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Five Sleeper MLB Free Agents Worth Taking Chances On: A Fan’s Take
Major League Baseball's offseason is as close to fantasy baseball as the real game gets. General managers across the game play chess with their counterparts, blocking trades, driving up the prices on premium players, or simply outbidding their opponents in the quest to build a World Series-caliber team.
But just like its fantasy counterpart, a championship-caliber team is not built on the backs of the big ticket stars, but on the under-the-radar moves that straddle the border of smart business decisions and the luck of capturing lighting in a bottle. Navigating that field of players is difficult at best, with twice as many misses as hits.
With that in mind, here are five players who will likely coast under the radar and make some general managers very happy:
Chien Ming-Wang - Starting Pitcher - Washington Nationals
Wang had missed the better part of two full seasons due to shoulder, hip, and foot injuries before returning in 2011 with the Washington Nationals. The former Yankee went 4-3 across 11 starts with a 4.04 earned run average. He'll be 32 when the 2012 season starts, but this is a pitcher with a career .670 winning percentage and a devastating sinker. With so many teams, including the aforementioned Yankees and their rival in Boston, looking for pitching, but not necessarily enamored with the lack of strong options, Wang may be worth a flyer to see if he is ready to take that last step back toward being a 19-game winner again. At worst, he could be a solid fourth or fifth starter at a flexible rate to add insurance behind him.
Ross is best known the spark-plug that helped propel the Giants to the 2010 World Series title, but in 2011 reality came crashing in. Ross may be a consistent outfielder in terms of stats, but he is not your prototypical everyday player, either. That said, he is just two seasons removed from back-to-back 20-home run seasons, and in the right ballpark may prove to be cut in the Kevin Millar(notes) mold. He'll hit the market looking for a starting position, but will likely find himself in the right-handed portion of a platoon situation. Still, Ross has proven in the past that he is capable of forcing his way into the starting lineup.
Jonathan Broxton has had an interesting run as the closer for the Los Angeles Dodgers. As late as 2009, when he made the first of two All-Star appearances, Broxton looked unhittable. However, the last two seasons have seen him bounce in and out of the closer role as he's struggled with declining strikeout rates and increasing hit and walk ratios. Still, in a market ripe with closers, a guy like Broxton can be a bargain basement deal for a team looking to give a 27-year-old kid a second chance. Perhaps a change of scenery and an incentive laden deal would be the best things to get him back on track.
Harang is a perfect example of a below-the-radar player. Last season, the Padres took a chance on the former Reds ace and wound up with a pitcher that took the mound 28 times, posting a 14-7 record and a 3.64 ERA. Now certainly, some of that success can be attributed to pitching in Petco Park, especially since his strikeout numbers were modest in comparison to those dominant Reds years. Then again, maybe a boost in confidence is just what Harang needed to become a serviceable starter again. No one is going to mistake him for a staff ace, but he might make a nice piece at the end of the rotation for someone looking for solid pitching depth.
It is hard to say that Sizemore will be flying very low under the radar. Most teams with any money to spare will be kicking the tires on the former MVP candidate in the hopes that at 29 Sizemore will more closely resemble the three-time All-Star and Gold Glove winner from 2006-2008 than the perennially injured former star of 2009 to 2010. Of course, he makes this brief list because of the utter gamble that a team will need to take on him. He will likely incur a bidding war of some sort, which is saying a lot for a player that has played a combined 210 games across the last three seasons, but it also speaks to the potential that teams still see in Sizemore's abilities. For Sizemore, it will be a test of the cup half empty or cup half full quandary.
The contributor is a lifelong Red Sox fan who is eager to begin the Hot Stove season in order to put the misery of 2011 behind him and focus on 2012.
- Chien Ming Wang, Baseball-Reference.com
- Cody Ross, Baseball-Reference.com
- Jonathan Broxton, Baseball-Reference.com
- Aaron Harang, Baseball-Reference.com
- Grady Sizemore, Baseball-Reference.com
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