Thursday, December 07, 2006

Buy Low Bargains

As the Winter Meetings come to a close many teams are still missing a piece or two of the puzzle for 2007. For many teams a big part of that puzzle is offense and this market has shown that if a team wants to add a potent bat to the lineup its going to cost big bucks, but for those who are savvy enough and—more importantly—gutsy enough, there is another option.

Last season both the Athletics and Padres took gambles that paid big dividends. Those gambles came in the forms of Frank Thomas and Mike Piazza, two veteran sluggers on the downhill slope of their careers, struggling to latch on with a new ballclub. Both teams paid well below “market value” and allowed both sluggers to reestablish themselves as superstars. In return both ballclubs received offensive performances that helped power their squads to division titles and both players were able to prove themselves and considerably increase their value on this year’s market.

With these two prototypes in mind, here are potential buy low candidates of this off-season:

Sammy Sosa – Outfielder/DH

-Fresh off a year of relaxing and working to get himself healthy, Sosa is reinvigorated to continue his professional career so that he can go out on his own terms. He is hoping to latch on with some team willing to take a flyer on a 38 year-old whose career is shrouded in controversy. In an interview on “Outside the Lines” Sosa said that he’s been speaking with his agent to see if there is any interest. He also gave this sales pitch: "I'm only 38 years old. ... I'm an exciting player and I'm looking for a chance, and if I get that chance, you never know. I might hit you 40 or 50 [home runs], you never know."

Although 40 or 50 homers might be a bit unrealistic for Sosa at this stage in his career, it’s still not impossible. Although Sosa’s injury-filled 2005 may have left a bad taste in the collective mouths of baseball general managers, his pre-2005 numbers speak for themselves. Sosa is the only player in Major League Baseball to hit 60 home runs in three seasons, he has 588 career home runs, he is a career .274 hitter and, as he proved in Chicago, he can draw fans—especially if he’s crushing the ball.

Best Fits: Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Washington, Pittsburgh

Dimitri Young – Outfielder/Infielder/DH

-Having completely fallen off the radar since his release from the Tigers, one has to wonder…why? Young has proven that—in addition to being a bit unruly and unpredictable on and off the field—he can really rake when he’s healthy. The latter has been an issue through much of Young’s career, but his numbers don’t lie. In seasons where Young has remained healthy and in the lineup his average is often right around .300 and both his home run and RBI numbers warrant penciling his name on a lineup card.

The one thing keeping this switch-hitter from a stellar payday is his personal inconsistency. Some times he is a model citizen and clubhouse leader and other times he is on probation and grumbling about playing time. At this stage in his career Young is probably best-suited to be a full-time DH on a club with a strong manager to handle his equally strong personality. Much like Frank Thomas prior to last season, Young hasn’t been really healthy since 2003, when he hit .297 with 29 HRs, but if there is a team willing to take a gamble Young could be the missing piece, just as Thomas was the missing piece for the A’s in 2006.

Best Fits: Minnesota, Seattle, Tampa Bay, Kansas City

Rondell White – Outfielder/DH

-White is coming off one of the worst seasons of his career. He was signed by the Twins to be their answer to the designated hitter question that has plagued them since Paul Moliter’s retirement. Unfortunately, things didn’t go according to plan. White, who had undergone off-season shoulder surgery, couldn’t hit for average, he could hit for power, he couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat. To make matters worse he spent much of the season plagued with hamstring injuries that sent him to the disabled list and held him back when he was in the line-up.

It was during a midseason consultation that White discovered the cause for his missing abilities at the plate. Apparently, the muscles in his shoulder had been pulled too tight during the surgery and it was hindering his ability to get around on pitches. During the second half White implemented a rigorous stretching regimen to regain his stroke at the plate and it worked. White who had hit just .182 without a single home run before the All-Star Break, rebounded to hit .321 with seven home runs in the second half. During that time, he played mostly left field, as opposed to DH, the slot the Twins had originally signed him for. It makes one wonder what White could do if given a full, healthy season to build on the strides he made at the end of 2006.

Best Fits: Minnesota, Seattle, Philadelphia, San Diego

Cliff Floyd – Outfielder

-Cut from the same mold as White, Cliff Floyd is an enticing option to teams looking to add not only a bat, but some speed as well. This of course is assuming that Floyd recovers well from his off-season surgery on his Achilles tendon. If he is healthy, Floyd is a major difference-maker, when he’s hurt….not so much. It would probably be best to implement him as a designated hitter most of the time, maybe letting him play the field a few games a week to rest a regular starter.

When healthy and getting over 500 at bats in a season Floyd’s average line looks like this: .291 avg, 164 hits, 37 doubles, 29 home runs, 97 RBI, 19 stolen bases and 98 runs scored. In seasons were he doesn’t get 500 at-bats his averages are as follows: .254 avg, 76 hits, 19 doubles, 12 home runs, 45 RBI, 8 stolen bases and 37 runs scored. Needless to say Floyd’s health and production go hand-in-hand, if the stars are aligned and his tendon is attached, Floyd could be in for a repeat of his 2005 performance.

Best Fits: Minnesota, Philadelphia, Chicago (NL), Los Angeles (AL)

Any of these players could break-out in 2007 and become this year’s Frank Thomas or they could revert back to their injured ways and turn out to be a total bust. But if the price is right and the risk is low any of these players has the chance to right in the ship in 2007, if someone is willing to roll the dice.

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