MLB Free Agency

MLB's 10 Best Under-the-Radar Offseason Signings

David CattaiContributor IIIFebruary 23, 2014

MLB's 10 Best Under-the-Radar Offseason Signings

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    Which player will have the most production for the least buck?
    Which player will have the most production for the least buck?Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Whether it is using the "Moneyball" theory, waiting in the weeds for a player to fall or even by spending tons of cash to fill out your roster, signing free agents can be tough.

    Looking for value is even harder.

    There are teams that want to buy their way to the top, while others look for the production over the price tag.

    This season, teams are beginning to spend more efficiently and are using advanced metrics to scout players. There will be teams that break the bank with certain players, while others will get the best production for the right price.

    That is why it is time to take a look at MLB's 10 best under-the-radar signings of the 2014 MLB offseason.

    Note: All stats are collected from FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference unless noted otherwise.

Honorable Mentions

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    A flashy defender, Nick Punto just missed making the top 10.
    A flashy defender, Nick Punto just missed making the top 10.Associated Press

    Not every free agent who signed this offseason was able to make this list.

    These five players are going to be under-the-radar moves that will make an impact for their respective teams, but they are ones who just missed making the top-10 list. However, look for these five players to stand out over the course of 2014, regardless:

    • Mike Morse, OF/1B, San Francisco Giants
    • Mark Reynolds, 1B/3B, Milwaukee Brewers
    • Nick Punto, UT, Oakland Athletics
    • Raul Ibanez, OF, Los Angeles Angels
    • John Buck, C, Seattle Mariners

10. Skip Schumaker, OF, Cincinnati Reds

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    Skip Schumaker will be a steal if slated as a starter for Cincinnati.
    Skip Schumaker will be a steal if slated as a starter for Cincinnati.Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

    Skip Schumaker has been mediocre since leaving St. Louis in 2012. However, he is still capable of playing every day—whether it is in the infield or outfield is the question.

    The 34-year-old utility man can get on base, despite struggling to hit for a high average. He will be an asset for the Cincinnati Reds in 2014, especially if he can go back to starting every day.

9. Marlon Byrd, RF, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Reuniting with an old club could be a benefit for Marlon Byrd.
    Reuniting with an old club could be a benefit for Marlon Byrd.Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    The Phillies signed Marlon Byrd to a two-year, $16 million contract as protection for Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. He will likely be the Opening Day starter in right field.

    Last season, Byrd hit a career-high 24 home runs and knocked in 88 runs while hitting a combined .291 between the New York Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates.

    Byrd could help make the Phillies contenders this season if he is able to produce close to what he did in 2013.

8. Corey Hart, OF/1B, Seattle Mariners

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    Seattle may have struck gold if Hart can stay healthy.
    Seattle may have struck gold if Hart can stay healthy.Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

    At one time, Corey Hart was an All-Star.

    The 10-year veteran sat out the 2013 season but was coming off three consecutive 25-plus home run seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers. Hart can play both first base and the outfield. 

    The Mariners may have struck gold if Hart comes back healthy, especially with the addition of Robinson Cano to their lineup this season as well.

7. Fernando Rodney, RP, Seattle Mariners

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    A change of scenery will help the veteran closer.
    A change of scenery will help the veteran closer.Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    Fernando Rodney would be a lot higher on this list if it weren't for another American League team making a big move with a reliever (more on that later). Despite that, the Mariners still signed a proven major league closer with filthy stuff.

    Rodney will solidify a Mariners bullpen that has yet to be consistent over the course of the last few seasons. Adding Rodney brings another power arm to the bullpen.

6. Kelly Johnson, 2B/3B, New York Yankees

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    Johnson may succeed in Yankee Stadium.
    Johnson may succeed in Yankee Stadium.MIKE CARLSON/Associated Press

    In 2011, Kelly Johnson hit a combined 21 home runs with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Toronto Blue Jays. He has since hit 16 in each of the last two seasons, splitting time as a starter and utility man.

    The Yankees signed Johnson as insurance for their infield. The biggest difference for Johnson this season could be the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium, which benefits left-handed hitters.

    With Alex Rodriguez suspended for the entire season, Johnson could see time at third base as well as a few other infield positions. The Yankees could get a lot of production from this player who signed a one-year, $3 million contract in December.

5. David Murphy, OF, Cleveland Indians

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    David Murphy will be an important piece to Cleveland's success.
    David Murphy will be an important piece to Cleveland's success.Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    David Murphy would be higher on this list if he hadn't struggled in 2013. The veteran utility player hit .220 for the Texas Rangers last year but still managed to hit 13 home runs and knock in more than 40 runners.

    The Cleveland Indians signed Murphy to play left field and provide quality defense. He did hit .304 in 2012, so the ability is there.

    Signing Murphy was a great move for the Indians.

4. John Axford, RP, Cleveland Indians

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    Did John Axford just go from one World Series competitor to another?
    Did John Axford just go from one World Series competitor to another?Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    The former Milwaukee Brewer closer struggled at the beginning of 2013, which led to him ending up with the St. Louis Cardinals at the end of the season.

    The Cardinals were able to get 13 quality appearances from John Axford toward the end of the season and an additional 12 shutdown appearances in the postseason, leading to an ERA under 2.00 in both instances.

    That is why signing Axford may be a steal for the Cleveland Indians.

3. A.J. Burnett, SP, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Adding veterans late during free agency is always a big move.
    Adding veterans late during free agency is always a big move.Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    A.J. Burnett was brought in to help the Philadelphia Phillies compete for a division title.

    The veteran right-hander signed a one-year deal that includes a mutual option for 2015. There is no such thing as a bad one-year deal, especially when you're signing a player that has recreated himself since leaving New York for Pittsburgh.

    Burnett has been phenomenal since returning to the National League. There could be a "Red October" in Philadelphia's future if Burnett can continue to perform the way he did in Pittsburgh.

2. A.J. Pierzynski, C, Boston Red Sox

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    The veteran backstop will have success hitting in Fenway Park.
    The veteran backstop will have success hitting in Fenway Park.Steven Senne/Associated Press

    The Boston Red Sox signed A.J. Pierzynski to replace Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who left via free agency to take his talents to South Beach.

    Pierzynski isn't exactly an upgrade over Saltalamacchia, but they signed him to a smaller deal for almost the exact same production.

    The veteran backstop will flourish playing in Fenway Park, and the Red Sox made a smart business decision taking the production over the money.

    Pierzynski will give them quality at-bats and add more pop to the Boston lineup.

1. Nelson Cruz, OF, Baltimore Orioles

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    The Baltimore Orioles may have won free agency after signing Nelson Cruz.
    The Baltimore Orioles may have won free agency after signing Nelson Cruz.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Nelson Cruz may be the most under-the-radar signing in the MLB this season.

    He will be getting paid $8 million for one season, which is the same amount the Phillies are paying Marlon Byrd to play right field. The fact that there is never such a thing as a bad one-year deal makes this signing almost criminal.

    Cruz will balance the Baltimore Orioles lineup with his raw power from the right side of the plate. He will see better pitching while batting before or after the power-hitting Chris Davis, and he makes Baltimore a scary team in the American League.

    Signing Cruz to a similar deal to the one Melky Cabrera signed with the Toronto Blue Jays last offseason may end up being the steal of the offseason.

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