- Jim Bowden, ESPN Insider
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The Toronto Blue Jays might have signed the most undervalued free agent position player from this year’s class when they inked outfielder Melky Cabrera to a two-year, $16 million deal. Melky was in line for a four-year deal in the $50 million range before he failed a PED test over the summer, but could still prove to be a great signing if he shows that his performance over the last two seasons was not a PED mirage.
Likewise, the Chicago Cubs’ signing of right-hander Scott Baker to a one-year, $5.5 million deal might be the most undervalued starting pitching signing of the offseason so far. Baker was undervalued because he’s coming back from Tommy John surgery. However, he should be able to give the Cubs some solid innings and, perhaps more importantly, a trade chip come next July.
Here are five other potential undervalued free agents who are still available on the open market:
1. Stephen Drew | SS | AGE: 29
Why he’s undervalued: Drew is the best shortstop on the free agent market. Period. He has the offensive capability for a .330 OBP with 30 doubles and 15 home runs annually. Defensively, he possesses above-average range to both sides with a strong arm. But he’s had to overcome numerous injuries in his career, the worst being a severely broken ankle back in July 2011 that took more than a year to heal. Drew didn’t come back from injury as quick as the Diamondbacks hoped and was sent to Oakland at midseason, where he played an integral part in helping the A’s leapfrog the Texas Rangers for the AL West title. Drew’s offense and defense looked like it was all coming back by late September, and a big 2013 could be in store. Drew is quiet and thus seen by many as aloof and selfish. But watch him play day in and day out, and it’s easy to see why he’s one of the most underrated shortstops in the majors.
2. Joakim Soria | RHR | AGE: 28
Why he’s undervalued: He missed all of the 2012 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. The Royals declined his $8 million club option for 2013, making Soria a free agent. Soria was one of the AL’s best closers from 2008-11, when he averaged close to 36 saves per season. Soria has a career 2.40 ERA and 1.043 WHIP, and he’s saved 40 games and had an ERA under 1.80 twice in his career, all with the Royals. His rehabilitation is going well, and there is a good chance that by July or August he could be back being a dominant closer and difference maker in a pennant race.
3. Delmon Young | DH |AGE: 27
Why he’s undervalued: Young has two strikes against him: He is a very poor defender, and he has had some off-field problems. Young pleaded guilty earlier this month to aggravated harassment for yelling an anti-Semitic slur and wrestling a man to the ground outside of the New York Hilton last spring. He handled this incident as well as he could, sincerely apologizing to all parties involved, and he will perform some community service and attend a tolerance seminar as part of his punishment.
The Tigers moved him to full-time DH during the season, which seemed to help his bat, and I think he could have value as a full-time DH. The market isn't big for that kind of player, so he'll probably come cheap, but his impressive postseason success the past four years -- including winning the ALCS MVP award last month -- will be enough for someone to take a chance on him.
4. Koji Uehara |RHR | AGE: 37
Why he’s undervalued: Uehara was so bad down the stretch in 2011 that the Rangers left him off their postseason roster. And his subpar performance left a bad taste with many scouts who had a hard time adjusting to his incredible turnaround this past year. Uehara’s 43 strikeouts and three walks for Texas gave him an incredible 14.33 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His 88-89 mph fastball with command and control and unhittable splitter were so impressive that anyone who evaluated him in 2012 had to just completely forget about 2011. Uehara should be a lockdown setup man for someone in 2013.
5. Jason Grilli |RHR | AGE: 36
Why he’s undervalued: Grilli’s age and inconsistent career make some wonder if his 2012 season was a fluke. While Grilli has had longevity in the major leagues -- pitching 10 years with an ERA of 4.34 – he’s also had an unimpressive 1.413 career WHIP. So what’s there to undervalue?
Grilli has been dominant out of the bullpen in each of the past two years for the Pirates. His success started in 2011 when he finished with a 2.48 ERA and a WHIP of 1.19 in 28 games after not even pitching in the major leagues in 2010. There weren’t any clubs buying his success as he signed a $1.1 million deal to go back to Pittsburgh. This season he not only proved 2011 was no fluke but also showed he could take his arm to an even higher level. In 2012 he pitched 58 2/3 innings and punched out a whopping 90 hitters. His 92-94 mph fastball and nasty slider are good enough to help any team’s bullpen.