What makes a great free-agent pickup?

In baseball, most of the biggest free-agent signings—guys like Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira—enter the process in their late 20s, already among the best players in all of baseball, with many peak years left.

These players are great, and any team would love to sign them, but few have the resources to bring an Alex Rodriguez on board, and even fewer could handle the hit that a bad signing—Barry Zito, for instance—would inflict on the franchise.

Veteran players are, quite amazingly, baseball’s new undervalued commodity. As World Series participants Vlad Guerrero and Aubrey Huff showed us this past season, many of the best free-agent signings come from the over-30 crowd.

This year’s crop of over-30 free agents is loaded with players who can contribute to any team. While some of these players will walk away with fat contracts, others will make the leagues GMs look like geniuses, signing on at a low cost and leading their teams to the playoffs.

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