There has been a lot of big splashes this off-season. The Dodgers signed Zack Greinke to a six-year, $147 million deal. The Angels inked Josh Hamilton to a $125 million contract. Heck, even Jeremy Guthrie turned 91.0 IP of 1.30 ERA+, 3.16 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and 2.95 K/BB baseball into a three-year, $25 million shocker. And barring injury or incredible levels of ineffectiveness, these players will most certainly be major factors on their respective organization’s active rosters.
Yet, there are also a lot of players who don’t quite share that blanket of security. In an attempt to pinch a penny or fill out a last-minute roster spot, teams also sign players to Minor League deals, in the hopes that they turn into the next R.A. Dickey.
Below are five players who were signed on Minor League deals with the potential to make Major League impact.
After emerging as one of the more exciting young starting pitchers from 2005 to 2007 (combined 124 ERA+, 3.62 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 2.83 K/BB), Erik Bedard simply could not overcome his injury bug. From 2002-onward, the left-hander endured a laundry list of injuries, including an elbow ligament injury in 2002 (which knocked-out his 2003 season), a sprained knee in 2005, sprained oblique in 2007, hip and back issues in 2008, and even missed all of 2010 with a torn labrum that had already cut short his 2009 season.
In fact, Bedard has not pitched a full-season since 2007–which was also his best career year (146 ERA+, 3.16 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and 3.88 K/BB). And even though the Pirates cut the southpaw in August of last season, Bedard did enjoy good months in April (2.48 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 2.17 K/BB) and May (3.91 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 2.50 K/BB).
Considering the lowly Houston Astros are desperate for pitching, Bedard is more or less a lock to crack their rotation. It’s difficult to project the 33 year-old given his health history, and the toll it has taken on his effectiveness, but as long as Bedard’s curveball is on, he will still be able to sit down batters.
Juan Cruz had one of the most lopsided set of surface statistics in 2012. The 33 year-old reliever posted a fruitful 2.78 ERA, however, his 9.8 Hits/9 and 4.8 BB/9 produced a 1.62 WHIP. While control has always been an issue for Cruz (career 4.8 BB/9), the right-hander’s .346 BABIP (vs. career .293 BABIP) suggests that he perhaps got a little unlucky with baserunners in 2012.
Bad WHIPs and high BABIPs aside, there is still value in a reliever that can side down batters (8.3 K/9 in 2012). Even though the Philadelphia Phillies bullpen appears to be set, they’re currently sporting three left-handed relievers; a luxury no Major League team boasts. Assuming the look to oust one of Antonio Bastardo, Jeremy Horst, or Raul Valdes, Cruz could find himself on the active roster, and mowing down opposing hitters.
After the 37 year-old Hisanori Takahashi combined for a 69 ERA+ and 5.54 ERA for the Angels and Pirates last season, it appeared as though the Japanese pitcher’s short Major League career was over. But the Chicago Cubs prudently threw him a life line.
Takahashi’s putrid ERA was fueled by an uncharacteristic (76.7% LOB% in 2010, and 72.4% LOB% in 2011) and league-worst 59.9% LOB%. In terms of strikeouts and walks, the left-hander actually enjoyed career best rates, posting high quality 9.3 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 clips. As his 3.79 xFIP suggests, it’s possible Takahashi might not only return to his 2010 and 2011 form, but also, become a productive low-cost bullpen piece for the Cubs in 2013.
The New York Mets off-season has been filled with a lot of disappointment, mostly fueled by the lack of Major League signings. To-date, they still haven’t made one. And perhaps the team signing Greg Burke epitomizes their entire off-season. Burke is a 30 year-old reliever, who last pitched in the Majors back in 2009, when he posted a 4.14 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, and 1.43 K/BB over 45.6 IP. What’s even less impressive are Burke’s Minor League stats from 2010 (5.68 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 2.19 K/BB) and 2011 (5.70 ERA, 1.77 WHIP, 1.90 K/BB).
Yet, all is not lost. In an attempt to salvage his for-sure fledgling career, Burke decided to change his delivery from a tradition upright motion, to a side-winding one. The result? A combined 1.53 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, and 3.33 K/BB over 64.6 IP between Double-A and Triple-A last season. In addition, Burke has also posted a 2.23 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and 5.00 K/BB over 32.3 IP during Winter League this off-season.
With little talent to choose from, Greg Burke will likely be the fourth option out of the bullpen for the Mets in 2013–a situation few, including Burke, thought would be the case before this off-season.
Like Burke, Andrew Brown is another potential Sandy Alderson “diamond in the rough” Minor League signing. Even though the 28 year-old has done zip in the Majors (combined .224/.284/.396/.679 line in 148 PA’s), he does have quite the Minor League pedigree.
Since 2008, Brown has enjoyed double-digit homerun seasons, hitting as many as 24 dingers in a single season (in 2012). In Triple-A last season, the right-handed hitter posted a fantastic .308/.364/.597/.961 line with 24 HR, 98 RBI, and 81 R. Yet, despite his offensive prowess, there is little chance the Mets will simply hand over the right field reigns.
Given the Mets need for a platoon partner for Mike Baxter, the team will likely use Brown against left-handed hitters, considering he owned an explosive .321/.414/.612 line against them in the upper minors. The combination of Baxter and Brown in right field is hardly a lock to produce average production, but if all goes well (as in, best-case scenario), it could be a low cost, and surprisingly productive platoon.