Frugal =/= Parsimonious

At least outside of the thesaurus it doesn't.

Free talent is a subject I've wanted to cover for a few weeks now. To start with the obvious and to parody a great economics saying; there is no such thing as free talent. No free talent is not actually free, you have to use resources like playing time and money in order to acquire it, but the great thing is that free talent is almost always available and for less than brand names.

The Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres, and Tampa Bay Rays are the masters of free talent, look at the Rays first base choices since 2005:

Travis Lee 2005-2006 Combined Salary: 3,750,000 Acquired: Free Agency

Ty Wigginton 2006-2007 Combined Salary: 3,375,000 Acquired: Free Agency (Non-Roster Invitee)

Greg Norton 2006-2007 Combined Salary: 1,600,000 Acquired: Free Agency

Kevin Witt 2006 Combined Salary: ~400,000 Acquired: Minor League Free Agent

Carlos Pena 2007-present Combined Salary: 6,800,000 Acquired: Free Agency (NRI)

Eric Hinske 2008 Combined Salary: 800,000 Acquired: Free Agency (NRI)

Dan Johnson 2008 Combined Salary: 410,000 Acquired: Waivers

Those seven players cost roughly 17 million for an average of .262/.342/.472 with 31 homers (on a 600 AB scale), obviously the numbers a bit skewed thanks to Carlos Pena's monster 2007 and ensuing contract extension, but the point remains that you can get cheap production at almost any time, especially at a position like first base. The amazing thing is that the Mariners paid Richie Sexson 14 million last season, and are again doing so this season, for roughly .204/.286/.402 with 30 homeruns.

Even more impressive is the Rays were able to turn Wigginton, and may turn Hinske, into Dan Wheeler, who is currently the team's best reliever. Who could they replace Hinske with? Dan Johnson of course, who has an OPS over 1.000 since joining Triple-A Durham and was openly available to 28 other teams (the Athletics designated him fro assignment of course), just as the other options were.

The Mariners are showing some interest in newly available Scott Hatteberg - leaving some Mariner fans to joke that Bill Bavasi is finally getting around to reading Moneyball - but it's a bit too late. Both the Mariners and Giants passed on Johnson and Frank Thomas when they were available earlier this season, but at least they aren't the Mets in this case. Recent reports suggest Omar Minaya would love to add a corner outfielder or first baseman in the trade market, but if Minaya just read one of his local writers - the very good Tim Marchman - he would see that the Mets have a possible solution sitting right under their nose.

Valentino Pascucci is a 29 year old in the Mets minor league system who plays first base and right field and has a career minor league line of .277/.390/.492. Yes a ton of his time has been spent in the Pacific Coast League, but he's received all of 62 major league at-bats. Carlos Delgado is costing the team 16,000,000 all ready, if you're going to replace him, and apparently they want to, why not at least try to catch lightning in a bottle with a minor leaguer who hasn't gotten his shot, especially when Fernando Tatis is one of your options?

Freebies aren't hard to find. Carlos Quentin was a victim of circumstance in Arizona, so Kenny Williams bought low and has found a gem costing him all of 400,000. Tim Redding's problem was always homerun balls, the Nationals placed him in two homerun suppressing parks and now have themselves an above average pitcher. Most of the time acquiring free talent is simply a means of comparing and contrasting two players and taking the name out of the equation.

Billy Beane apparently wanted a defensively minded outfielder this past off-season, essentially a new Jay Payton who got a two year, 9.5 million dollar free agency deal, making as much in those two years as he had the previous three. Beane wasn't timid of acquiring Emil Brown as a free agent for 1.45 million. Payton is making nearly triple of Brown's salary, and for what other than a Coors bloated season in 2003? In the past three seasons Payton has averaged (per 500 at-bats) .274/.309/.412 with 13 homeruns, Brown has averaged .280/.341/.428 with 13 homeruns. Defensively, and take these numbers with a grain of salt, their left field range zone ratings for the past three years average out to Payton at .798 and Brown at .816, suggesting that it's not too far fetched to call Emil Brown the better player.

The key for teams is to not get caught up in the business of fancy press conferences and selling jerseys, but instead making the best usage of their assets.

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