Friday December 19th, 2008

Now is the time of year during which observers love to obsess over the enormous contracts doled out to top major league free agents like CC Sabathia ("His contract exceeds the GDP of the Marshall Islands!") and Mark Teixeira ("He'll be able to buy every man, woman and child in the United States a can of Diet Dr. Pepper!"). And yet, as in any free market, there will be bargains to be had -- players who, often because of their age or injury history (and frequently both), will outperform the dollars that they sign for. Last winter, for example, the Rangers spent $5 million for one year's service from Milton Bradley, he of the questionable health and behavior; Bradley led the AL in OPS (.999). Here are ten currently available free agents who could handsomely reward the teams that take a risk on them:

Overlooked in the frequent discussions of his decline is that he's still a very productive player; he ranked 13th in the American League in OPS in 2008 -- ahead of Justin Morneau and MVP Dustin Pedroia -- and eighth in home runs. The Yankees, in fact, might regret not picking up his $22 million option, especially after they see what he does for the team that signs him, possibly the A's.

The Big Unit, now 45 years old, quietly had a fine, and healthy, season for the Diamondbacks in 2008: he made 30 starts and ranked 22nd in the majors in strikeouts, with 173. He's not what he once was, but that doesn't mean he won't be an effective starter for, say, the Giants, who could have one of the game's better rotations in 2009.

We know Crede's back is a problem, and its continuing balkiness, which has limited him to just 144 games over the past two seasons, will be priced into whatever contract he receives. That will make him worth the risk to a team like the Twins, who could use his above-average power and terrific defensive ability at third base.

Every team could find a place for a player like Uribe, a guy with reasonable power (he hit 48 home runs over the past three seasons) who can play anywhere in the infield. The Royals, for instance, could make him their everyday second baseman, and not think twice about it.

The former top prospect with the Orioles is coming off one of the finest years of his career -- he hit .326 as a Cincinnati Red. That's usually something of which to be wary ("Contract year!," etc.), but not so much with Hairston, as it probably only raised his earning potential from "negligible" to "very low." He'll hit for average, he'll steal some bases and he'll play everywhere -- quite possibly for the Reds, once again.

It was only two summers ago that the Dodgers thought enough of the former NBA power forward that they traded for him in order to bolster their rotation for a playoff run. He's struggled ever since, but found some success last year after the Marlins made him a reliever (3.03 ERA in 17 appearances). A team like the Blue Jays could try him as a very, very low cost No. 5 starter -- and they could always trade him to the Raptors, should things not work out.

The 31-year old Bloomquist simply cannot hit home runs: he has a total of six in his 7-year major league career, all of which he spent with the Mariners. He can do lots of other things pretty well (he plays every position but pitcher and catcher, he's fairly nimble on the bases, etc.), and that versatility reportedly has the Red Sox interested.

He had two good starts and one bad one in his three-game audition with the Tigers last September, and now will likely merit a one-year deal in which he'll try to prove that he really is recovered from shoulder surgery. Mets GM Omar Minaya is reportedly interested in giving him the chance -- and why not?

Anderson's market value has taken a real hit because of the glut of superior corner outfielders on the market (Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell, Adam Dunn, etc.), and because of the fact that he's now 36 years old. But he's also never hit lower than .280 in his 14 full big league seasons, all with the Angels, and he has hit at least 14 home runs and topped 75 RBI for 11 straight years. In other words, signing him is a very low-risk proposition, and one which the Braves might be happy to accept.

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