Six Free Agents Who Can Make an Impact: Position Players

Who are the "best of the rest" behind ex-Brave Michael Bourn?
01/24/2013 3:19 PM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Michael Bourn is the top free agent available, but many others can make a big impact.(AP)
The free agent pool has been thinned out quite a bit this week, with Delmon Young signing with the Phillies, Scott Hairston reportedly agreeing to a deal with the Cubs, Shawn Marcum joining the Mets, and a handful of other notables (like Kyle Farnsworth, Juan Carlos Oviedo, and Nyjer Morgan) either agreeing to deals, signing Minor League pacts, or heading overseas.

So what’s left on the market? As it stands, there seems to be only a few “impact” players available, with former Braves outfielder Michael Bourn, ex-Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse, and closers Francisco Rodriguez and Jose Valverde the cream of the crop in each category.

However, beyond those players, there are quite a few others – grizzled veterans and “young veterans” alike—that can help many teams if they find the right fit. Today, we’ll take a look at Bourn and five other position players who could fit that bill, and Friday we’ll spotlight the aforementioned three pitchers as well as another trio of hurlers in that boat.

OF Michael Bourn
Depending on how you look at 2012 versus his entire career, Bourn had either an up or down season in 2011. On the down side, his average dipped from .294 in 2011 to .274, he stole only 42 bases, his lowest total since he swiped 41 in 2008, and set a career high with 155 strikeouts; however, he did set career highs in homers (nine), RBI (57), walks (70), and OPS (.791), had the highest WAR of his career at 6.0, and was right around his usual average in runs, doubles, triples, and defensive metrics.

With the Braves acquiring Justin Upton, the now-30-year-old Bourn certainly won’t re-sign in Atlanta, and another one of his rumored destinations, Philadelphia, seems to be out with both Ben Revere and now Delmon Young there. Plus, with agent Scott Boras’ reputation for getting his clients huge deals in the latter stages of the offseason, teams may want to wait him out.

It’s unlikely the Yankees, who seem to be shunning long-term deals and already have three speedy southpaw outfielders, would make a big splash and sign Bourn, and while the Mets desperately need an outfielder, they’re unlikely to be able to offer the kind of expensive, longer-term deal Bourn and Boras seek. So where might he be a fit?

Texas could be a fit, as the Rangers lost Josh Hamilton and would, as of today, likely open with Craig Gentry (.304-1-26, 13 SB in 240 AB in 2012) as their center fielder, and a team like the White Sox or Rays could swoop in if the price is right. One potential dark horse, however, may be the Red Sox; adding Bourn would give them an outfield of three true center fielders, but they could shift pending 2014 free agent Jacoby Ellsbury back over to left field for a season and/or have even more incentive to trade him later in the year, and because they have a Top 10 pick in the 2013 draft, they wouldn’t have to surrender that selection to sign Bourn.

1B/OF Juan Rivera
Now that Hairston and Justin Upton are settled, Rivera’s name is likely to come up a lot more in discussions for teams needing a righty-hitting outfielder. He posted just a .244-9-47 line in 312 at-bats for the Dodgers in 2012, but at 34, he could likely be had on a very small one-year deal, if not a Minor League one, and his versatility could help him, especially on an American League team (perhaps including the Yankees) where he can get some at-bats at DH as well. One other potential spot he can help is on a team like the Cubs; even with the addition of Hairston, they still have a lefty at first base in Anthony Rizzo and five other lefties in the outfield mix, so Rivera could be a cheap yet valuable veteran swing piece for a rebuilding team.

IF Freddy Sanchez
Sanchez is now 35, hasn’t played in nearly two full years due to various back and shoulder surgeries, and is long removed from the days where he hit .344 and drove in 85 runs for the Pirates. However, Sanchez was still a productive hitter right before his injuries caught up with him, as he hit .289 in 60 games for the Giants in 2011, and while he’s predominantly played second base since about 2009 or so, a willingness to move back into a utility role like he had in Pittsburgh could make him an attractive low-risk, high-reward addition for many teams if he is healthy.

1B/OF Carlos Lee
He’s 36, is coming off the lowest power output of his career (nine home runs), and played exclusively at first base in 2012 – but “El Caballo” still drove in 77 runs while playing on a pair of last-place teams, and still has enough pop to be dangerous in a part-time role. As a righty-hitting outfielder/first baseman, we’ve mentioned Lee as a possible fit for the Yankees in the past, and he seems best suited to an AL team where he can get some DH at-bats as well, but he could also be a fit for a team like the Cubs in a similar role to the one described for Juan Rivera above.

2B Kelly Johnson and/or OF/1B/DH Luke Scott
Johnson and Scott have been grouped together for the sole fact that at this point, they both offer teams the same huge positive: lefty power. Neither offers much in the way of batting average or defense, but Scott hit 14 home runs for the Rays last year while battling injuries and Johnson socked 16 – third among AL second basemen – for the Jays. Where could they fit? Two examples for Johnson may be younger rebuilding teams like Miami or Minnesota, where the Twins are projected to start a middle infield that hit seven home runs total last year and could use Jamey Carroll as more of a utility man in 2013, while Scott could fill a role similar to the one Eric Hinske filled last year – part-time corner spot caddy and top pinch-hitter – in Atlanta.

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