Let's start with an arctic temperatured take: free agents are often disasters. In last year's free agent class, the top two money getters were David Price and Zack Greinke. Both pitchers ended 2016 with an ERA higher than that of Bartolo Colon (the portly fellow who received $200 million less) and were, on a per start basis at least, were much worse than Rich Hill (he of the schrewd $6 million contract).
The merits of ERA are questionable, and both pitchers could go on to be worth their ridiculously hefty contracts, but there's an inarguable truth that some free agent deals turn disastrous overnight. Just last year, Price and Greinke disappointed, Jeff Samardjiza was merely OK, and Mike Leake was an outright disaster. Of the top ten most expensive free agents, only one really lived up to expectations.
On the other side of the ball, the other Chris Davis was decent, not great. Justin Upton was mostly bad. Perhaps the best example of how unpredictable big money free agents can be is Jason Heyward. Inspirational World Series speech aside, Heyward was an abject disaster in spite of reaching free agency at the incredibly young age of 27, supposedly making him more of a sure thing.
But it's not just the A's that are finding bargains in free agency. With the sheer number of deals and the constant unpredictability of the game, there are bound to be impact players lurking at the bottom of the free agent pool. Just this year, David Freese was a league average player for pennies on the dollar, Astrubal Cabrera saw a power surge at a premium position, Rich Hill was an Cy Young level pitcher with a demonic blister, and Rajai Davis and Mike Napoli played big roles on the World Series runner up. There are always bargains out there.
These guys don't preclude other signings and the low risk nature of these type of deals make them an inevitability to the lottery ticket dependent A's. It's almost impossible to say how this offseason will unfold, but there's no doubt a cheap free agent signing or two will be involved.
Who might be this year's Rich Hill?
Let's start with some criteria:
-Likely to receive a short term deal
-No Qualifying Offer. With a protected first pick, the A's are in good position to go after players with the QO attached, but that's a story for a different article (JK Rowling level foreshadowing here).
-Fits a position of need
-Won't preclude other deals by taking up the entire payroll. The A's may well be suited to go after a big name, big money guy (more poetic foreshadowing here of future AN work here) but we're just looking at the lower priced guys here.
Blanco was pretty darn bad last year in San Francisco and missed much of the year due to injury. Sounds like an A!
Unfortunately, he's probably a pass due to his position - he's best suited in left, the one outfield spot the A's have locked down. But he's got the wheels to play center and he's historically been a good outfielder with passable offense. Combine that with the A's willingness to shove square, defensively inept pegs in round holes and you may have a match made in heaven.
Sometimes, speed defies age. Rajai enjoyed his best big league season since his fluky 2009 campaign with the A's. Much of that success was due to being afforded the chance to play regularly due to injury. With 1.5 outfielders and coming off a terrible season, the A's have an opening for a risk like Davis - but it is very much a risk.
For the second straight year, Fister was bad. He's the most likely person on this list to be useless, and odds are he'll end his career eating innings for a team down on their luck. Still, the Coliseum can do wonders and the A's have certainly gotten more out of less. And of course, the whole point of this exercise is to look at guys who are unexpected, and Fister fits that qualifier perfectly.
One of the better stories of 2015 turned sour in a hurry this season as Gutierrez once again struggled to stay on the field. The good news? His bat was solid when he was healthy, and defensively he'd have a home in right. The bad? Injuries, and outfield defense that was Valencian this season.
He's as Oakland as Dollar Dogs and he should be cheap - signing Matt Joyce wouldn't exactly be a big surprise. My money is on the A's signing him, though that wouldn't exclude other signings of guys like...
Does anyone not love Moss? He's a defensive liability, but his bat rebounded relatively strongly this season.
I doubt they'd come to Oakland, but worth mentioning
First month aside, Jason Hammel was actually pretty good for the A's. He was pretty good for the Cubs too, and while the A's have pitching depth, an effective inning eater like Hammel would still fit on the A's roster. It just seems wildly unlikely.
Coghlan's versatility is nice, and he has shown the ability to be a very good hitter on the heavy side of a platoon. He just hasn't really showed it outside of Chicago, and Coghlan seemed to hate his time in Oakland.
Which cheaper free agents should the A's target? Who did I miss? Who's most likely to surprise in 2017?