(Jayson Werth is an example of a player signed from the bargain bin who blossomed into an impact player. Photo by Associated Press).
The Mariners, as everyone knows, could use a bat (or three), after trotting out one of the feeblest offenses ever seen in 2010. Acquiring them won’t be easy, as the M’s don’t appear to have the financial flexibility to go after the flashier names on the free-agent market (Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth), nor do they have many apparent trade chips. As Buster Olney tweets today, the Mariners will likely be “shopping from the bargain bin” this winter. The shopping season hits the launching point this week in Orlando with the General Managers Meetings, which typically serve as the incubator for deals that come to fruition later, often at the Winter Meetings (also in Orlando this year, in early December).
This winter, Jack Zduriencik is going to have to be at his wiliest, and most creative. History says that a productive bat is out there to be had, relatively cheap. It might be in the form of a journeyman who, unbeknownst to anyone – maybe even himself – is set up for a career breakthrough. It might be in the form of a once-touted prospect who struggled so much early in his career that his team (and maybe a couple of others) gave up on him, but has matured enough to make a huge leap forward. It might be in the form of a former star whose career hit hard times due to injury or a slump he couldn’t shake, resulting in a slow, steady decline.
Sometimes, you simply get lucky. No doubt, the Blue Jays had no idea they were getting a 54-homer guy when they made a modest midseason trade for Jose Bautista in 2008 that hardly anyone noticed, or cared much about. Sometimes, a player just needs to get healthy. Jayson Werth comes to mind. He had a long list of injuries early in his career, including wrist surgery that wiped out an entire season while with the Dodgers. But once he landed in Philadelphia (for a modest contract), healed, and got a chance to play every day, Werth blossomed into a major star. Sometimes, a team’s scouts see something no one else does. The Diamondbacks left Dan Uggla exposed in the Rule 5 draft, and he’s become one of the most productive second basemen in major-league history.
Here, in no particular order, are 15 players who were acquired in unobtrusive, under-the-radar trades (or as minor leaguers in major trades), Rule 5 drafts or free-agent signings, and went on to become impact players:
1, Josh Hamilton, Rangers
How acquired: Traded from Reds to Rangers for RHP Edinson Volquez and LHP Danny Herrera.
Comment: Volquez is an electric arm who had a great 2008 season, but that was followed by Tommy John surgery in 2009. Hamilton, meanwhile, is on the verge of winning the American League MVP after racking up a 1.044 OPS. He led the league with 130 RBIs in 2008. Kudos, also, to the Reds for plucking him in the Rule 5 draft from Tampa Bay prior to the 2007 season.
2, Paul Konerko, White Sox (currently a free agent)
How acquired: The White Sox traded a young Mike Cameron to get Konerko on Nov. 11, 1998. The Dodgers, during Tommy Lasorda’s brief reign as general manager, had dumped Konerko to Cincinnati on July 4, 1998 to acquire closer Jeff Shaw.
Comment: Konerko seemed on the way to being a bust, failing to lift his average over .219 in four partial seasons before the trade. But since arriving on the White Sox, he has been one of the pre-eminent power hitters in the AL for a decade, exceeding 30 homers six times (and 40 twice). This past year was one of his best: .312/.393/.584, 39 homers, 111 RBIs.
3, Shin-Soo Choo, Indians.
How acquired: (Prepare to wince, Mariner fans) The Mariners, gearing up a for a pennant race that never materialized, sent Choo to Cleveland on July 26, 2006 for Ben Broussard.
Comment: Choo has developed in an upper-echelon outfielder in the American League, putting up his third straight .300 season in 2010, with 22 homers and 90 RBIs. His on-base percentages in three years are .397, .394 and .400.
4, Adrian Gonzalez, Padres.
How acquired: Not every move by Texas GM Jon Daniels was golden. He traded Gonzalez (along with Terrmel Sledge – remember him? – and Chris Young to the Padres for Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka.
Comment: The Marlins had also gave up on Gonzalez after drafting him No. 1 overall in 2000, trading him to Texas in July of 2003 in a package that netted reliever Ugueth Urbina. In fairness. Urbina played a key role in a World Series championship team. Gonzalez, meanwhile, has averaged 34 homers in spacious Petco Park the past four years
5, Jayson Werth, Phillies (currently a free agent)
How acquired: Signed as a free agent for $850,000 by the Phillies in December of 2006 after stints in the Orioles, Blue Jays and Dodgers organization. He hit 16 homers in 89 games for the Dodgers in 2004, but also had some injury issues, including wrist surgery that sidelined him for all of 2006, and was non-tendered by LA after the 2006 season.
Comment: Werth will become a very rich man on the free-agent market after establishing himself as a premier player in four seasons in Philadelphia. He had 36 homers in 2009, and last year had 46 doubles and a .921 OPS.
6, Andre Ethier, Dodgers.
How acquired: The A’s traded him to the Dodgers after the 2005 season…for Milton Bradley (and Antonio Perez, who hit .102 in 57 games for Oakland).
Comment: Ethier has been a solid performer for the Dodgers, hitting .305 in 2008, knocking 31 homers in 2009, and making the All-Star team in 2010.
7, Dan Uggla, Marlins
How acquired: Selected in the Rule 5 draft by the Marlins prior to the 2006 season when the Diamondbacks left him unprotected.
Comment: Uggla has become one of the top hitting second basemen in the majors, hitting more than 30 homers in each of the past four seasons.
8, Jose Bautista, Blue Jays.
How acquired: The Jays pulled off a very unobtrusive trade on Aug. 21, 2008, getting Bautista from the Pirates for a player to be named later, who turned out to be catcher Robinzon Diaz. Yes, Robinzon with a Z.
Comment: After meandering through numerous organizations – Orioles, Pirates, Rays, Royals, Mets – Bautista inexplicably exploded into prominence in 2010 with 54 homers.
9, Carlos Pena, Rays (currently a free agent)
How acquired: The Rays signed Pena as a free agent for $700,000 prior to the 2007 season.
Comment: Much like Bautista, he had floated among many teams (Rangers, A’s, Tigers, Yankees, Red Sox) before finding a home in Tampa Bay. He hit 46, 31, 39 (leading the league) and 28 homers in four seasons with the Rays.
10, Shane Victorino, Phillies
How acquired: Selected in the 2004 Rule 5 draft out of the Dodgers organization by the Phillies.
Comment: Victorino has become a key member of the Phillies during their very successful playoff run. Has stolen more than 30 bases in three of the past four seasons and won three Gold Gloves.
11, Carlos Quentin, White Sox
How acquired: The Diamondbacks traded him to Chicago prior to the 2008 season for outfielder Chris Carter.
Comment: Carter was since traded to Oakland and remains a top prospect, but Quentin was an MVP candidate in 2008 (36 homers, 100 RBI) before an injury wiped out his September. Slumped in 2009 but came back last year to hit 26 homers in 131 games.
12, Ben Zobrist, Rays
How acquired: Traded by Houston, with Mitch Talbot, for Aubrey Huff on July 12, 2006.
Comment: Zobrist has become a super-utility man extraordinaire, and even got some MVP consideration in 2009 when he hit .297 with 27 homers, 91 RBI and a .948 OPS.
13, Luke Scott, Orioles.
How acquired: Scott was part of the five-player package the Astros sent to Baltimore prior to the 2008 season for Miguel Tejada (the others were Mike Costanzo, Matt Albers, Troy Patton and Dennis Sarfate).
Comment: Scott at one point seemed headed to stardom with the Astros, but his career fizzled. However, he’s been revived in Houston, and last year had 27 homers and a .902 OPS.
14, Hanley Ramirez, Marlins
How acquired: The Marlins trade Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell and Guillermo Mota to get a package of prospects from the Red Sox, including Ramirez, Jesus Delgado, Harvey Garcia and Anibel Sanchez, on Nov. 24, 2005.
Comment: The Red Sox don’t regret this trade. They got a lot of mileage (and a World Series title) out of Beckett and Lowell (and are still getting mileage out of Beckett). But this shows how the right prospect can become a superstar. Ramirez has a batting title and a 30-30 season under his belt, and he’s just 26.
15, Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies
How acquired: The A’s originally acquired Gonzalez (along with Brett Anderson) from the Diamondbacks in the Dan Haren trade prior to the 2008 season. Then they included him (along with Huston Street) in the Matt Holliday trade prior to the 2009 season.
Comment: Gonzalez made a run at the Triple Crown in a breakout 2010 season, winning the NL batting title with a .336 average to go with 34 homers and 117 RBIs.
This is a partial list, mind you. Already, people are wondering who is going to be this year’s Aubrey Huff,who played such a major role in the Giants’ championship after signing last winter as a largely unwanted free agent. In this New York Times article, Tyler Kepner mentioned free agents Derrek Lee, Jorge Cantu and Brad Hawpe as possible turnaround candidates.
It looks like it’s guys like these the Mariners will have to hunt out — and see if they can hit big, in more ways than one.