[Editor's Note: Please welcome Lance Rinker to Beyond the Box Score. Lance is a contributor to Baltimore Sports and Life and hosts the Bird Talk podcast, and we're happy to have him aboard! --Bryan]
Every winter, there are baseball players that were signed to minor league contracts and end up being big time contributors to the team they signed with. The narrative surrounding these players generally goes something like this:
Who would've thought that Player X would have been able to surprise us all and perform at such a high level for Team X? I know that I didn't, but he's been able to help stabilize / complement the rotation / bullpen / lineup.
Matt Filippi wrote a piece today at the Hardball Times about non-roster invitees and minor league signings that may just very well fit that narrative this year. He lists five players that he thinks could put up good to solid numbers for their respective teams this year.
A team might give this type of deal to a reclamation project—someone who has succeeded in the past, a player who is flawed but could be useful, or maybe just someone they want to stash in Triple-A as organizational depth. In any case, players every year surprise everyone and not only wind up making their respective teams, but make a decent-sized contribution.
Of the players he lists, the only one that I see who could put up some fairly good numbers this season is Freddy Garcia, who was signed by the San Diego Padres.
There were 354 players signed to minor league contracts since the end of the World Series, and it shouldn't be too difficult to find a handful of other players who are candidates to have the narrative I outlined above pertain to them. Garcia and Juan Rivera are good starts, but there are so many others that could do just as well, if not better, then the other players mentioned.
After perusing through the hundreds of players signed to minor league contracts, there were only a handful that stood out to me as players that could really bounce back or help the team they signed with.
Erik Bedard - Houston Astros
Erik Bedard seems to be a forgotten man every winter, because he hasn't pitched through an entire season since 2006 when he made 33 starts and worked 196.1 innings. His 5.01 ERA may indicate to some that he's finished as a capable starter, but his .314 BABIP was as high as it has been since 2005, his line drive rate was a career high 23.4%, his FIP was just 4.07, and his kwERA was even lower at 3.98.
Daisuke Matsuzaka - Cleveland Indians
The last time Dice-K was healthy AND effective was during the 2010 season when he managed to start 25 games. Even though his 4.69 ERA may indicate otherwise, he was actually pretty decent with a 4.05 FIP and a 4.36 kwERA. It's been a long road back from injury for Dice-K over the last two years but reconnecting with former manager Terry Francona (who he experienced the most success with before his injuries) and pitching in the AL Central could prove to be the perfect combination for him. It's also important to note that he has a 2.62 career ERA in AL Central ballparks.
Rich Harden - Minnesota Twins
The Twins are taking a shot in the dark with Harden because their rotation was their biggest issue last season. They went above and beyond trying to reshape it this year, but a lot really has to go right for it to all work out for them. Harden could be a key piece to that rotation though, as he has shown the ability to dominate hitters -- when healthy, of course. Over his career Harden has more strikeouts (949) then total innings pitched (928.1) and he's gone on record as saying he hasn't felt as good as he does this spring in nearly six years. The Twins don't need him to pitch at the top of the rotation -- they simply need him to make 25 starts this year and stabilize it.
What do you think? Could one or more of these players contribute at a high level to their team, or are there better options out there in regards to minor league signings?