitted, are Mark Buehrle (38th round, 1998, White Sox), Ryne Sandberg (20th round, 1978, Phillies), Andy Pettitte (22nd round, 1990, Yankees), Mark Grace (24th round, 1985, Cubs), and Mike Schmidt (2nd round, 1971, Phillies).
The Indians are close to a deal for about $1.55 million for second round pick LeVon Washington, a speedy outfielder at Chipola (Fla.) JC. Washington turned down an estimated $1.1 million from Tampa Bay last year. Since the deal with the Indians will be over slot, it won't be approved or official until August.