The free-agency period, which got underway over the weekend, is a time when smart teams tread carefully, knowing the market contains as many potential pitfalls as it does opportunities. Land a high-profile free agent and you're likely to improve your team, but you'll also run the risk of succumbing to the "winner's curse," the tendency of a team to have to overpay for a player in order to outbid all his other suitors.
However, some less prominent players with lower contract demands stand a chance to approximate a more expensive player's production, so a team can always try to cut costs and minimize risk by looking for comparable players with a little less buzz. Just as a smart shopper saves on over-the-counter medications by buying generic instead of paying a premium for a patent and nice packaging, a smart general manager ignores name recognition in favor of production and price.
Last winter, the New York Yankees passed up the top domestic starter available, C.J. Wilson, in favor of the older Hiroki Kuroda, the Kansas City Royals opted for elbow-surgery survivor Jonathan Broxton instead of making a run at Heath Bell and the Minnesota Twins let Michael Cuddyer walk and signed Josh Willingham for more than $10 million less than Cuddyer went on to get from the Colorado Rockies. After watching their targets outperform pricier options, all three teams have to be happy that they decided to spend smarter. So who are the off-brand alternatives to some of this winter's most attractive free agents?