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.
The game looked like it was in the bag. The Yankees led the Red Sox 8-3 through six innings on September 6. Boston had its eighth and ninth hitters due up in the seventh, and a foot injury had knocked Jacoby Ellsbury out of the lineup (and leadoff spot). The Yankees just needed to get through that seemingly easy stretch to take a five-run lead to the ninth inning, where Mariano Rivera would loom if necessary.
The Yankees … did not get through that stretch. Boston tallied a run to trim the lead to 8-4, loading the bases with two outs to bring Mike Napoli to the plate. One of the streakiest hitters in the league this year, Napoli was red-hot at the moment, with an opportunity to turn the game with one swing of the bat. On the eighth pitch of the at-bat, Napoli got an offering on the outside corner and drove it to right. In any other ballpark, the ball would almost certainly have been caught, or been at most a double. In Yankee Stadium, however, it was a 335-foot wall-scraper, a grand slam that tied the game 8-8. One inning later, Boston right fielder Shane Victorino, who was nearly as sizzling, cranked a two-run homer to left, giving the Sox a 10-8 lead.
The holidays saw several more deals go through, ranging from the Royals signing 38-year-old Miguel Tejada in the hopes he'll provide actual value for the first time in four years to moves that actually have a hope in hell of panning out. The most intriguing news actually happened off the field.
FOX Sports Media Group recently bought SportsTime Ohio for $235 million from the Cleveland Indians. With a new network to carry its games, the Tribe could now see their annual TV rights fees climb to $40 million a year. Which would be swell, except for this: That's only $10 million a year more than the team's making under its current deal. It's possible that the relatively small bump in Indians rights fees is an aberration in the red-hot trend that's supercharged the industry, with teams like the Rangers and Angels, even the Padres and Astros reaping big financial gains from new TV contracts.
But as Maury Brown writes, the Indians' new TV deal might signal something different altogether: an early sign that the TV rights bubble might be about to burst.