In 2013, Francisco Liriano, Koji Uehara, Russell Martin, Bartolo Colon, James Loney, and Marlon Byrd were the poster boys for that reality. They all had flaws that led to relatively low-price contracts, but wound up delivering big. Teams underrate defense and overrate offense. Too often, franchises focus on a poor recent season instead of considering a three-year sample, discounting that players in their late twenties and early thirties are still capable of bouncing back from off campaigns.
So who will these players be in 2014? Two have already signed amid a flurry of early activity. Three more remain there for the claiming with the winter meetings still two weeks away.
These five undervalued players look poised to help their new clubs reap big rewards in 2014, and possibly beyond.
If the athletic director at a major university fires his head football coach, that AD instantly knows what he needs to find: a man in his 30s, 40s, or 50s with experience in the game, an affinity for khakis, and enough psychological damage to be the kind of megalomaniacal, domineering, workaholic lunatic who populates the football coaching ranks. But how does the AD pick?
Well, he could go for the rising-star assistant being shaped by the rising-star head coach, as Texas Tech did last December when it hired former Red Raiders QB Kliff Kingsbury from Texas A&M, where he'd administered Kevin Sumlin's high-powered attack and coached Johnny Manziel to the Heisman as the Aggies' offensive coordinator. The AD could go for the proven veteran, as Tech had done in 2010 when it picked up Tommy Tuberville, who’d coached Auburn to a 13-0 season before falling on hard times. He could poach the head man from a smaller school, as Baylor did with Houston's Art Briles and Tennessee did with Cincinnati's Butch Jones. Or he could simply hire Norm Chow.
By the grace of Tebow, Jonah Keri has landed at his new home in Denver and is back with a new podcast. He and New York Times national baseball writer Tyler Kepner go around the majors to break down the Prince Fielder deal, the loaded AL East, and the twin towers of the AL West.
Shifting to the National League, we run through the much-improved Reds, the maybe-one-player-short Nats and Marlins, and an NL West division that might not have a 90-win team in the bunch. All that plus Scott Boras' target-the-owner negotiating strategies, why Matt Kemp should have won the MVP last year, and a tribute to the great Gary Carter.