- Jim Bowden, ESPN Insider
Here is my list of the five most undervalued free agents remaining on the market:
1. Carlos Beltran, RF
Age: 34 | 2011 stats: .300/.385/.910, 22 HR, 84 RBI
Why he’s undervalued: Beltran has been the one free agent on the market who’s value has plummeted because of teams’ concerns over his health. He is clearly the best outfield bat in this free-agent market, but he’ll have to take less money than, for example, Michael Cuddyer, who got a three-year, $31.5 million deal from the Colorado Rockies.
Best fits: The ideal teams for Beltran coming into free agency were the San Francisco Giants and Boston Red Sox, but the Giants are saving their payroll space for long term deals for Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, while the Red Sox have prioritized their rotation and bullpen over adding another bat.
The St. Louis Cardinals, dealing with the loss of Albert Pujols and knee injury to Allen Craig, are currently the best fit, while the Toronto Blue Jays would have a much improved lineup if they can sign Beltran to help protect Jose Bautista and their young bats in the lineup.
2. Hiroki Kuroda, RHP
Age: 36 | 2011 stats: 13-16 record, 3.07 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 202 IP
Why he’s undervalued: Teams are overlooking Kuroda because he’ll be 37 years old in 2012. Kuroda was 13-16 last year with an impressive ERA of 3.07 and a WHIP of 1.2 while pitching over 200 innings. He’s had a sub-4.00 ERA in all four of his years with the Dodgers, averaging 12 wins per season. However, his age will cause teams to shy away from giving him anything more than a two-year deal.
Best fits: The Diamondbacks, Angels, Yankees, Red Sox and Tigers all remain in the mix to land one of the best free-agent values in the market. He fits particularly well with the Red Sox as their fourth starter behind Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, especially with Bobby Valentine at the helm. Returning to Japan is also a possibility.
3.Francisco Cordero, CL
Age: 36 | 2011 stats: 2.45 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 37 saves, 69.2 IP
Why he’s undervalued: Cordero has flown under the radar a bit because the market was flooded with closers this offseason, both in free agency as well as in the trade market. The Philadelphia Phillies signed Jonathan Papelbon, the Miami Marlins signed Heath Bell, the Texas Rangers signed Joe Nathan, the San Diego Padres traded for Huston Street, the Red Sox traded for Mark Melancon, and Francisco Rodriguez accepted salary arbitration with the Milwaukee Brewers.
Still, Cordero is a three-time All-Star who had an ERA under 3.00 in two of the last three years, despite pitching half of his games in the Great American Ball Park.
Best fits: Cordero has had several teams looking at him, including the Angels, Reds, Red Sox and Blue Jays. He’s coming off of an impressive season, but this has been a slow-developing market for him. The Angels are the best fit for Cordero because it would allow the them to move Jordan Walden to the setup role as he continues to develop. Also, Cordero would benefit pitching in a larger ballpark.
4.Javier Vazquez, RHP
Age: 35 | 2011 stats: 13-11 record, 3.69 ERA, 1.18 WHIP
Why he’s undervalued: His age, reputation of needing to pitch in a smaller market and the fact that he’s been contemplating retirement are three big factors as to why teams haven’t been quick to snap him up. Vazquez was 8-3 with a 2.15 ERA in the second half of last year, pitching 96.1 innings, allowing only 67 hits while striking out 96 batters.
He made 19 starts from June 16 of last year, pitching at least six innings in 15 of them and allowing three runs or less in all but one of them. Calling that impressive is an understatement. He’s won 10 or more games every season in the last 12, and pitched 190 innings in all but one of them.
Best fits: The Marlins and Kansas City Royals are his best fits, but his preference would be Miami because he’d get the opportunity to be on a winner right away, now that the Marlins have added Jose Reyes, Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle. He’s a definite upgrade over their fifth starter, Chris Volstad, and it’ll be interesting to see if the Marlins reach out to him and try to get him back for another year. He could be a difference-maker in the wild-card race and an undervalued signing on a one-year deal.
5.Paul Maholm, LHP
Age: 29 | 2011 stats: 6-14 record, 3.66 ERA, 1.29 WHIP
Why he’s undervalued: He’s 29 years old, hasn’t won much in his career and doesn’t miss a lot of bats. However, because of his ability to sink the ball on both sides of the plate, he’s a quality back-of-the-rotation left-hander that can keep his team in a game. He’s pitched at least 160 innings in each of the last six years, which is evidence of his durability.
Maholm is coming off a respectable season of 26 games started with an ERA of 3.66 and a WHIP of 1.29. He’s a three-walk, five-strikeout-per-nine-innings-type of pitcher that went 53-73 combined with a 4.36 ERA in his seven seasons with the Pirates.
Best fits: The Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates, Red Sox and Rockies are his best potential destinations. I think the Cubs make the most sense because his two-seam sinking fastball would work well in Wrigley Field, as he owns the lower part of the strike zone, which is important on the days in which the wind is blowing out hard. I think he needs a change of scenery from Pittsburgh. I’m not sure he’d fare well amid the pressure of playing in Boston, and he’d get lost in the Rockies’ deep rotation.