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10 potential bargains on free-agent market

January 7, 2017

He's out there somewhere -- the late, great signing that can tip the scales.We can say this with reasonable certainty because it happens every year. Last year, for example, Ian Desmond (Rangers), David Freese (Pirates) and Pedro Alvarez (Orioles) all signed after their respective new clubs already reported to Spring

He's out there somewhere -- the late, great signing that can tip the scales.
We can say this with reasonable certainty because it happens every year. Last year, for example, Ian Desmond (Rangers), David Freese (Pirates) and Pedro Alvarez (Orioles) all signed after their respective new clubs already reported to Spring Training, and all three provided more than reasonable return on what were relatively meager investments.
It will happen again this year, but that claim comes with a caveat. In picking through the so-called bargain barrel at this stage, you're bound to turn up more duds than studs. Some of the names on this list will admittedly look ridiculous come September (if they don't look ridiculous already), but here's a look at 10 remaining free agents* that might turn out to be diamonds in the rough.
Hot Stove tracker
* Note: Just to be clear, Mark Trumbo, Jose Bautista, Mike Napoli, Matt Wieters, Jason Hammel and injury recoverees Tyson Ross and Greg Holland are all lingering in the open market, but the intent here is to focus on players who haven't garnered as much ink or attention as those guys.

1. Colby Rasmus, OF
Absolute crickets in this marketplace, and that's understandable, given that Rasmus had an adjusted OPS+ 24 percent worse than league average last year. This has been a mercurial talent, no doubt. But Rasmus still has time on his side (he turned 30 in August), he's just a year removed from posting an OPS+ 16 points above league average and he can play center field. He'll likely only cost a fraction of the $15.8 million he made after accepting the Astros' qualifying offer last year.

Rasmus had a cyst in his ear that affected his balance, and an injured hip that required surgery, so it's not hard to figure out what went wrong in '16.
2. Luis Valbuena, IF
Hamstring issues cut his 2016 short, but Valbuena is just a year removed from a 25-homer season, and he has the ability to play at first, second and third.
Importantly, Valbuena's power doesn't come at the expense of his walk rate, which, at 20.2 percent for his career, has been consistently above average. He's posted an .822 OPS vs. right-handed pitching over the last three years and -- news flash -- most pitchers are right-handed. For what it's worth, FanGraphs projects a higher 2017 WAR for Valbuena (1.5) than Trumbo (1.1) or Napoli (1.0).
3. Chris Carter, 1B 
Remember when Carter was DFA'd on the heels of a 41-homer season, and everybody rushed to point out what a bargain he'd be? How he's provided similarly all-or-nothing, one-dimensional offensive offerings much like Trumbo (the two have almost identical homer, wRC+ and WAR projections for 2017 from Steamer) and will be available for a fraction of the cost? Well, all those things still apply, except Trumbo's continued availability -- as long as that of Bautista, Napoli and others -- has left Carter playing the waiting game.
But don't you worry. Somebody will land him on a one-year deal, likely south of the $8 million arbitration projection that prompted the Brewers to cut him loose in the first place, and it'll be a bargain power boost.

4. Brett Anderson, LHP
It's very simple. Put Anderson and his 58.2 career groundball percentage in front of a good infield defense and watch the outs roll in. Oh, and keep him healthy.

Well, OK, it's actually not so simple. Anderson's career has continually been beset by physical issues, most recently the back surgery that sidelined him last spring. But in the slim pickings that is this starters' market, he's a worthwhile risk as a depth add.
5. Jae-gyun Hwang, INF
Say what you will about what's happened in the aftermath, but Jungho Kang's rookie 2015 season with the Pirates legitimized the Korea Baseball Organization as a breeding ground for the Major Leagues, inspiring last winter's investments in Byungho Park (Twins), Dae-Ho Lee (Mariners) and Hyun Soo Kim (Orioles).
As that list proves, it's a hit-or-miss market, but Hwang is being billed as a power bat who really improved his plate discipline in 2016 (he had a .335/.394/.570 slash with 27 homers and 25 steals) and he offers potential positional flexibility with his ability to play at second, third, short and the outfield. The Giants are among the clubs believed to be interested.
6. Matt Belisle, RHP
Free-agent prices have begun to align with the industry appreciation for relief work. In other words, stocking a bullpen is getting awfully expensive. So a guy like Belisle, who can potentially be inked to a modest one-year deal, is worth a little extra exploration.
Over the last seven seasons (and keep in mind, five of those seasons were spent at Coors Field), Belisle has posted a 128 ERA+, notched a 3.65 strikeout-to-walk ratio and allowed 0.6 homers per nine innings. He had a calf issue in 2016, but in 46 innings, he struck out 22 batters, walked just seven (three intentionally) and gave up just two homers.
7. J.P. Howell, LHP
Same rationale here, from the other arm side. Howell is presented as an alternative to the still-available Boone Logan, Jerry Blevins and Travis Wood, all of whom are probably in line for multi-year deals in this particular marketplace.

The appeal of Howell, oddly, is that he's coming off a bad year, one in which batted-ball luck caught up to him and his ERA jumped from 1.43 to 4.09. But a lefty who has averaged a 58.5 groundball percentage over the last four years has value, and there is added value in buying low.
8. Trevor Plouffe, 3B
A broken rib and an oblique strain certainly didn't help Plouffe's effort in 2016, when his adjusted OPS+ fell below league average during just 84 games played.
Prior to that, the Twins valued Plouffe as a guy who worked to make himself a solid defensive contributor at the hot corner, while also providing a power presence (74 home runs from 2012-15). The new regime cut him loose, but, entering his age-31 season, Plouffe profiles as a decent bounceback candidate capable of providing power in a limited role, perhaps helping out at both infield corners.
9. Christopher Wilson, LHP
Let's start with the obvious -- he's not getting another five-year, $75 million contract. Equally obvious? He's an injury risk, having had shoulder surgery and surgery to remove bone spurs in his elbow since he last pitched on a Major League mound in 2015.
But the 36-year-old Wilson is expected to audition for clubs sometime during Spring Training, and if he can get to even the league-average level he offered the Angels in 2015 (3.89 ERA in 132 innings), that's decent value. There's also the possibility that Wilson, who has held lefties to a .201 average and a .570 OPS in his career, re-emerges as a relief weapon.
10. Daniel Descalso, UTL
Finally, for the sake of variety, let's throw a little love to a guy who played 254 1/3 innings at shortstop, 100 2/3 at first base and 102 2/3 at second, 42 in the outfield and threw in a dash of 18 innings at third last season in Colorado, all while drastically improving his offensive numbers from a .607 OPS in 2015 to a .773 mark in '16. Descalso gets on base (.349 OBP last year), and can play anywhere in a pinch when injury strikes.

It ain't sexy, but it's nice to have.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.