10 bargain free agents still on the table

Sleeper signings have chance to be difference-makers down the stretch

January 22nd, 2016

Three years ago, Marlon Byrd signed with the Mets on Feb. 1, and he went on to a 24-homer season that ended with the Wild Card-winning Pirates. Two years ago, Justin Turner signed with the Dodgers on Feb. 6, and he wound up finishing second among hitters on the division champs in Wins Above Replacement. And last year, Chris Young didn't sign with the Royals until March 7 and won Game 1 of the World Series for them on Oct. 27.

Every year, somebody steps out of the late-winter bargain bin and into the limelight. And if picking that player among the multitude of remaining free agents who will wind up as nothing more than bit players or waiver-wire fodder were easy, well, said player wouldn't still be available, would he?

But looking beyond the bigger names still out there in this late-developing market and deeper into the barrel, here are 10 players who have the potential to become great -- albeit late -- Hot Stove finds.

1. Mat Latos, RHP

He has a reputation for being a bit temperamental in the clubhouse, and that alone is enough to pull some teams from the bidding. But at a time when teams are paying through the nose for pitching, the 28-year-old Latos is an affordable bounce-back candidate whose 2015 numbers were eerily similar to those of $90 million man Jeff Samardzija. For whatever it's worth, the Bill James Handbook projects a 3.36 ERA over 174 innings for Latos in '16. Compare that to the 3.79 ERA in 175 innings projection for Yovani Gallardo, the last remaining free-agent pitcher tied to Draft-pick compensation.

2. Pedro Alvarez, 1B

It will take the right situation -- and the right manager -- to bring out the best in Alvarez, a player who, in addition to his questionable defense, has developed a reputation for being somewhat sensitive and aloof. But there is definitely boom in this bat, and, entering his age-29 season, Alvarez can bring his career .473 slugging percentage against right-handed pitching to a club (preferably an American League club) in need of a boost.

3. Domonic Brown, OF

No, Justin Upton wasn't the last 28-year-old free-agent position player standing. Of course, Brown is only a free agent because not even the rebuilding Phillies wanted to retain him after two straight seasons with a .634 OPS. But time is still on his side, and some club will convince itself that it can coax another .272/.324/.494 (Brown's stat line in his All-Star season in 2013) out of him.

4. Cliff Lee, LHP

Realistically, the odds that Lee reinjures his elbow (he didn't have surgery to address a torn flexor tendon) significantly outweigh the odds that he recaptures his old Cy Young Award-winning form. But teams are certainly monitoring his market in hopes that he can make a meaningful contribution in 2016, and his past performance merits including him here. This is one of the game's most ruthless competitors.

5. Matt Joyce, OF

The Angels were hoping he could help them replace Josh Hamilton's production. Instead, he had a .174/.272/.291 slash line in 284 plate appearances and even had to be scratched from one start because he didn't realize it was a day game. But in his career, the 31-year-old Joyce has a respectable .795 OPS against right-handers. And because the majority of human beings (and pitchers) are right-handed, this bodes well for him contributing solidly somewhere.

6. Byrd, OF

The late Byrd signing worked out well in 2013. Let's do it again. Actually, Byrd, despite being 38, is coming off a season in which his homer/fly-ball rate was the best of his career and his isolated power mark climbed 25 points. As a pure power guy with a low OBP, he's a sort of a cheap substitute for Yoenis Cespedes. Come to think of it, maybe the Mets should bring back Byrd!

7. Dae-ho Lee, 1B

Let's hear it for "The Big Boy," a 286-pound, 33-year-old South Korean who hit 31 homers in the Japan Pacific League last season and wants to play in the States. Even if the power doesn't translate particularly well, you'd have to imagine there are at least marketing opportunities aplenty here.

8. Grady Sizemore, OF

Very quietly -- and with his playing time rationed out very carefully -- Sizemore put together a respectable bounce-back season in 2015, culminating with an .820 OPS in his final 42 games with the Rays. He'll never be the superstar he seemed destined to be before injuries ravaged his career, but, again, with the right management of his playing time, he's still got some life left in that body and bat.

9. Tim Lincecum, RHP

Maybe it's because I spent an afternoon in the Arizona sun with his father, Chris, last February as he discussed -- and even demonstrated -- in great detail the work the two men had put in to repair Lincecum's mechanics, but I'm a sucker for a Timmy comeback story. The truth is, Giants fans spent the past four seasons fruitlessly pining for him to recapture his old glory, and, with the exception of two magnificent starts against the Padres, it just didn't happen. But you'd have to think the degenerative left hip condition that required season-ending surgery last year was having an impact on Lincecum's diminished stuff, and if he can get that old life on his fastball and get his strikeout rate back above league average, he could turn out to be a steal on a one-year deal.

10. Jonny Gomes, OF

We could talk about his offensive attributes against lefties. But really, for the purposes of this list, all that matters is that four of his past six teams have made the playoffs. You might as well latch on and hope history holds.