Most free agents signed this offseasn will not be named Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, so most teams will not be acquiring a new star as the cherry on top of their hopefully ready-to-contend franchise.
But most value provided in free agency probably doesn’t come from just the top free agents alone, and there are bargains to be had up and down the board of the best available free agents.
Let’s start with one of the more polarizing free agents out there: AJ Pollock. Pollock, 31, was thought to be a bigger part of this year’s free agency bonanza when he put up a 6.8 fWAR season in 2015. But he has yet to play a full season since then, and we ourselves have written about how a broken elbow, a broken thumb, and a groin strain have hampered his ability to be a star.
That doesn’t mean he’s value-less; his defense still afforded him 6 Outs Above Average despite playing just 113 games, so if you bet right and he plays a full season, you have a 10 OAA defender who can hit at a 110 wRC+ clip.
The outfield options also include some lesser, short-term selections. Nick Markakis just came off his first All Star appearance, hit .297, and had his highest fWAR since 2008. He’s entering his age-35 season, but he might get a couple of reasonably priced years.
Adam Jones will likely get two or so as well, and he doesn’t have the same trajectory; he hasn’t had a 120+ wRC+ season since 2012, and his defense has since entered the red. Carlos Gonzalez is another blast from the past, and at age 33 and one near-average season under his belt with Colorado for the first time in a couple years, he may get himself one more shot to rebuild his value.
The infield actually has a lot more of a robust profile of value there. Daniel Murphy was a mid-season acquisition by the Cubs, and despite his recent spate of injuries and his offense looking more like 2015 than 2017, one would still venture to say that he’s still worth a couple of wins next year. Steamer thinks 114 wRC+, which you take in a heartbeat on a short-term deal.
Brian Dozier might actually be the steal of the offseason. After having an abysmal tenure in Los Angeles, hitting .182/.300/.350, people forget that he was basically a five-win player as recently as last year. There are red flags there, of course, like his power plummeting, but there’s enough reason to believe that he could be a three-plus-win player to make him worth a three-year deal around $10-15 AAV.
DJ LeMahieu is probably closer to the player who people think Dozier is, and he’ll get something similar. He had one four-win year a couple of years back, but he’s basically a league-average-ish hitter who plays excellent defense. Every team can use a player like that in the infield, which is why he’s a similarly smart selection.
It gets much messier from there. Ian Kinsler still has the glove, but the bat is nonexistent. Jose Iglesias still has the glove as well, and never had the bat to begin with. Asdrubal Cabrera has a little bit of both, with a little bit more consistency over the last half-decade.
Oh yeah, and I forgot about catchers. Wilson Ramos is the most sought after other than Yasmani Grandal after hitting at a 131 wRC+ clip, and his defense has been about league average, so you’re betting on that. Jonathan Lucroy and Matt Wieters are far beyond their best years, but every team could use a formerly-good backup catcher, I suppose.
Overall, there’s some nice value to be found here. Some are totally going to flop (watch Dozier have another awful year), and some are going to break out to be like the player they once were. Regardless, for teams trying to squeeze players into their budgets, especially after the big guys sign, this is where the possibly biggest swings in positive/negative value are made in free agency.