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Change of scenery could benefit several free agents

Change of scenery could benefit several free agents

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Change of scenery could benefit several free agents
The Reds' signing of Ryan Ludwick in February didn't garner much attention, as the club simply was taking a flier and hoping a proven veteran wasn't done.

It turned out to be one of the offseason's best finds, as Ludwick thrived away from cavernous Petco Park, hitting .275 with 26 home runs for the National League Central champions.

The Red Sox struck similar gold in 2012 with Cody Ross, while Baltimore's midseason signing of Nate McLouth after his release from Pittsburgh was just one part of the Orioles' feel-good season. Right-hander Jeremy Guthrie's escape from Coors Field in July -- and a more than three-run drop in ERA in Kansas City -- already has paid dividends, earning him a three-year, $25 million deal with the Royals on Tuesday.

In each of those cases, players benefited from a change of scenery and posted numbers their new teams thought they were capable of producing.

Ludwick, Ross, McLouth and Guthrie are a handful of 2012 examples of how a different environment can help players. This year, there are once again teams that will be on the hunt for players they hope can rebound, finally reach their potential or just stay healthy.

Among the more intriguing names is Jason Bay, who struggled with the Mets after signing a four-year, $66 million deal before 2010. He underperformed so badly -- hitting .234 with 26 home runs in 288 games -- he and the club earlier this month negotiated an early expiration to Bay's contract, which had a minimum of one year and $21 million remaining.

"I still feel I have plenty to give to this game and that I can play baseball at a high level," Bay said in a statement announcing the move.

Considering he's a three-time All-Star who likely will come cheap, there's bound to be a team that will take a chance on him based on his prior performance.

On the other end of the spectrum is B.J. Upton, who is one of this season's most sought-after free agents. True, he's coming off a career-high 28 home runs and has proven capable of performing in the postseason. But he's hit higher than .250 just twice in the last six seasons, leaving people wanting more.

Those who think Upton's best is yet to come include former Rays teammates who watched him daily.

"I think he's going to continue to just get better," Tampa Bay's Ben Zobrist said at the end of the season. "There's no question seeing him this year that he's just got better."

Grady Sizemore is hoping to get better, only in a different way. The 30-year-old was once among of the game's brightest young stars, but has been hampered by injuries the past four years and didn't play at all in 2012. If he's healthy, the promise of 2006-08 -- when he posted a .279/.380/.499 slash line and made three All-Star teams -- will be enticing.

Two former Tigers also could be worth watching. Free agent closer Jose Valverde lost his job during the postseason, but he saved 49 games in 2011, while recently-released infielder/outfielder Ryan Raburn hit just .171 this season after batting .274 with 45 homers from '09-11.

Both drew ire from Detroit fans, but each could benefit from being in a different city.

Another free agent already has first-hand experience of what that can do for a season and the future. Last year, Kevin Youkilis was dealt from Boston to Chicago, changing Sox as he left what had been a contentious situation with former Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine.

Although Youkilis didn't regain his All-Star caliber of play, he did hit better -- .236/.346/.425 in Chicago compared to .233/.315/.377 in Boston -- and provided enough big hits and leadership that the White Sox want him back. His time in Chicago also proved he isn't done, however, which has made Youkilis a hot commodity.

"It's not a shock he's heard from a bunch of teams. It's not a shock he's popular," White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said earlier this week. "It's going to be a challenge to bring him back."

Sometimes that's what happens when a player simply needs a change of scenery, and teams are hoping to find some of those types in the coming months.

Cash Kruth is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @cashkruth. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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