Even though teams invested big money in them during the offseason, no one knew for sure how Masahiro Tanaka and Jose Abreu were going to perform in their first seasons in the major leagues.
Tanaka went 24-0 with Rakuten Golden Eagles of the Japanese Pacific League last season then signed a seven-year, $155-million free agent contract with the New York Yankees, who also had to pay a $20-million posting fee to Rakuten. Abreu showed enough promise as a slugging on the Cuban national team that the Chicago White Sox were willing to spent $68 million over six seasons to sign him following his defection.
Both have proven to be worth every penny so far.
Tanaka recorded his first major league shutout Wednesday night, four-hitting the New York Mets, and is 6-0 with a 2.17 ERA in eight starts.
Earlier in the day, Abreu's three-run home run, his major league-leading 15th, powered the Chicago White Sox to a 4-2 victory over the Oakland Athletics, and raised his RBI total to an American League-best 41 through 42 games.
While those free agents signings could not have worked out any better, here are three more -- for a lot less money -- that have proven to be great values.
--Athletics left-hander Scott Kazmir, two years and $23 million.
Kazmir pitched for the Sugar Land Skeeters in the independent Atlantic League two years ago but is now 5-1 with a 2.28 ERA in eight starts.
"He's really built on what he did in Cleveland last year," an AL executive said. "He's keeping the ball down, throwing his off-speed stuff for strikes and attacking hitters. He looks like he did when was a kid with Tampa Bay."
--Rockies first baseman Justin Morneau, two years and $12.5 million.
It has been eight years since Morneau was the AL MVP with the Minnesota Twins and five since he hit at least 20 home runs in a season. However, the thin air of Denver has rejuvenated Morneau's bat, as he is hitting .320 with eight homers and 30 RBIs in 39 games.
"I wouldn't get overly excited about his start because his bat has slowed over the years but he does look like a guy who has been helped by a change of scenery," a National League scout said. "There's a bounce in his step again."
--Orioles outfielder/designated hitter Nelson Cruz, one year and $8 million.
Cruz entered the free agent market with the double stigma of having draft pick compensation attached to him because he turned down the Texas Rangers' qualifying offer and coming off a 50-game suspension for PEDs late last season. He did not sign until after spring training began but has broken out his "boom stick" by hitting .276 with 11 homers and 33 RBIs in 37 games.
"He's proven me and a lot of other people wrong," an AL scout said. "I thought he was a steroids creation."
AROUND THE BASES
--The St. Louis Cardinals hit .330 with runners in scoring position last season, which was a statistical outlier. The major league average in those situations was .255.
While the Cardinals knew their RISP average was due for a correction this season, no one thought their average would nosedive to .239 through 40 games. It is part of the reason why the Cardinals, who entered the season as prohibitive favorites to win the NL Central, are 20-20.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny took exception to the notion his hitters are trying too hard in clutch situations.
"I refuse to believe that's what's going on here," Matheny said. "I don't think our guys are going up there with a though process of we can't get it done. It's just you go through those periods and right now it's a prolonged one."
--Twins second baseman Brian Dozier's batting average is just .243 through 38 games. Regardless, he is having a breakout year in his second full major league season with a .368 on-base percentage, 36 runs scored, nine home runs and 12 stolen bases.
Dozier credits his start Hall of Famer Paul Molitor, who is in his first full season as a member of the Twins' coaching staff after serving as a spring training instructor in years past.
"It's been night and day compared to every other year, as far as dissecting pitchers, knowing exactly what they do, their tendencies, stuff like that," Dozier said.
--The Cleveland Indians are within two games of .500 after winning eight of their first 12 games in May. While they still trail the Detroit Tigers by seven games in AL Central, things are looking brighter for a team that won its last 10 regular-season games last year to reach the postseason for the first time since 2007.
The hot start in May came after an 0-6 road trip to end April in which the Indians lost three games to both the Giants in San Francisco and Los Angeles Angels at Anaheim.
"I think we're playing with a little more confidence, a little more purpose," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "We're not where we want to be yet, but we're getting better."
--Miami Marlins manager Mike Redmond came across as defensive when he said his organization should not be blamed for starting right-hander Jose Fernandez suffering a torn elbow ligament.
Redmond is right.
In his 36 major league starts, the 21-year-old Fernandez has thrown as many as 100 pitches just 11 times and no more than the 114 he logged May 4 against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Marlins couldn't have protected him any better, and there was nothing they could do against nature taking its course.
Senior writer John Perrotto is The Sports Xchange's baseball insider. He has covered Major League Baseball for 27 seasons.