Bargains to be had in the free agent market - NBC Sports

Bargains to be had in the free agent market
Pagan, Ludwick are price-is-right acquisitions who could make impact in '13
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San Francisco Giants outfielder Angel Pagan has put together three consecutive productive seasons as an every-day player, yet his salary still hasn't topped $5 million annually.
November 2, 2012, 1:11 pm

Here are a dozen potential price-is-right acquisitions who could impact new teams in 2013, with an emphasis on pitching, where the best values seem to lie:

* The bidding figures to be get very pricey for top center-field options Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourn and B.J. Upton - and that will make Angel Pagan a nice, value-play second option for a team that loses out on those three. Pagan, 31, has put together three consecutive productive seasons as an every-day player, yet his salary still hasn't topped $5 million annually.

* Ryan Ludwick carried the offense during Joey Votto's absence, proving to be a steal for the Reds on a one-year deal. He'll get at least two years at about $5 million per this time around - still not a steep price to pay for his productivity.

* There's a good chance Brandon McCarthy re-signs with the A's, and the numbers dictate that Billy Beane should try to make that happen. In 43 starts and 281.2 innings over two seasons, McCarthy is 17-15-3.29 with an almost 4-1 strikeout-walk ratio. Yet his salary hasn't topped $5 million annually, so if he can put together a full season, he could be a steal.

* Ryan Madson will try it again this winter, after signing a one-year deal with Cincinnati then missing all of 2012 due to injury. In a closer market that will include Rafael Soriano looking for a four-year deal, as well as Fernando Rodney, Madson likely will be a one-year commitment worth making.

* Colby Lewis could miss a good portion of next season as he recovers from surgery. But we saw how this can work when the Cardinals signed Chris Carpenter on the cheap in much the same situation. Lewis proved in 2010-11 to be an innings eater, No. 3-starter type with a penchant for pitching bigger than that in key situations. What contender can't use that guy these days?

* In the often fungible world of setup and middle relievers, Jeremy Affeldt is about as certain as they come. In four of his last five seasons, his ERA has been 3.33 or lower, and he's far more than just a left-handed specialist. Coming off a three-year, $14-million deal, he's not cheap. But championship teams have bullpens full of quality options such as him.

* Joel Peralta's WHIP hasn't been above 1.0 in the last three seasons, and his strikeouts-per-nine innings ratio spiked to a career-best 11.3 in 2012. He's also tougher on left-handed hitters than right-handed hitters, so he's not just a matchup specialist. One concern is age, as he will pitch next season at 37.

* Jason Grilli's two-year stay in Pittsburgh has produced some amazing under-the-radar numbers at age 34-35: 91.2 IP, 69 H, 127 K, 1.16 WHIP, 2.74 ERA. His salary was low enough in 2012 ($1.1 million) that the Pirates may be able to re-sign him.

* Jason Hammel was this year's example of the tried-and-true theory of getting a nice performance spike from a pitcher once he gets out of Colorado. So we bring you Rafael Betancourt. If you're not comfortable with the idea of a first-time closer at age 36, keep in mind that Betancourt has impeccable conditioning and work habits and could fall back into a setup/closer insurance role.

* Lance Berkman is only a season removed from a .301/.412/.557 slash line with 31 homers and 94 RBI. Yes, he's 37, coming off a knee injury that cost him almost all of 2012, pondering retirement, and not likely to play more than 120 games if he does return. But in the right situation on a one-year deal, he could fit as a platoon first baseman/outfielder/designated hitter. Say perhaps with his hometown Astros, now a member of the AL West.

* Nobody knows how to find value in the marketplace better than the Tampa Bay Rays, so it's no surprise Jeff Keppinger landed there for a productive 2012 season. It's also possible the Rays will be able to re-sign him. But wherever Keppinger lands, he mashes left-handed pitching, can play all four infield positions, and coming off his best season (.325/.367/.439) at age 32, is a .288 career hitter.

* Torii Hunter was a beast down the stretch in the Angels' bid for a wildcard spot, showing he has something left in the tank at age 37. With his $18-million-annual salary cleared, the opportunity to win means more to him than dollars, so a reasonable two-year deal with a contender could be win-win. He won't make the Yankees any younger, but he would make them more athletic, and better defensively in the outfield in place of Nick Swisher.



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