The 4 players who will be free-agent bargains
At this time of year, everyone is focused on the big-name free agents, and I'm no exception, having just published a ranking of the top 25 names. But don't forget the unsung heroes -- those who often fail to register winter waves before proceeding to make front-page news the following October.
Here are four free agents who could be undervalued on the open market, and who are poised to outproduce their next contract. (This was originally going to be a list of five, but then Marco Estrada signed a two-year, $26 million contract to stay with the Blue Jays, which I think will end up being a great deal for the club.)
Hisashi Iwakuma: The 34-year-old Iwakuma has proven capable of offering quality and quantity, as he owns a lifetime 3.17 ERA and logged nearly 220 innings in 2013. A strike-throwing (career 1.7 BB/9 rate) and ground-ball-inducing (50.1 percent) machine, the Japan native has the talent to pitch in the middle of a championship-level rotation.
Iwakuma received a qualifying offer, so a team will have to forfeit a Draft pick to sign him, but that should lower his price. Expect a team to offer him roughly $10 million per year across three seasons.
Potential landing spot: Likely the Mariners, Iwakuma's lone big league franchise. But a move to the Yankees -- or another club with interest in a solid second-tier hurler -- would not be a shock if Iwakuma wants to explore his market value.
Denard Span: He is able to hit leadoff and play center field, which makes the 31-year-old an intriguing option, and the fact that he did not receive a qualifying offer only enhances his value. The veteran won't see his value boosted by last season's injury woes -- which held him to a mere 61 games -- but his ability to contribute on a day-to-day basis remains.
An above-average offensive contributor across three of the past four campaigns per OPS+, Span could command a four-year deal worth around $50 million.
Potential landing spot: The Mariners, Rangers, Indians and Twins could all show interest in a mid-level free-agent center fielder such as Span after struggling to garner offense from the position last year.
Justin Morneau: A 34-year-old first baseman, Morneau is a professional hitter with the talent to thrive against good pitching. He also offers plus defense and a great clubhouse presence.
But given his drastic splits -- he's posted an .854 OPS vs. righties and a .570 mark against southpaws since the start of 2011 -- Morneau may be best suited for a platoon role. And given his injury history and age, he could be looking at a one-year, $8 million deal.
Potential landing spot: The Orioles, if they lose Chris Davis; the Indians, who could be on the prowl for an affordable first-base option.
Ian Desmond: This 30-year-old shortstop is coming off a down campaign by his standards, but let's not forget what he's done in seasons past. In fact, Desmond is just one year removed from a 24-homer, 91-RBI effort, so the potential is clearly there, which is why the Nationals did not hesitate to give him a qualifying offer.
Arguably the top free agent at his thin position, Desmond could return to his more formidable ways with the security of a multiyear pact. Even with this past season's woes -- which came primarily in the first half -- the three-time National League Silver Slugger Award recipient could still command a solid sum. Expect him to get around $15 million per season on a four- or five-year commitment.
Potential landing spot: The Mets could make a shortstop splash, especially if they don't re-sign Daniel Murphy and Yoenis Cespedes. The Padres, with Justin Upton coming off the books, could also be players after struggling with a shortstop hole in 2015.