By Marc Normandin
Game 6 of the World Series has just wrapped up, so for all intents and purposes, the offseason is upon Major League Baseball. Players will start to file for free agency, teams will submit qualifying offers to attempt to recover draft pick compensation, and the trade market will once again become robust, all in the next few weeks. Now we can start to filter through the free agents, attempting to find the bargains in what can sometimes be one of baseball's more dangerous means of player acquisition.
As we've already taken a look at five hitters who could turn out to be bargains, it's time to turn to the mound.
You're forgiven if you forgot that right-hander Gavin Floyd even existed. He threw just 24 innings in 2013 for the White Sox before a combination of flexor tendon and Tommy John surgery ended his season in late-April. In the three seasons prior to his arm trouble, Floyd was basically an average pitcher on the mound, posting a 101 ERA+ while averaging 183 innings per season. He didn't miss an inordinate number of bats, but he walked just 2.7 batters per nine in that 549-inning stretch, and mostly kept the ball in the park despite pitching his home games in a stadium designed to cause the opposite to happen often.
The problem with Floyd is that he won't be back for the start of the season -- even the quickest healing TJ recipients take 10-12 months to get right -- but this also means he can likely be had on a deal heavy on incentives with a lower base salary. Floyd will be 31 years old, and made $9.5 million in his lost 2013, so it's not as if he was making an enormous wage to begin with, and the fact he'll miss a significant chunk of 2014 only lowers the payout. For a team looking to add depth, or one that can wait a few months and treat Floyd as a mid-season acquisition, he could be a boost on the cheap, stashed on the 60-day disabled list until he's ready.
Like Floyd, Lewis missed 2013 with elbow troubles, but did not undergo Tommy John surgery to repair them. He did have a torn flexor tendon repaired at the end of 2012, however, and his recovery limited him to just 24 minor-league innings. In addition, Lewis had hip surgery in August of this year, and is just now getting back into regular activity to prepare for the offseason. The good news, though, is that he's healthy. Elbow problems are obviously troublesome, and the hip has bothered Lewis since 2011; he won't be able to ask for the significant money that would have been his had he remained in one piece, given the time he's missed for multiple issues. So, as with Floyd, his new team is potentially looking at an incentives-based, make-good deal.
Since Lewis is 34 and coming off of both hip and elbow issues, it's a win-win scenario for both the club that signs him and for Lewis. He gets a chance to prove that he's healthy and worthy of a larger, guaranteed paycheck before he gets much older, and whoever bets on him doesn't have to go all-in to do it. As he posted a well above-average 113 ERA+ from 2010 through 2012 -- a figure that ranked 20th in the majors, minimum 500 innings, over that stretch according to Baseball Reference's Play Index -- chances are good that everyone will be happy when his year is up, so long as he remains on the mound.
You might be noticing a theme here, where pitchers who dealt with injuries tend to be the ones who are available at a discount the following year. Joel Hanrahan struggled with his control in September of 2012, but his medicals looked clean, so the Red Sox acquired him in a December trade. His elbow blew out in early May after a few tumultuous weeks in the back-end of the Red Sox, and he went under the knife for Tommy John to repair the damage. All this means for his new club is that the cost of a pitcher with success as a closer will be available on the cheap, so long as someone has the patience to let him finish out his recovery from surgery.
During his time in the Pittsburgh bullpen, Hanrahan threw 229 innings with a 151 ERA+, 10.4 strikeouts per nine, and 2.7 times as many punch outs as free passes. He become the full-time closer in 2011, and logged 76 saves over that season and the next, absolutely dominating in the role until he came to Boston and his elbow gave out. Given the price of relievers on both the trade and free agent market, someone willing to take the risk of a roster spot on the recovering Hanrahan could find themselves thrilled come mid-season, as he will likely be far less expensive than whatever reliever-of-the-month happens to be on the block in July ahead of the trade deadline.
Arroyo isn't necessarily going to be cheap, but there are more ways to fit the bargain definition than just straight up dollars. As Arroyo will be in his age-37 campaign, even if he costs a significant chunk of change per year, the number of years will be limited -- he's likely in line for a two-year commitment, three at most, and while there is risk there, there is less than with younger hurlers who will make three times the money with at least twice as many years attached.
The right-hander has tossed at least 200 innings in every season of his career since 2005, except for in 2010, when he just missed with 199 frames. Even if he's only capable of a league-average ERA, as he was in 2013, his final season with the Reds, Arroyo is a valuable addition to the back-end of a rotation just because he's capable of showing up, keeping lesser arms from having to toss innings. Arroyo has a good chance of being the Ryan Dempster of this winter's free agent market, signing a deal that will make him around $13-14 million per season, but only for a couple of years. Considering he managed to succeed even in his mid-30s in a difficult division and even tougher park for pitchers, his market should be wide open.
Johnson is basically the opposite of Arroyo: if he's healthy, he's capable of greatness, but good luck trying to figure out when that will happen. Luckily, Johnson underwent elbow surgery to remove bone spurs that reportedly bothered him all season long, so a repeat of his 2013 struggles, in which he posted a 6.20 ERA for the last-place Blue Jays in his first taste of American League ball shouldn't occur again. To be on the safe side, though, let's designate Johnson a bargain for National League clubs that see the designated hitter far less often.
The right-hander can still miss bats, so if the injury messed with his command, good things could happen for someone willing to take a shot on him. It looked like he was an obvious candidate for a qualifying offer just a few months ago, but as he continued to struggle, the idea of promising him $14 million -- a small raise, but a raise nonetheless -- to prove he's healthy seemed far less appealing. So long as the Blue Jays don't give him that qualifier, Johnson could be a relatively inexpensive, short-term pickup for a club that needs to take risks with its rotation and signings, and has the depth to protect themselves in case the wrong version of Johnson shows up once more.
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Marc Normandin writes and edits for Over the Monster, a Boston Red Sox blog, as well as SB Nation's baseball hub. He's one of many behind the e-book "The Hall of Nearly Great," and has written for BaseballProspectus, ESPN, and others. You can follow him on Twitter at @Marc_Normandin.