The big names always dominate the offseason. The Upton brothers, B.J. and Justin, were on the move to Atlanta, Josh Hamilton signed with the Angels, R.A. Dickey was dealt to the Blue Jays, and Zack Greinke went to the Dodgers. But often overlooked are the small, minor league contracts that teams dish out to players.
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. Let’s go over some of those who have a chance to do this in 2013.
Freddy Garcia, SP, Padres — Garcia performed his way out of a major league deal with the Yankees last year, pitching to a 5.20 ERA (4.68 FIP) across 107.1 innings between the rotation and the bullpen. However, the veteran right-hander was a different pitcher once the calendar turned from April to May posting a 4.13 ERA over 93.2 innings and limiting opponents to a .246/.307/.411 slash line. Garcia also had very good peripherals with a 19.3 strikeout percentage and only a 7.3 walk percentage, but he gave up too many homers.
With a 15.8 percent homer-per-fly ball percentage in 2012, one would have to expect some regression, but pitching half of his games at Petco Park and getting out of Yankee Stadium should help, also. Garcia’s not going to overpower anyone like he did 10 or so years ago, but he still can get people out, and with the help of a bigger home park and one fewer real hitter to face, he could find some success.
Juan Rivera/Matt Diaz, OF, Yankees — Rivera and Diaz were brought, in along with Thomas Neal, to compete for the fourth outfielder/lefty-masher job during camp, but things have become a bit more complicated. In the second game of the spring, Curtis Granderson was hit on the arm by a J.A. Happ breaking ball and suffered a broken right forearm. This gives both guys a chance to fight for a starting outfield corner job, at least for the first month of the season.
The two are very similar players. They’re the same age (turning 35 this year), have the same skill set, had similar seasons in 2012, and haven’t done anything of note since 2010. This being said, things are going to come down to whose bat looks better in camp, and to a lesser extent, who looks like less of a pumpkin in the outfield. (I believe the Yanks would want more offense to at least try to mitigate Granderson’s absence.)
Either could have an impact, since they’ve both shown pop in the past, but only one is likely to make the team, with the fourth outfielder being a defensive caddy like Melky Mesa. This is barring general manager Brian Cashman making a trade before Opening Day.
Lyle Overbay, 1B, Red Sox — After Boston traded Adrian Gonzalez to the Dodgers last year, the Red Sox didn’t get much out of their first basemen. The position was split between James Loney (50 wRC+ in that time) and Mauro Gonzalez (87 wRC+), leaving a lot to be desired. GM Ben Cherington tried to improve that spot this winter by getting Mike Napoli. The two sides agreed to a three-year deal at first, but after a physical revealed a severe problem with Napoli’s hip, the contract got downgraded to one year worth $5 million.
This is where Overbay comes in. He will be fighting with Mike Carp to be a lefty off the bench/Napoli caddy. He did hit well in limited time with Arizona in 2012 before spending September with Atlanta, but he’s still not everyday guy. However, he does have some value in that he hit just about league average (97 wRC+) against right-handed pitching last year, which could be enough to get him a part-time job.
Scott Atchison, RP, Mets — The Mets have done a good job this winter of stockpiling low-cost bullpen pitchers like LaTroy Hawkins and Aaron Laffey, along with Atchison. What separates Atchison from most other minor league free agent signees is that he had a really good 2012.
In 51.1 innings, he pitched to a 1.58 ERA (2.72 FIP) and a 55.3 groundball percentage This was his first standout year, but he still has been solid during the last three years with a 3.54 FIP in that time. However, he was non-tendered by Boston after he experienced some pain in his right arm.
In 2009, it was revealed that he had a tear in his right elbow, but he pitched through it without any pain until this past season. These complications scared the Red Sox off, but the Mets decided to take a flyer. There’s not much of a chance that he repeats his 2012 production, but he can provide some quality middle-relief innings to a bullpen that desperately needs them.