Even with the top remaining free agents from this class -- Ervin Santana, Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew -- having draft-pick compensation issues that have prevented them from finding a home this offseason, there are still many professional baseball players whose services are available (and worth it) for the right price.
And while they may not be particularly well-known names or have sterling resumes, they can provide a significantamount of value for whomever picks them up. Many of them are pitchers, slightly past their primes but not quite over the hill. Former All-Star Joe Saunders, and more injury-prone players like Oliver Perez and Jeff Niemman find themselves at the top of the free agent alongside closer Ryan Madson and former Gold Glove-winning All-star outfielder Vernon Wells.
Saunders, who is entering his age-33 year is coming off his worst season as a major leaguer. But before posting a 5.26 ERA as a member of the Seattle Mariners last season, Saunders was a consistent performer for the LA Angels, Arizona Diamondbacks and (briefly) Baltimore Orioles. With a career ERA+ 97, he offers a slightly below-average starter who can pitch enough innings -- he's pitched over 174 innings each of the last six seasons -- to warrant a back-of-the-rotation spot. Especially as a left-hander who may be able to help in long relief if necessary. Whether he's asking anything near the $6.5 million he received just last season is perhaps the only mystery regarding his ability to sign with a team, who has worked out out for the Texas Rangers and is being "monitored" by the Twins.
Joining Saunders in the free agent starting rotation is Jeff Niemann. At 31-years-old and 6'9", he is the youngest and tallest player on the list, and finds himself as a free agent after an injury plagued previous two seasons that cut out almost completely his 4th and final full season with the Tampa Bay Rays. During his tenure with the team, the hurler started 92 games -- and accrued a 4.08 ERA -- which seems to indicated that while he wouldn't light world on fire, if he can manage to stay healthy, he may be of value to someone. Though early reports from this offseason suggest he wants to return to the Rays, who outrighted Niemann following his shoulder surgery.
"Right now, every door is still open for me," said Niemann, who continues to rehab his shoulder. "We're starting the second part of the throwing program, which is going to lead into a mound progression to where I'm competition-ready and where I can show something."
Long subject to the scorn of lovelorn Mets fans, Oliver Perez has managed to develop a nice and functional career of the past several years as a left-handed reliever for the Seattle Mariners. After freefalling for several years in Queens -- where he showed flashes of quasi-respectability for two seasons, bookended by the three years of misery -- Perez has posted an ERA of under-4.00 for two consecutive seasons. But, despite supposedly fielding offers from four teams, including potential interest from the Nationals and the Yankees -- according to the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo -- Perez still remains on the market.
While he is not exactly a household name, Madson did have one particularly solid season as the Phillies closer after several years serving a solid set-up man in the "Bridge to Lidge" and is looking to possibly case in on that success after two seasons on the sidelines with Tommy John-related troubles. 32 saves in a season does not a Mariano Rivera make, but the fireballer was throwing in the low-to-mid 90s before the injury, and has in the past shown potential to throw in the high 90s with two better than serviceable changeups to boot. Given the fetishization in the market regarding the position, it seems highly likely that someone will pick him up, though it appears it will definitely not be the Tigers.
Not that long ago, Wells was a much sought after Gold Glove and Silver Slugger-winning outfielder who routinely found himself in conversations of underrated stars toiling in obscurity. But now, it's not that he's struggled in recent seasons to hit his weight that might prevent him from signing with a team. The former Blue Jay, Angel and Yankees presents an odd case of a potential power bat that may be better served to stay home unless the price is right because of concerns of income taxes. This -- not his marked decline in the batter's box -- may ultimately be what ends the 15-year veteran's career, even with the Phillies reportedly interested in him.