Despite the Monopoly money that will be thrown at the top-tier free agents in the next couple months, there still is such a thing as bargain-hunting in MLB free agency. Not every key contributor will earn $10-$20 million per season, and many of those who don’t will outperform the ones who do.
Look no further than last offseason as proof: Bartolo Colon (one year, $7.2 million with the Mets), Mike Napoli (one year, $7 million with the Indians), Rich Hill (one year, $6 million with the A’s/Dodgers), Joe Blanton (one year, $4 million with the Dodgers), Rajai Davis (one year, $5.25 million with the Indians) and David Freese (one year, $3 million with Pirates), among others.
Nine players who could provide plenty of bang for not so many bucks this offseason:
Once arguably the majors’ most dominating closer (93 saves, 0.89 WHIP, 1.32 ERA from 2013-14 for the Royals), Holland is returning from Tommy John surgery and is a big-time bounce-back candidate who is looking to rebuild his value. He’d make a lights-out setup option for a contender with a proven stopper, or an intriguing closer candidate elsewhere.
He’ll turn 37 in January and is coming off a $120 million deal with the Cardinals, so Holliday likely is more interested in another ring than another huge payday. Perhaps a contender can interest him in a team-friendly deal with a chance to return to the postseason. Remember, Holliday’s outfield defense is less of an issue now that he also can play first base, and he still hit 20 homers this season.
Because he played on an Orioles team on which even the relief pitchers seemingly managed to hit 20 homers this season, it’s easy to overlook Alvarez, who swatted 22 long balls after signing a one-year, $5.75 million contract last offseason. Even in a part-time role, his power is appealing.
Just a year removed from starting Games 1 and 5 of the World Series for the Royals, Volquez could opt for a one-year deal in order to rebuild his value after a miserable 2016 season (5.37 ERA, 4.57 FIP, 1.55 WHIP). He won 26 games from 2014-15 with a 3.30 ERA in that span and is just 33, making him a sneaky option in a thin starting pitching market.
Although he is capable of filling the role, Ziegler doesn’t need to be paid like a closer. The 37-year-old side-armer posted a second consecutive 40-save seasons with the Diamondbacks before being dealt to the Red Sox and pitching in a setup role. He was effective and content in either role, making him a valuable clubhouse presence as well.
After accepting the Astros’ qualifying offer last offseason, Rasmus experienced a precipitous drop across the board offensively (.206/.286/.355 with 15 homers). There’s still 20-homer potential, as well as strong outfield defense (no errors, 13 assists in 2016).
Forced out of his starting job at third base after the Astros promoted Alex Bregman — after the nearly identical scenario unfolded for him in Chicago with the arrival of Kris Bryant after the 2014 season — Valbuena still posted his fourth consecutive season with a double-digit home run total and had a career-best .816 OPS. Adding to his value is his versatility; the 30-year-old can play all over the infield.
Like Matt Holliday, Howard has made his money ($125 million over the past five years with the Phillies). Although he will turn 37 this month, Howard’s 25 homers this season were his most since 2011. Of course, he hit just .121/.143/212 with one homer against lefties this season, so he must be willing to embrace a part-time role.
Once best-known for battering a Gatorade cooler during the 2015 postseason, Rodriguez proved plenty valuable this season by playing every position except catcher for the Pirates. That versatility, a career-best year at the plate (18 homers, .859 OPS) and his immeasurable intensity make him appealing and, likely, affordable.