Uncovering the bargains
Nomar Garciaparra leads a group of players who could prove to be big bargains in the '05 season.
Sure, it's after Christmas and the biggest sales are over, but that doesn't mean that the spending sprees are complete.
Some high-ticket free agents remain on the market, including Carlos Beltran who will eventually land the biggest deal of this offseason. When Beltran and others finally sign, it will close out a winter that will feature more spending and more long-term deals than any since the offseason of 2000-2001, when Mike Mussina, Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez inked landmark contracts.
But not every signing has been super-sized. Some even look to be bargains -- relatively speaking.
Here's a look at five players who've changed uniform since the start of the 2004 season who will earn comparatively modest money for 2005 and beyond.
Nomar Garciaparra, Chicago Cubs (one-year, $8 million deal)
Unable to secure the multi-year deal he wanted -- and kicking himself, no doubt, for turning down a four-year, $60 million deal with Boston in March of 2003 -- Garciaparra played it smart, accepting a one-year deal to return to the Cubs, all the while rebuilding his market value for another kick at being a free agent next winter.
Sure, Garciaparra had an injury-riddled, controversy-filled season, and his numbers were down. But in exactly half a season in '04, Garciaparra compiled a year that, pro-rated, would have have seen him score 104 runs, smack 42 doubles, collect 198 hits and hit 18 homers.
Remember, this was an off year for Garciaparra.
It's more likely the Cubs will get something closer to his last fully healthy year (when he hit 28 homers and knocked in 105 runs in 2003). Not bad for a salary equal to that of Orlando Cabrera, who has only knocked in more than 62 runs twice and never hit more than 17 homers.
Tim Hudson, Atlanta Braves (one-year, $6.75 million deal)
This wasn't a free-agent signing, of course, but rather, a trade. The Braves shipped three young players to the A's for the pitcher with the second-best winning percentage among active starters.
In addition to a consistent winner, the Braves got the final year of Hudson's existing contract, which pays him exactly half of what Pedro Martinez will get next season.
Martinez, by the way, is the only other pitcher in the game with a better career winning percentage than Hudson. And Hudson is more than four years younger than Martinez.
Naturally, the Braves will eventually have to extend Hudson on a deal that will undoubtedly pay him an eight-figure annual salary. But while other teams were lavishing huge deals on the likes of Russ Ortiz, who isn't in the same class as Hudson, the Braves were getting a sure thing in the prime of his career.
That's a bargain at any price -- even if it's only for one season.
Joe Randa, Cincinnati Reds (one-year, $2.15 million deal)
While fellow third basemen Troy Glaus and Adrian Beltre pulled down extraordinary contracts from the Arizona Diamondbacks and Seattle Mariners respectively, Randa signed a modest one-year deal at very reasonable terms.
Though he missed a month last year on the disabled list -- until last season, he was very durable, playing at least 151 games in four of the five previous seasons -- Randa still had a decent year with the Royals.
Most seasons, Randa can be counted on for 15 or so homers and anywhere from 75-85 RBI while posting a more-than-respectable .286 lifetime average.
His power numbers aren't what you normally associate with third base, but Randa is a solid defensive player and is the prototypical professional hitter. In the Reds' powerful lineup, he'll be asked to be a contributor, not a go-to guy.
Over the course of his career, Williams has had trouble staying healthy. But he's made 64 starts while averaging 14½ victories per season over the past two years.
For medium-market teams like the Padres, dependable starters are difficult to come by. They must either be developed or traded for. But GM Kevin Towers made a savvy pickup with Williams, who will lend some experience to a rotation full of 20-somethings like Brian Lawrence and Jake Peavy.
Wade Miller, Boston Red Sox (one-year, $1.5 million deal)
While big deals went to pitching question marks like Eric Milton and Kris Benson, the Red Sox might have picked up one of the best bargains of the offseason.
Miller was shut down last July because of concerns about his right rotator cuff and was non-tendered by the Astros. The Red Sox, who had been interested in dealing for Miller, quickly pounced, offering him an incentive-laden deal.
The Red Sox's medical tests show good strength in Miller's rotator cuff. If their gamble pays off, the Sox will have themselves an affordable No. 2 starter, one who averaged 15 wins per season in the three years before 2004.
If Miller needs additional recovery time -- or even surgery -- the Sox will have him under their control for 2006, at a relatively low arbitration figure.
Sean McAdam of the Providence (R.I.) Journal covers baseball for ESPN.com.
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