As so many championship teams have proved throughout the years, signing the top free agents on the market is rarely the key to success on the field. 

The Boston Red Sox had the payroll flexibility to sign Josh Hamilton or Zack Greinke last offseason. They passed. Instead, they spread out the wealth and filled out the roster with several veteran free agents who didn’t require more than three-year contracts. 

When Mike Napoli’s medical exam revealed a degenerative hip condition, they had to get creative to keep him from signing elsewhere by structuring a one-year, incentive-based deal. Stephen Drew was signed to a one-year deal at a bargain rate as he aimed to rebuild his value after an injury cost him most of the prior two seasons. Koji Uehara’s total cost for 2013-14 will be $9.25 million, which has already proved to be one of the best values of last offseason. 

It wasn’t a typical offseason plan, but general manager Ben Cherington executed it to perfection. 

The small market Pittsburgh Pirates also did well, freeing up about $6 million by trading Joel Hanrahan to the Red Sox for setup man Mark Melancon and three other minor leaguers after signing Jason Grilli to close at a much cheaper rate. Then there’s the Francisco Liriano’s deal, which will pay him less than $13 million for 2013-14. It’s an even better value than Uehara’s deal with Boston. 

With the reported asking prices for some of the top free agents having reached alarming rates, several teams will look to get creative this winter as they try to fill holes on their roster without making the risky big-money deal to land the top free agents.

Here are some cost-efficient and creative moves that six contenders could make.  


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