Once you get into February, you're looking at slim pickings on the free agent market. Practically all of the notable guys that hit the market in the fall have found a destination, and if a guy hasn't signed yet, there's probably something behind it other than patience. But teams can still manage to hit it big, even while passing through the proverbial dumpster that is the free agent market of the late winter months. Just look at last offseason, when Jim Thome, Orlando Hudson, Yorvit Torrealba, Kevin Gregg, Johnny Damon, Joaquin Benoit and Russell Branyan were among those that waited until Black History Month arrived before inking a deal for the upcoming season.
Here are six guys that could have an impact next season, even though they're not employed at the moment.
He probably won't make it as a starter, but Aybar can be pretty useful as a utility guy. He accumulated 3.8 WAR in only 745 PA over his first three seasons as a part-timer, but his defensive numbers fell off in 2009 and his offensive production went along with it last season. He probably would still be in Tampa if his numbers didn't drop, but even so there are some reasons to be optimistic. He's a solid defender at third base and an adequate defender at second base, and most projections have him as slightly below-average to average offensively for next season. And it's a lot easier to have hope given that Aybar will be only 28 next season. Some team could get a cheap utility guy capable of htting .250/.330/.400 or better.
This is mostly an upside get, but the 28-year-old Bonderman could be an absolute steal for someone in 2011. After battling injuries for most of 2008 and 2009, he made 29 starts with the Tigers last season but clearly wasn't the same guy. He still got grounders and had a reasonable walk rate, but the bat-missing ability wasn't there and his velocity was down over 2 MPH from 2007, his last healthy season. Bonderman is still a unique scrap, though; he's like the old ceramic bowl in the free agent dumpster that you just have to take to the Antiques Roadshow. Yeah, he's probably going to be worthless, but if you're willing to take some time (or spend some money), you just might end up with something far more valuable than you'd ever imagined. And that's what Bonderman is. He's probably never going to come close to being the power pitching stud he was in his early years. But he's healthy, he's 28, and we've all seen the talent before. If you're going to get a star-quality season from any pitcher left on the market, it's Bonderman, easy.
Good shortstops aren't easy to find. Look at the names that are slotted into everyday shortstop jobs for next season: Clint Barmes, Yuniesky Betancourt, Ronny Cedeno, Ryan Theriot, Miguel Tejada and Jack Wilson. All of those guys either can't hit, can't field the position, or both. It's exactly why guys like Orlando Cabrera can stick around for as long as they do. Cabrera's still a solid defensive shortstop, which in itself has a good deal of value, and he was a solid hitter for years before his 2010 struggles. Yeah, he's already 36 and his contract demands at the moment are apparently unreasonable. But if he's willing to take a cheap one-year deal to be an utility infielder, he should be able to help someone.
I've discussed Guerrero's situation before, and things haven't changed a whole lot. Baltimore still has some interest and apparently offered him $4-5M on a one-year deal, but he's supposedly told the Orioles that he already has a superior offer in hand. One things for sure, and that's that Guerrero is going to DH somewhere. There aren't many guys that can combine contact skills with power like Guerrero, even when he's 36, can't play defense and doesn't walk.
Millwood's past two seasons look like Why Nobody Should Use ERA and W-L Record 101. You'd think that Millwood began a massive decline in 2010 by just looking at his ERA and W-L record, but in reality he's been a similar pitcher for a few years now.
2009: 13-10 W-L, 3.67 ERA, 4.80 FIP, 4.78 xFIP
2010: 4-16 W-L, 5.10 ERA, 4.86 FIP, 4.66 xFIP
Borderline identical peripherals, but his winning percentage dropped from 57% to 20% and his ERA rose nearly 1.50 runs. At this point, Millwood can't be expected for much more than durability and a high-4's ERA. But given how lousy No. 4 and No. 5 starters are, that's actually pretty useful.
At this point, I think it's fair to say that Scotty Pods made a mistake when he didn't exercise his 2011 mutual option with the Dodgers. For whatever reason, Podsednik turned down the option even after LA exercised it, leaving a multimillion dollar one year deal on the table. He's not likely to come close to that now, though. His offensive resurgence the past two seasons (2009 and 2010 are two of his three best offensive performances) has been nothing short of shocking, but he's declined defensively and now his value essentially lies in a decent OBP and some steals. Even so, that should make for a solid fourth outfielder for someone that could step into everyday duty if necessary.