- Dan Szymborski, ESPN Insider
ESPN Insider has spent a lot of time talking about the top free agents, such as Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols. However, there are only so many big-name stars to go around and only so much money available to pay them and most teams will not bring their fans such a lucrative holiday gift.
While the stars will always get the attention, and deservedly so, many bargain free agents play just as big a role in their new teams as the brand names. Sure, Adrian Beltre performed as advertised and was a key part of the Rangers, but players as varied as Ryan Roberts, Casey Kotchman, John Axford and Joel Peralta, all picked up cheaply, were key performers on their respective playoff teams.
As such, we've identified 10 players, none likely to command a bidding war, but with the ability to contribute above and beyond their 2011 salaries. For each player, their 2012 ZiPS projections for a neutral park/league are given.
Josh Willingham, LF: .249/.350/.467, 22 HR, 70 RBIs, 2.3 WAR
One of the few performing players on the Oakland A's, with 98 RBIs on a team that had only one other player above 60. However, Willingham's age and defensive ability preclude anyone signing him to a long-term deal. The Atlanta Braves and Chicago White Sox are two teams that missed the playoffs that could've used the extra bat -- if Atlanta had Willingham in 2011, the Braves likely hold off the Cardinals and make the playoffs. Willingham's best fit is on a team with a solid defensive center fielder that needs some quick offense.
Dan Szymborski looks at some bargain bin free agents who could provide value, such as Josh Willingham and Kelly Johnson.