In the past few days, we've seen two pretty useful players designated for assignment by their respective teams, as the Athletics and Reds have placed Jack Cust and Wladimir Balentien on the open market.
Cust's departure from Oakland comes as a bit of a surprise, as he was slotted in as the team's DH and appeared to be the team's most potent power threat. But Oakland has apparently tired of his "three true outcomes" act, and have opted to let the revived Eric Chavez take the majority of the cuts at DH. Cust has hit 84 homers in the past three years while posting an impressive walk rate, he's been roughly 18 runs above average with the bat annually over the past three years. But he's a dreadful defender and his offensive production has declined somewhat, which really limits his value. Billy Beane apparently has chosen to continue his overall of the team's defense, which began with a commitment to defensive-minded players like Cliff Pennington, Rajai Davis and Ryan Sweeney, along with the additions of quality defenders Coco Crisp, Kevin Kouzmanoff and Gabe Gross.
But as both David Golebiewski of FanGraphs and Christina Kahrl of Baseball Prospectus noted, there appears to be one team that could be an absolutely fantastic fit for Mr. Cust: the White Sox. Their plan of going with a rag tag team of Mark Kotsay, Andruw Jones and resting everyday players rotating through the designated hitter position is iffy at best, especially with an offense that's projected to be one of the worst in the league. Cust's powerful left-handed bat would make for a huge upgrade in a lineup that could really use it. As designated hitters, the Kotsay/Jones combination projects to be worse than replacement level, so adding Cust could potentially add around two wins or so. As Golebiewski noted, the White Sox shouldn't be able to pass up on such an obvious opportunity when they're in such a tight division.
Balentien's failure to make Cincinnati's Opening Day roster is slightly less surprising than Cust's. He appeared in line for the fourth outfielder role, backing up Jay Bruce, Drew Stubbs and Chris Dickerson, with Jonny Gomes, Laynce Nix and Willy Taveras on their way out. But the Reds opted to re-sign Gomes and Nix, both of whom eventually beat out Balentien for bench spots, and now a very talented player can be had for what amounts to nothing (or at least not much).
I won't go into too much detail on Balentien's case here. I discussed him, among others, in early March because the CHONE projections on him are particularly bullish, projecting him as a 3.2 WAR player per 600 plate appearances. Guys that show his kind of power, patience, defense and production in the upper minors generally deserve legitimate opportunities at the major league level, but at age 25, Balentien still has less than 600 plate appearances to his name.
I'm not sure how long the Nationals plan on continuing their big "Willies in Right Field" experiment, but it would seem to be a perfect landing spot for Balentien. Harris has developed a pretty solid ability to get on-base, but he doesn't have a whole lot of power and he's played just ten innings of right field in his major league career. It would take a big year both offensively and defensively for Harris to be a solid MLB right fielder, especially if Jim Riggleman is muddling things up by giving playing time to Taveras. Balentien would be able to stay in the National League in a relatively low-stress environment, and he could emerge as a quality long-term option for the team given that he's still under team control for a while.
If the Nationals were willing to take a flier on Elijah Dukes, then they should be willing to do the same for Balentien. Because it'll be really disappointing if nobody gives this guy the shot that he deserves. It's early in the season, and already there are a few useful players to be had.