It's that time of the offseason. Truck day is almost here, teams are getting ready to head down to Florida or Arizona, players start reporting to spring training, and remaining free agents may or may not start getting desperate. There are the players who are tied to qualifying offers who are left on the market, and those others who have had to wait until the markets fully settled to find their home for 2016..
This is the time when many teams can take advantage of weak markets and inefficiencies. The Orioles did just this a few years back with Nelson Cruz. There are quite a few players left on the open market whom the Red Sox could monitor as Opening Day draws closer. Here are some of those players.
Venable spent the last part of 2015 with the Texas Rangers after spending the entirety of his first six seasons in the majors with the San Diego Padres. Venable has the capability to play all three outfield positions and has shown flashes in the past of being a very good player, hitting 22 home runs in 2013 despite playing in the ever-so-spacious Petco Park. Over the course of his career, Venable has also been an above-average defender manning the outfield as well.
Given that he's been a relatively unremarkable player over the last few seasons, Venable likely won't cost that much. He could be a very solid backup or depth outfield option on the bench in the majors or in Triple-A if the Red Sox could find some way to get him there, though chances are the veteran outfielder can find a major league job. As a left-handed bat off the bench Venable, at his best, could bring a decent platoon option to a righty-heavy outfield.
I previously covered Freese and his situation in this space, but it's quite curious that he's still on the market given that he's not tied to any qualifying offer. Freese was a pretty decent third baseman last season, is in what should be his prime years given his age, and has name recognition as a former postseason hero.
Again, Freese will likely get an opportunity to compete for a starting job, but should he not, a team should give him an opportunity to be something more than just a bench player. Freese has some pop, a decent glove, and is too good a player to receive so little attention.
I'm absolutely fascinated with Cliff Lee's situation. Lee hopes to pitch in 2016 after coming off a flexor tendon tear in his elbow, but he is reportedly waiting for the"perfect fit." At 37 years old, Lee is clearly past his prime, but it was not long ago that Lee was one of the best pitchers in baseball. Aside from injuries, he never really showed many signs of decline and given his control-based approach, there's still hope that Lee can be, say, 70 percent of what he was just a few years ago.
Lee is expected to work out for a few teams before Spring Training starts. There is certainly medical risk and Lee will likely want an opportunity from a team that gives him time to get back to what he was. Lee also wants to sign with a contending team, and the Red Sox are certainly expecting to be that. It's not clear if they're that perfect fit he's looking for, but at the very least, the Sox have a place for him, and he could do a lot worse.
Badenhop was one of the few bright spots for the Red Sox in 2014, but took a slight step back with the Cincinnati Red last season, leading the Reds to decline their option on him, and leaving him a free agent once more. While he doesn't strike out a ton of batters, Badenhop certainly knows how to induce a ground ball and get outs. In his last 261.2 innings pitched, Badenhop has only given up 17 home runs. Badenhop could be another arm to throw into the bullpen mix at the outset of spring training.
Chad Billingsley/Tim Lincecum/Mat Latos
Ahh, former front-line pitchers who have faded from glory. Billingsley has gone through a ton with injuries and is unlikely to ever fulfill the potential he displayed in his early years in LA. While Billingsley's career might never be what it could have been, he can still be a decent depth option for the rotation with whatever's left in the tank.
Lincecum could be an interesting swingman given some of his postseason success coming out of the bullpen and his incredible success early in his career. He's not nearly the pitcher he used to be (which as a big fan, makes me very sad), but that doesn't mean he doesn't have value anymore. Lincecum could reestablish some of his stock at the major league level in an Alfredo Aceves-type role, and there's always that small chance that he recaptures some of the old spark.
Latos used to be really good, but some attitude issues and some injuries have put a halt on what looked like a truly promising career just a few years ago. After being traded to the Marlins and then the Dodgers, Latos really struggled and called out the Reds, criticizing the training staff and team leadership. Like Lee, Latos is someone who could see success after some injury issues, but a bad attitude could hold him back.
The Red Sox may or may not have room on the roster for any of these players, depending on their willingness to shuffle current players to Triple-A. But whether now, or down the road in the event of an injury--Spring Training is rarely so uneventful as everyone hopes--the Red Sox should have their eyes on these free agents, just in case.