Free agency isn’t just about which teams land the top players on the market. It’s also an opportunity for teams to find value where others don’t.

Teams are always on the hunt for potential reclamation projects, as every free-agent class features a crop of players who, for any number of reasons, are overlooked and/or undervalued on the open market. These players typically are believed to have some remaining upside and therefore represent low-risk, high-reward options at the cost of a one- or two-year deal.

Last offseason, the Miami Marlins signed third baseman Casey McGehee to a one-year, $1.1 million contract, procuring him from the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball. The then-31-year-old went on to win the 2014 National League Comeback Player of the Year Award, batting .287/.355/.357 with 76 RBI while playing in 160 games.

Here’s a look at some of the top reclamation projects available in this year’s free-agent class.


Brandon Morrow, RHP

Some pitchers simply are blessed with filthy stuff. Brandon Morrow is one of them.

Morrow, the No. 5 overall pick in the 2006 draft, was rushed to the major leagues on the merits of his stuff, logging only 16 minor league innings before winning a spot in the Mariners’ 2007 Opening Day bullpen.

Unsurprisingly, Morrow’s control was an utter mess during his three seasons (2007-09) with Seattle, as he walked 5.8 batters per nine innings and posted a 4.56 FIP. Still, the right-hander proved he could miss bats consistently in the late innings, piling up 204 strikeouts in 197.2 innings, and he also tallied 16 saves during that time frame.

The Mariners traded Morrow, 25 at the time, to the Blue Jays following the 2009 season for reliever Brandon League. Toronto decided to convert him to a full-time starter—Morrow started only 15 of his 131 games with Seattle—for the 2010 season.

Morrow pitched to a 3.49 FIP (4.16 ERA) during his first three seasons in Toronto, striking out 489 batters in 450.1 innings (9.8 K/9).

In 2010, Morrow put himself on the map with a 17-strikeout performance as part of a one-hit shutout. The following year, the right-hander led the American League with 10.19 strikeouts per nine innings. 

Things seemed to come together for Morrow in 2012, as he set new career bests with a 2.96 ERA (3.65 FIP), 1.115 WHIP and 3.0 BB/9 over 21 starts. However, he also missed 64 games due to a strained oblique muscle in what was the first of many seasons marred by injuries.

A nerve issue in his right forearm limited Morrow to only 10 starts in 2013, while a tendon sheath injury on his right index finger this past season led to a career-low 33.1 innings pitched. Overall, the right-hander made just 23 appearances (16 starts) for the Blue Jays over the past two seasons, posting a 5.65 ERA (4.78 FIP), 1.551 WHIP and 7.4 K/9 during that time frame.

As a free agent—the Blue Jays declined his $10 million option for 2015—Morrow, 30, should receive plenty of interest as a potential one-year lottery ticket since his combination of age, prior success and pure stuff make him an intriguing upside play.

Morrow showed good velocity when he was healthy over the last two seasons, but he threw especially hard out of the Blue Jays bullpen this past September, averaging 97.49 mph on his fastball while topping out at 100.72 mph. Plus, he still boasts two legit swing-and-miss pitches in his slider and splitter.

That being said, harnessing Morrow’s command will be a challenge for whoever signs him, though that could also come down to whether he’s deployed as a starter or reliever. The right-hander should offer value in either role, though his season-high innings total of 179.1 and extensive injury history means his workload will probably be managed carefully as a starter.

Morrow is likely to land a low-risk, high-reward one-year contract this offseason because, well, he’s still plenty nasty. The only question is whether he can stay on the field for an extended period of time.


Justin Masterson, RHP

Justin Masterson delivered a long-overdue breakout performance in 2013, posting a 3.45 ERA (3.35 FIP) with a 58 percent ground-ball rate and 195 strikeouts in 193 innings.

The Indians attempted to extend the right-hander following the season with a three-year, $45 million deal, but Masterson rejected the offer in favor of playing out his walk year, banking on another All-Star-caliber performance to drive up his future value as a free agent.

Masterson’s plan backfired, however, as he pitched to a dismal 5.51 ERA and walked 5.84 batters per nine innings over 19 starts, prompting the Indians to trade him to St. Louis before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. But the change of scenery didn’t resolve Masterson’s struggles (7.04 ERA in 30.2 innings), and he failed to make the Cardinals’ postseason roster.

However, there are signs suggesting the soon-to-be 30-year-old might be poised for a bounce-back performance next season. For starters, he maintained a strong ground-ball rate of 58.2 percent despite a career-worst 14.6 percent home-run-to-ground-ball rate and .339 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). In terms of his stuff, Masterson’s sinker still induces plenty of groundballs, and he’s continued to miss bats with his slider.

However, Masterson’s command has never been great and was especially bad last season, making him an intriguing reclamation project as a free agent. The right-hander likely is looking at a one-year contract given his enormous struggles last season, but at the same time, there could be teams willing to offer him a multiyear pact.


Colby Rasmus, OF

Colby Rasmus enjoyed arguably the best season of his career in 2013, batting .276/.338/.501 with 22 home runs and 26 doubles in 458 plate appearances. His two other full seasons with the Blue Jays have been a much different story, a story featuring .225-or-worse batting averages, sub-.290 on-base percentages and worsening strikeout rates.

However, there’s reason to believe the 28-year-old Rasmus might still have some good seasons ahead of him. The left-handed hitter should continue to offer his usual above-average power in the coming years, as he’s an extreme fly-ball hitter who drives the ball to all fields with authority.

The only potential impediment to Rasmus’ power output is his health, as he’s spent time on the disabled list in three of the last four seasons. Lastly, the center fielder’s defense is bound to improve compared to his subpar showing in 2014.

It’s difficult to predict how the market will treat Rasmus, arguably the top reclamation project in this year’s free-agent class. While some teams might offer him a cheap multiyear deal, Rasmus’ age and untapped potential make him a strong candidate to sign a one-year contract, hoping that a bounce-back performance nets him a big payday next offseason.


Josh Johnson, RHP

Josh Johnson was utterly dominant from 2009 to 2011, ranking first among all qualified starters in FIP (2.74) and fourth in ERA (2.64). The right-hander also ranked 13th in fWAR (13.0), which was particularly impressive considering he made only 70 starts and logged 453 innings during that time frame.

Johnson’s breakout year was 2010, when he led the National League with a 2.30 ERA and 180 ERA+ and paced the major leagues with a 2.41 FIP. He opened the 2011 season with a 1.64 ERA over his first nine starts, but shoulder inflammation in mid-May resulted in a trip to the disabled list and ultimately sidelined him for the remainder of the season.

Johnson rebounded in 2012 to post a 3.81 ERA (3.40 FIP) over 31 starts in what turned out to be his final season in Miami, as the Marlins sent him, Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle to the Blue Jays in a blockbuster trade.

But Johnson—a year away from free agency—struggled with his new team, as he registered a 6.20 ERA (4.62 FIP) over 16 starts before he landed on the disabled list with a forearm strain. Johnson’s free-agent stock took another hit during the offseason after he underwent surgery to remove bone spurs.

The San Diego Padres ended up taking a flier on Johnson last winter in the form of a one-year, $8 million deal, but he ended up needing Tommy John surgery and missed the entire season.

The 30-year-old is looking at a much smaller one-year deal this offseason, and he’ll have to prove he can still make an impact against big-league hitters. That said, it’s not surprising that five to six teams have already reached out to the right-hander, according to a tweet from Dennis Lin of the U-T San Diego.

After all, we’ve all seen what a healthy Josh Johnson is capable of.


Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs, Brooks Baseball and

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