- FanGraphs Baseball - http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs -

Offseason Underpay Candidates

To borrow a phrase from an inferior sport, I think it’s a slam dunk to do a follow-up on offseason overpay candidates with a column of those I feel might fly under the radar this winter. The same rules apply from last week’s column, but still feel free to nominate your own or openly question my sanity. I work for Carson Cistulli, so you can’t hurt my feelings. After all, coming up with under the radar candidates for free agency is harder than writing a Penny pitch f/x article, man.

Rich Harden – Oakland Athletics SP

I’ve long been accused of being a Harden fanatic, but as a follower of a club with a strict disdain for the whiff, I’ve been rebuffed in my hopes that the club would acquire such a piece. Harden poses an interesting dilemma to general managers. First, there’s the inherent injury risk that goes along with Harden, who has only once made 30 starts in his nine big league seasons. Next, there’s bullpen stress factor, as Harden is typically a six-and-shower kind of guy, leaving the final three to the guys keeping the bleacher creatures company.

Alas, with all boom or bust candidates, one should also consider the boom factor. After a rocky season in the Lone Star state, Harden has returned home to his initial digs in Oakland and has turned in a pretty good run. The 4.74 ERA is unsightly, but the 10.8 K/9 and the 3.7 BB/9 – both better than career marks – may foreshadow a return for form for the Canadian righty. With an xFIP of 3.53, there seems to be ample evidence that, given a full season, Harden could be a nice buy-low candidate for a bunch of clubs. There are certainly worse hurlers making more money to toss 150 innings. As a GM, I’d certainly take a shot with Harden, if he’s willing to leave Oakland, and especially if my club played in a home run-neutralizing environment.

Chris Capuano – New York Mets SP

It’s been an excruciatingly long road back for Capuano, who underwent Tommy John surgery for the second time in 2008 and didn’t pitch in the major leagues for nearly two-and-a-half seasons. There was optimism that Capuano had gained everything back following a pretty solid 24-game run last season, and now, with 220-plus innings under his belt, it looks as though he’s fully back from any ill effects from the surgical procedure. If there was any doubt, have a peek at his 2011 marks against his career marks: 1.35 WHIP (1.36 career), 9.6 H/9 (9.3), 1.2 HR/9 (1.3) and 7.9 K/9 (7.6). Basically, he’s exactly the same pitcher that he was before the arm surgery, albeit on the wrong side of 30 this time.

Despite his age, Capuano ought to be a valuable commodity on the free market. Like Harden, his 4.63 ERA doesn’t tell the whole story, as his xFIP checks in at 3.72. In my view, Capuano can fly under the radar a bit like Scott Baker as a guy who fans his fair share of hitters, limits the walk pretty well, but is also susceptible to the big fly. I think someone will grab Capuano to fill out the hind end of their rotation and be very pleased, especially if he signs for less than $7-8 million per annum.

Coco Crisp – Oakland Athletics CF

Just to get it out of the way, let me say that I really like what Crisp brings to the table. At the end of last season, when I was more a fan and less of an impartial journalist, I was pining for the Twins to deal for Crisp and use him in center field, flanked by Denard Span and one of the other vagabonds in a huge Target Field outfield. Nevertheless, it wasn’t to be, as Crisp’s team-friendly option was exercised last November, locking up the fleet-afoot centerfielder for just $5.75 million in 2011. Now a free agent to-be, it’s Crisp’s time to test his market value.

Now it’s certainly true that Crisp has had more ‘meh’ years than good recently, but good defensive centerfielders –by and large, Crisp qualifies – with a fair amount of pop (career .131 iso) and a decent K/BB rates don’t usually come cheaply, so if they do, a GM ought to take note. There’s probably no chance that Crisp signs for around $5 million per season again, but if a team can pull him for anywhere in that neighborhood, and gets the midpoint of his production that past two seasons (~2.7 WAR), that’s going to be a good deal for both sides. One request: Just don’t let him lead off, please.