Every offseason, so much attention is focused on the marquee free agent signings — Josh Hamilton’s five-year, $125 million deal with the Angels or Zack Greinke’s six-year, $147 million deal with the Dodgers, for instance — that the trickle-down is often overlooked. As spring training approaches each year, the lower end of each free agent class starts signing somewhere, and the wondering begins: Who got this year’s steal?
Now approaching the midway point of the season, the best bargains are now becoming clear. A few of them:
Marlon Byrd, outfielder, Mets: In 2010, the former Nat signed a three-year, $15 million deal with the Cubs, so it was somewhat of a humbling experience for him to sign a minor league deal that would be worth $700,000 should he make the Mets out of spring training. But in a year in which New York has endured a slew of injuries, Byrd is tied for the team lead with 12 homers and trails only David Wright with 39 RBI.
Francisco Liriano, left-hander, Pirates: Once a flame-throwing, sure-fire prospect with the Twins, Liriano could never overcome injuries in Minnesota, and in February — just a week before spring training — he signed a one-year, $1 million deal with Pittsburgh with a club option for 2014. After recovering from a broken right (non-throwing) arm suffered in the offseason, Liriano is 6-3 with a 2.30 ERA with 61 strikeouts in 54 2/3 innings in his first nine starts.
Bartolo Colon, right-hander, Athletics: Colon has already served one 50-game suspension for violating MLB’s drug policy, and he could be involved in the Biogenesis mess before the summer’s out. But after Oakland decided to bring back the 40-year-old on a one-year, $3 million deal, he has been the ace of a staff that’s contending for a playoff berth: 11-2, 2.79 ERA with two complete-game shutouts.
Raul Ibanez, outfielder-designated hitter, Mariners: The 41-year-old, the hero of the Yankees’ division series victory over Baltimore last fall, signed a one-year, $2.75 million deal with Seattle in December. He leads the team with 18 homers, 44 RBI and an .829 OPS.
Jason Marquis, right-hander, Padres: Another former National, the Padres signed the 34-year-old to a one-year, $3 million deal in December. He’s not without his problems (an N.L. leading 53 walks in 16 starts), but he’s 9-3 with a 3.99 ERA.