Free-agent market offers plenty of cost-efficient bats
Infante, Drew, Furcal, Uribe among hitters who could provide good bang for the buck
It's free-agent season, and the eyes of baseball are on Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo, maybe Masahiro Tanaka, and a number of other big names who will set markets and possibly even alter the 2014 Major League standings.
But when it comes to those guys, you've got to pay to play.
There's bound to be teams that will follow a different strategy when it comes to adding talent via the open market. A contender might look to fill out its roster with a quality bench player for an affordable contract. A small-market team might have a hunch that a player who everyone else believes might be done isn't done at all. Another club, one a few years from championship-caliber play but in possession of a clubhouse full of young players needing guidance, might go for a savvy old hand who can be had at a bargain price.
For those teams, there's quite a bit of bang for the buck available if you know where to look for it.
Here are some position players who could fit that bill:
Omar Infante, 2B: What's not to like? Infante hit .318/.345/.450 this year, has hit .300 or better in three of his past five seasons, plays good defense and is coming off a two-year, $8 million deal with Detroit. Infante turns 32 in December, so he won't break the bank. While he might fetch something in the area of two years and $20 million this time around, that wouldn't be too bad for the right team.
Stephen Drew, SS: Drew wasn't hitting at all in the postseason until he delivered a huge home run for the Red Sox in the final game of the World Series, but he played excellent defense throughout October, and his skill set at shortstop is still valuable. The concern with Drew has always been his ability to stay healthy, but he's only 30. Drew signed with the Red Sox last offseason for one year and $9.5 million. Odds are, with Scott Boras as his agent, he's going to want at least two years, maybe three, and the price will go up.
Rafael Furcal, SS: Remember this guy? He missed all of 2013 because of Tommy John elbow surgery, but he's expected to play somewhere next year, and he's still pretty effective when healthy. Furcal scored 69 runs and stole 12 bases in 121 games for St. Louis in 2012. Someone will be more than happy to take a chance on him at the age of 36, and they'll get him at a good price.
Juan Uribe, IF: Once again, Uribe delivered in the postseason, seemingly against all odds. He didn't do too badly in the regular season, either, hitting 12 homers and driving in 50 runs in 132 games for the first-place Dodgers. Uribe shouldn't be counted on to be a starter, but he can be a deadly bench option and a great guy to fill out a roster now that he's 34 and probably cheaper than the $8 million per year he was paid in Los Angeles.
Rajai Davis, OF: Davis isn't a star. He doesn't get on base enough to be an everyday player for a contender, but he can fly on the bases and play center field, and those two skills are valuable when combined. Davis has averaged 43 stolen bases per season the past five years and hits free agency for the first time after making $2.5 million this year in Toronto.
Chris Young, OF: Young's offense needs to rebound in a hurry, but here's another player with speed and the skills to play center field, not to mention a resume with some power on it -- Young has 144 big-league homers and has had seasons with 27 and 32 long balls. There are still some things to like about a guy who just turned 30, and he's probably going to have to take a pay cut from the $8.5 million he got in Oakland last season.
Kelly Johnson, 2B/OF: Johnson has his faults. He strikes out too much and has low on-base numbers. But he also can hit the ball out of the ballpark (16 homers in each of the past two seasons) and play the infield or outfield. That makes him a bench asset and a dangerous pinch-hitter.
David Murphy, OF: If Murphy can forget about his unfortunate 2013 season (.220/.282/.374) and instead round back to the form he displayed in '12 (.304/.380/.479), he might just turn into the steal of the winter. When at his best, Murphy is a versatile defender and a solid hitter with a bit of power, some patience and some wheels. A team might get lucky that Murphy, who just turned 32, had his least productive season in his walk year.
Tyler Colvin, OF: Colvin ended up getting the majority of his at-bats this year' in the Minor Leagues, and he had some back issues. That means there's still potential at the age of 28. He hit 20 homers in 2010 and he put up a .290/.327/.531 line while hitting 18 homers and 10 triples and driving in 72 runs for Colorado in 2012. Is he that far removed from that type of production? Tough call, but it won't cost very much to find out.
Raul Ibanez, OF: Ibanez doesn't have much time left in the Majors at the age of 41, although he did hit 29 homers this year for the Mariners and tied Ted Williams for the most homers in a single season by a player over 40. Seattle people will tell you that he was even more valuable in the locker room, teaching young players how to go about their business. It didn't show up in the standings and isn't measurable on stat sheets, but it wouldn't be a horrible decision for a young team to pick him up as a bench bat and clubhouse presence again.
Other possibilities: Wilson Betemit, IF; Jamey Carroll, IF; Eric Chavez, 3B-DH; Mark Ellis, 2B; Franklin Gutierrez, OF; Travis Hafner, DH; Jerry Hairston Jr., IF; Reed Johnson, OF; Jason Kubel, DH; James Loney, 1B; Nate McLouth, OF; Michael Morse, IF/OF; Dioner Navarro, C; Juan Pierre, OF; Brian Roberts, 2B; Brendan Ryan, SS; Skip Schumaker, IF/OF; Luke Scott, 1B/DH; Kurt Suzuki, C; Casper Wells, OF; Kevin Youkilis, IF; Delmon Young, OF; Michael Young, IF.