Not to be forgotten: Unsigned players who can help
Besides Bourn and Lohse, free agents like Wilson, Lee, Kotchman could be late gifts
This point in the Major League Baseball offseason, as far as free-agent signings and Hot Stove news are concerned, is like the calm after the storm.
The Winter Meetings have long since passed, players have started packing their bags to head to either Florida or Arizona and equipment trucks are being loaded all around the country to make their journeys, too.
But, as transactions like the Justin Upton trade to Atlanta and the Shaun Marcum signing with the Mets show, we're not quite finished. There are still a number of free agents on the market and teams with holes they need to fill. Here's a list of some of the All-Stars, World Series champions and even potential Hall of Fame candidates still looking for work, and what they can bring to a team looking for help.
Michael Bourn: Bourn was one of the names near the top of the free-agent class when the offseason began, and now he is the biggest fish out there. But he and agent Scott Boras continue to hope that the 30-year-old center fielder can attract a deal in the neighborhood of five years and $75 million. Bourn was third in the Major Leagues in defensive WAR last season (3.0), seventh in plate appearances (703), 10th in triples (10) and fourth in stolen bases (42). All around, he's one of the best seven or eight center fielders in the game, and one who can have an impact from many angles. He shouldn't be unemployed much longer.
Brian Wilson: An injury-hampered season during which he appeared in just two games, while the Giants won the World Series without him, didn't do much to help Wilson's case. The three-time All-Star underwent Tommy John elbow surgery in April and has said all along he'll be ready for Opening Day. But workouts have indicated that might not be the case, or that a post-surgery Wilson does not have the same attraction that the 2011 All-Star Wilson did. Wilson quickly became a household name in San Francisco when he nearly tripled his workload in 2008 and saved 41 games. He saved 48 in 2010 and helped lead the Giants to a World Series title, saving six games and not allowing an earned run in 11 2/3 postseason innings. That should count for something.
Kyle Lohse: This 2011 World Series champion effectively became the Cardinals' ace last season, putting together a fantastic 16-3 season with a 2.86 ERA in 33 starts. One thing, though, has turned teams away: since the Cardinals made a qualifying offer to him, they'll receive a compensatory Draft pick from the club that signs him. But it's difficult to look beyond the facts: Lohse, just two years removed from a surgery for compartment syndrome in his right arm, led the National League in winning percentage (.842) last season, was fifth in ERA, seventh in innings pitched (211), eighth in strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.76) and 10th in pitching WAR (3.9). And he's 30-11 over the past two seasons.
Jose Valverde: Like Wilson, Valverde's fall from grace has been a sudden one. He was an All-Star with the Tigers in both 2010 and 2011, and even garnered enough American League Cy Young votes to finish fifth after going a perfect 49-for-49 in save opportunities. But he sputtered frequently for Detroit last season, blowing five saves and proving entirely unreliable in the postseason. By the time Detroit had advanced to the World Series, it was apparent that manager Jim Leyland was afraid to go to the once-steady, always-exciting Valverde in crunch time. It was equally evident that the Tigers would be parting ways with him at season's end. Someone is sure to give Valverde another chance, though, even perhaps in a setup role, considering his career 277 saves, which ranks sixth among active closers. The Mets were said to be pursuing him.
Carlos Lee: The veteran slugger, who has played both outfield and first base in his 14-year career, caused a bit of a stir last season when he declined to be traded to the Dodgers. He eventually was dealt to Miami, but he hit just .243 with four homers in 81 games in South Beach. He fits the profile of a versatile first baseman/designated hitter in the latter stages of his career, who could still contribute in a platoon role, or full-time with the right team. Lee has a long history of durability, having played at least 100 games in all but one season, and has appeared in at least 147 games each of the past four years. His power has declined, though. After averaging better than 27 homers a year from 2007-10, he hit 18 in 2011 and just nine last year.
Roy Oswalt: The intriguing thing about Oswalt is that he has won at least 15 games in a season five times in his career, but also has experience coming out of the bullpen after he was moved to a relief role with the Rangers last year. He's returning from lower back inflammation that, along with a late-season debut, limited his 2012 appearances. The Mets were rumored to be interested in him but reportedly backed off after signing Marcum. Despite his setbacks last season (he posted a concerning -0.3 WAR), Oswalt still owns an impressive 163 wins and has a career 3.28 ERA.
Casey Kotchman: Teams in the market for a first baseman or a DH (or someone to lend a hand with a combination of both roles) could be pleased with Kotchman, who is coming off three straight seasons with at least 48 RBIs and 125 games played. He's well-traveled, playing for the Angels, Braves, Red Sox, Mariners and Indians since 2008, but is just 29 years old and is not far removed from an excellent 2011 season in which he hit .306/.378/.422. He played in 137 games at first base for the Indians last year, but, with Cleveland's signing of Mark Reynolds, he is the odd man out.
Jim Thome: There's no question that Thome is in the twilight years of a likely Hall of Fame career. But he's proven in each of his most recent stops -- Minnesota and Cleveland in 2011, Philadelphia and Baltimore in 2012 -- that he can still contribute in a limited bench role. He's not likely to be an everyday DH at this point, but he's unquestionably one of the "good guys" in the game, and could be a valuable clubhouse asset. He's a veteran hitter to bring off the bench and has managed to hit 23 homers in 440 at-bats (one every 19.13 at-bats) over the past two seasons.