These are the best values to be found in the free-agent bargain bin
If healthy, Chris Young could be a valuable pickup; the Mets have inquired
Hard-throwing Chad Durbin could get caught in a bullpen squeeze in Philadelphia
He's not a great defender, but Marcus Thames, late of the Yankees, can hit
The biggest free-agent stars have already signed for big bucks. And while several name players remain -- Adrian Beltre, Rafael Soriano, Vladimir Guerrero, Carl Pavano, Derrek Lee and Adam LaRoche to name a half dozen notables -- there are also some relatively low-priced presents still available under the free-agent tree. For teams that saved their money for after-Christmas shopping, these players are worth a look, and probably won't cost eight figures, or in most cases even multiple years.
Here are 25 of the better (and presumably better-priced) players yet to go somewhere...
1. Chris Young, SP. When the Mets were talking to him, he was reportedly only looking for a couple million guaranteed. "If he's healthy," I like him, said an NL scout. "He's very deceptive.'' He also represents himself in negotiations, and while he's a Princeton man, this is rarely a good idea for maximizing one's deal.
2. Chad Durbin, RP. The erudite right-hander had a nice year in the Phillies' pen last year. Can throw 95, and could get caught in a bullpen squeeze.
3. David Eckstein, INF. His mere presence usually means that a team will overachieve. The ultimate scrapper.
4. Marcus Thames, DH/1B/OF. He showed enough power to bat fifth against lefties in Joe Girardi's playoff lineups. Not a great defender, but the man can hit.
5. Bruce Chen, SP. Once considered another Braves phenom on the rise, he may turn out to be a late bloomer. Had a surprisingly excellent year for the Royals last year, and perhaps it was no fluke. A new trick changeup may have turned his career around.
6. Freddy Garcia, SP. He's been fighting arm questions for years, but the guy is a winner. He isn't a No. 1 anymore and he won't exactly eat up innings, but he can win double-digits at the bottom of someone's rotation.
7. Kevin Gregg, RP. He has drawn solid interest from several teams, including the Orioles and Yankees, but perhaps he isn't getting that three-year deal bestowed on a couple lucky relievers. An excellent set-up man with the ability to close in the right setting.
8. Scott Podsednik, OF. The Angels and Reds are said to be among those interested. And why not? He appears to be undergoing something of a career resurgence.
9. Brian Fuentes, RP. He's another one who can be an excellent setup man or decent closer under the right circumstances. "He's better than people think,'' one NL exec said. Wasn't really appreciated in Anaheim despite leading the league in saves a year ago. Better than his stuff suggests.
10. Jon Rauch, RP. Filled in capably as the Twins' closer after Joe Nathan went down, then later worked as their setup man. Better than his stuff shows.
11. Johnny Damon, OF/DH. No one ever looked at him as a bargain type of guy in the past, but guys over 35 aren't getting the big bucks anymore. He wants to play for the Yankees, Rays, Red Sox or possibly Angels, and he's at a stage where he doesn't always have to go for the biggest deal. Good for any clubhouse. For the Yankees, perhaps he could get through to the underachieving A.J. Burnett, whose head wasn't in the game last year. At worst, you know Damon will play; he's the only big leaguer to log 140 games a year over the last 15 years.
12. Jim Thome, DH. One of the biggest bargains last year at $1.5 million for the Twins, who could have interest in him again.
13. Orlando Cabrera, SS. He has won almost everywhere, yet always seems to have to fight for a contract. He can be a bit outspoken, as his claim that Roy Halladay's perfect game was umpire-aided attests. But the man can play.
14. Andruw Jones, OF/DH. He showed that he still has power, and even did so without Rudy Jaramillo last year. Was also the White Sox's best defensive outfielder, yet Ozzie Guillen oddly employed him often as a DH.
15. Russell Branyan, 1B/DH. He seems to be underappreciated following his big 2009 season in Seattle, this late bloomer has power like few others.
16. Jorge Cantu, 1B/3B. He struggled once he went to the Rangers last year ("his bat looked slow,'' one scout said) but he has been a professional, under-rated hitter for years.
17. Jeff Francis, SP. Word was, he was looking to repeat the $4 million-a-year guarantee that Kevin Correia got. Another injury question, but he does have ability. Should be better his second year back after a so-so 2010.
18. Brad Penny, SP. He was no bargain last year for the Cardinals at $7.5 million, but he can still throw and getting engaged to a professional dancer is said to have done wonders for his conditioning.
19. Edgar Renteria, SS. He won't approach the $18.5 million, two-year bonanza that he got two years ago, but he's right that the $1 mil the Giants offered seemed a bit light in the wake of his latest World Series heroics.
20. Bengie Molina, C. Was still unsure about a return, but he's a productive player who was good enough to earn two World Series shares last year.
21. Jeff Weaver, RP. He has found a solid niche as an underpaid reliever for his hometown Dodgers team after being an overpaid starter for years.
22. Kevin Millwood, SP. Contract will obviously be curtailed by his hideous 4-16 mark a year ago. But he had terrible run support and has been pitching lately in hitters' parks. At worst, he's a back-of-the-rotation innings eater. The Yankees have checked in.
23. Nick Johnson, 1B/DH. He's not getting anything near the $5.75 million guarantee that the Yankees gave him, but on an incentive-laden deal he might be worth a flyer. Has talent, but handle with care.
24. Gabe Kapler, OF. Scrappy, solid player who nearly retired a few years back but has had a nice second career as a useful reserve outfielder.
25. Ben Sheets, SP. No team should repeat that $10 million A's deal of a year ago. But he's still relatively young, and if he finally stays healthy, he could be a find. Seems to have been overshadowed by all the other reclamation projects this year (Brandon Webb, Chien-Ming Wang, Chris Young, etc.).
It shouldn't be such a surprise that Brandon Webb made a deal with the Rangers, as their team doctor Keith Meister is the one who surgically repaired Webb's shoulder. Meister predicted good things for Webb even last year, but that didn't turn out, so there's a bit of pressure on the doctor this time.
Andy Pettitte is in Hawaii pondering the 2011 season. He has the leverage over the Yankees this time, as they have no apparent great rotation alternatives.
Octavio Dotel is talking to the Blue Jays about a deal that would pay him about $3.5 million, and perhaps a little more, but the Rangers, Rays and others remain in the running.
One other relief alternative for teams seeking bullpen help is Hiroyuki Kobayashi, the very talented right-hander who's a free agent after pitching for the Chiba Lotte Marines. Kobayashi has done some closing but could also operate as a swing man.
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