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November 15, 2010

Prospectus Perspective

Diving Into The Free-Agent Bargain Bin

by Christina Kahrl

Beyond anyone's top-50 free agents list, there are always going to be a few finds. These are the guys no team might put at the top of their hot stove shopping list, or even anywhere on its second page. But get down past the ideal solutions and you get into the territory where price is problematic and depth is lacking.

Perhaps a solution can be found through a willingness to take a chance on the aging veteran, giving a new opportunity to an overlooked contributor or taking a chance on a journeyman looking to catch a break. Different teams can afford different kinds of risk, depending on the quality of their trainers, the size of their pocket book or their desperation. With that in mind, here are five guys worth spending a few bucks on, so that you can spend big bucks elsewhere, plus a pair of hip suggestions if you have faith in the powers of modern medicine.

Number Five in Your Rotation, but First in Your Accountant's Heart

Freddy Garcia, RHP

Finding somebody to start for you is easy enough, but what about finding somebody good enough to be an actual asset? And willing to work for a base salary of $1 million? That was the case with Garcia and the White Sox. A shoulder injury scared off most other suitors, but Garcia gave the Sox a fine campaign as their fifth starter, posting a 12-6 record thanks to both decent run support and a quick hook. He also kicked in a useful .491 SNWP, ranking him between Mark Buehrle and Zack Greinke. While he's no longer the workhorse he once was, he nevertheless contributed 19 quality starts (with one blown after the sixth inning) in his 28 turns. He's a fly-baller with homer issues, which is never popular, but U.S. Cellular Field made matters worse for him; he allowed 1.6 homers per nine innings there, against 1.0 on the road. So while he's not a one-size-fits-all fix, if you put him in the National League and/or in a bigger ballpark, that team will enjoy the results.

Keystone Bargain

Felipe Lopez, 2B

Lopez might seem a bit chancier among this group, having flopped badly as the Cardinals utility man in 2010 before winding up with the Red Sox. But to accentuate the positive, he's usually good for a 10 percent walk rate, and last year's batsmanship was blighted by his getting a bit fly-ball and pop-up happy without any power payoff. If he goes back to what worked for him in 2009, he might get better ball-in-play outcomes. Add in that he's a defensive asset at second base and you can see how Lopez would make a worthwhile candidate in a camp with a wide-open job fight at the keystone. If you want 90 percent of the value of Orlando Hudson for less than a quarter of the price, here's your man.

Old Man Utility

Jose Contreras, RHP

Looking for that last man on a staff, someone who could end up helping you, whatever you ask of him? And not willing to spend major money? Then you might be interested in bringing in Contreras, a long-service right-hander. Contreras' latest comeback began with his stint as a dandy stretch-drive contributor in the Rockies' bullpen during their run to the postseason in 2009. After that, he was a key asset for the Phillies' latest division win, kicking in 1.799 WXRL while proving rubber-armed enough at 39 years old to make 67 appearances. He even converted four of five save opportunities and managed a 4-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Maybe it's burning both the Red Sox (in their original courtship after the Cuban defected) and the Yankees (on the mound), but whether you need a set-up option or a man who can close in a pinch, skip fretting over the birth certificate and make the man an offer—after getting just $1.5 million from the Phillies, he'll be affordable.

The Ringbearer

Jim Edmonds, OF

A .301 True Average suggests Edmonds hasn't lost a thing since his last re-energizing comeback run with the Cubs in 2008 (.304). He's not the All-Star highlight-reel outfielder of old, and his breakdown after coming over to the Reds was an ill-timed reminder that he's not going to be an everyday player. So, if a team signs him, he'll need to be spotted in a corner and might be better off heading to the DH league—if he decides to stick around at all. But if a team is willing to give him 300-400 plate appearances, they'll have a dangerous thumper for part-timer pricing.

Proof You Can Go Gomes Again

Wladimir Balentien, OF

After having to spend 2010 in Louisville, while slugging .536 after a slow start, he should be an interesting non-roster invite for any club hunting for right-handed power in either outfield corner. Balentien is not just a slugger; he fields well in a corner and throws well, and he stole 12 bags in 13 attempts, with a 78 percent career success rate in the minors. If he seems like a longshot, that's the point—he's not going to cost you anything to see if his second-half .730 SLG is proof he's as ready as he'll ever be. If a light-hitting DH like Jonny Gomes could wash up into an opportunity with the Reds, and satisfy by delivering adequacy in 2010, why not see if Balentien can do likewise?

Paging Dr. Kildare

Carlos Delgado, 1B and Justin Duchscherer, RHP

If you're looking for something better than the sort of adequacy on tap with the odd Brad Penny or Lyle Overbay, and you're willing to roll the dice on a positive medical report, you might be interested in a pair of attempted recoveries from recent hip surgeries. Much might depend on how far you can trust your training staff and medical consultants, because they're the ones who will have to be willing to work with either of these guys. Delgado hasn't starred in the Show since 2009, and Duchscherer is a year further removed from contributing anything of value.

However, when last we really saw them, Delgado was putting up a .326 TAv for the Mets before his breakdown—or the same as Paul Konerko produced in 2010. Duchscherer was giving the Athletics a .630 SNWP in his last real campaign before being shelved—a better mark than Cliff Lee has produced in either of the past two seasons. If either man can reassure a potential bidder about his health in 2011, he'll be well worth a non-guaranteed or split contract.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

4 comments have been left for this article.

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