The most frustrating aspect of free agency is that there’s roughly a 1/30 chance that your favorite team will sign the guy you really want.
Your favorite team probably won’t sign Manny Machado. They won’t sign Bryce Harper either. You’ll never buy a Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel, or Craig Kimbrel shirsey. 97 percent of the time, that player signs elsewhere.
Don’t worry! Your team WILL sign someone. He might not represent the cream-of-the-free-agent-crop, but you’ll still love him more than Aunt Betsy’s reheated green bean casserole. Every signing is a spark of light in the darkness of winter, even if it’s just a reliever or bench bat.
In honor of Black Friday, our annual celebration of wanton capitalist gluttony and Wrapples, here is a collection of discount free agents that can provide value.
All of these players have flaws of course, but they can still serve important roster roles. There is only one ground rule: to qualify for this list, none of these players are listed on the MLB Trade Rumors top 50 free agents. (Although a handful made the honorable mentions).
Hitters (but not fielders)
Most of the players on this list shouldn’t be free agents at all.
- C.J. Cron and Justin Bour; we need to talk about the state of first base these days. MLB first basemen collectively posted a 105 wRC+ in 2018. That’s the lowest for the position since 1963.
Cron and Bour were both better than average offensively. Cron’s wRC+ was 122, and Bour’s 107, though it should be noted that he reached 118 and 135 in 2016 and 2017. In the last 50+ years, offense at the cold corner has never been harder to come by, yet two of the better hitters were outright released. A dozen teams suffered through first base production below 100 wRC+, so both Cron and Bour should have plenty of opportunities.
- Derek Dietrich; similar to Cron and Bour, Dietrich was surprisingly designated for assignment. While mostly incapable of playing any defensive position, he has been witnessed taking up space at second base, third base, and in the outfield. His lefty-swinging bat is much more celebrated, though. He brings a career 114 wRC+ vs. right-handed pitching to the marketplace (just don’t let him hit against lefties). As most pitchers and humans in general are right-handed, this is a valuable skill. He also possesses another noteworthy talent as explained recently by Jeff Sullivan at FanGraphs.
- Robinson Chirinos; Chirinos has 35 home runs over the last two years. Do you know how many other catchers have hit that many? NONE!! (Except for Salvador Perez, Gary Sanchez, Yasmani Grandal, Mike Zunino, J.T. Realmuto, Yadier Molina, and Evan Gattis)
How many free agent catchers offer better offensive production? NONE!! (Except for Grandal, Wilson Ramos, and probably Kurt Suzuki) It’s hard to find catchers that can hit, and while the catching part of Chirinos’ game isn’t great, the hitting is just fine.
- Curtis Granderson; it feels like Granderson shouldn’t be good anymore, but he actually is! He’ll turn 38-years-old in Spring Training, but he amassed a 13.4 percent walk rate and .190 ISO last year. His 119 wRC+ against righties is more than sufficient, and he can still hold down a corner outfield from time to time. He’s just not quite as graceful to watch anymore.
Fielders (but not hitters)
Also known as “really good shortstops who can probably succeed in a utility role.”
- Freddy Galvis; inexplicably, Galvis is the only player in baseball to participate in 162 games in each of the last two years. The inexplicable part applies to his offense— .309 and .299 on base percentages in those seasons. He’s a solid shortstop though, and he does have 45 home runs and 39 stolen bases since 2015. The overall offense is well below average, but there’s enough to warrant a backup shortstop/utility job.
- Jose Iglesias; remember when Iglesias nearly won the 2013 Rookie of the Year? He never hit enough to justify the hype, but he’s probably better than you realize. The .269/.310/.389 slash line and 90 wRC+ aren’t anything special, but paired with 8.2 UZR it’s plenty good enough. The defense-heavy profile helped him accumulate 7.8 fWAR over the last four years.
- Adeiny Hechavarria; ugghhh, you probably don’t want to sign Hechavarria. His on base percentage hasn’t reached .290 since 2015. Sure, the glove is nice. I don’t know, I guess he’s good enough. It’s hard to find shortstops. The Yankees played him at third base a little bit, so he already got a head start on his second act as a utility infielder.
Starting Pitchers (probably?)
If they don’t work out, just shun them to the bullpen.
- Clay Buchholz; it feels strange to say so, but Buchholz was actually awesome last year. In 16 starts and 98 1⁄3 innings, he shined with a 2.01 ERA and 3.47 FIP. He only handed out walks to 5.6 percent of opposing batters. In his 12 year career, he has never been 1) healthy, or 2) successful in consecutive seasons.
No reasonable general manager should rely on him for consistent innings in 2019. However, it’s impossible to ignore the results from last year, and it’s worth considering him for a back-of-the-rotation role. Just make sure there’s a plan B.
- Edwin Jackson; as we, the consumers of baseball, get older, the players themselves remain the same. There’s no such thing as an old man playing baseball, nor are there really and kids.
Age matters considerably for the purposes of free agency, but when they’re on the field of play, it’s just batter vs. pitcher. Roster spots and playing time are meritocratic. Jackson was the first player to reach the majors who was born in 1983— the same year I was. If he’s still good enough to merit 17 starts for a playoff team (3.33 ERA and 4.65 FIP for Oakland), then I’m not old, right?
- Tyson Ross; Ross proved two things in 2018. First, he proved he was healthy. After injuries decimated his 2016 and 2017 seasons, he started 22 games for the Padres through August 5.
Second, he showed he might be a valuable reliever if starting doesn’t work out. After the Cardinals claimed him off waivers, he pitched mostly in a long relief role, allowing 30 baserunners and just one home run in 26 1⁄3 innings.
There are always bushels of relievers flooding the free agent market. Here are just a few of the lesser-known bullpen arms for purchase.
- Oliver Perez; I’ll be honest, the Beyond the Box Score social media team put this one on a tee for me:
Among 468 pitchers with at least 30 innings, Oliver Perez posted the second lowest wOBA against. He’s a free agent.— Beyond the Box Score (@BtBScore) November 22, 2018
- Tony Sipp; LOOGY, anyone? Sipp was especially effective in short appearances last year, throwing 38 2⁄3 innings over 54 appearances. He struck out 27.8 percent of opponents on his way to a 2.41 FIP. Lefties batted just .191/.263/.294 against him.
- Adam Warren; Warren followed up a stellar 2017 campaign with a fairly average 2018. Surprisingly, the Yankees traded him on July 30 to the Mariners for nothing more than international bonus pool money. He did strike out 23.3 percent of batters, and has a more durable and consistent track record than most relievers. He can also throw multiple innings and even spot start as needed.
On this Black Friday, we wish all GMs happy bargain hunting hunting!
Daniel R. Epstein is an elementary special education teacher and president of the Somerset County Education Association. In addition to BtBS, he writes at www.OffTheBenchBaseball.com. Tweets @depstein1983