More bang for the buck

Originally Published: February 11, 2005
By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN Insider
In baseball, unlike retailing, name-brand merchandise isn't necessarily marked down after the holidays. The Carloses – Beltran and Delgado – both scored big free-agent deals in January, and Magglio Ordonez bagged a contract with Detroit that could be worth $105 million over seven years if his left knee is operational. That's a whopping "if.''

It was a challenge for big-league teams to find bargains this winter – with salaries on the rise and so many clubs looking for potential contributors on the cheap. But that didn't stop general managers from trying. "With some guys, you just give them an opportunity and hope you can catch lightning in a bottle,'' said Toronto's J.P. Ricciardi.

Here's a list of 10 players who – because of injury, a dropoff in performance or other extenuating circumstances – signed for base salaries of less than $1 million and could provide a decent return on the investment:

1. Juan Gonzalez, Indians (minor-league deal, base of $600,000, up to $2.55M)

There's no point pretending that Gonzalez can be a great player again. He's appeared in 185 of a possible 486 games since 2002, and as one AL executive put it, "He doesn't have a high tolerance for pain. If he's not healthy, he's not going to play.'' Gonzalez has a bad back, and as a bonus, he's now lugging around some steroid-related baggage after being fingered as a 'roid user in Jose Canseco's new book.

But Gonzalez had his last big season with the Indians in 2001, when he hit 35 homers and drove in 140 runs, so there's a comfort level in Cleveland. If he has any semblance of pride, he has to be embarrassed by last year's fiasco in Kansas City. And what's the downside to a minor-league deal for $600,000? Consider that reliever Jay Powell signed for the same thing with Atlanta.

"It's like buying a lottery ticket,'' another AL official said of the Indians' decision to sign Gonzalez. "There's a one-in-four shot that he'll produce. But there is a huge upside if he hits.''

Jerry Crasnick

ESPN Senior Writer