- It's a talent-rich free agent market, so where is the best value outside of the top 50?
Just four members of the 2018 Reiter 50—SI.com’s annual ranking of baseball’s top 50 free agents—are off the board, and each re-signed with the team that I deemed their best fit: Clayton Kershaw (No. 3) and Hyun-Jin Ryu (No. 20) with the Dodgers, and CC Sabathia (No. 32) and Brett Gardner (No. 42) with the Yankees. But as the baseball public continues to focus on Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, as well as the 45 notable names behind them, savvy clubs have already begun to set their sights on a different sort of free agent: those who won’t cost very much—in some cases less than one percent of what Machado or Harper will—but might represent a complementary piece of a winner.
None of them rank in the top 50, for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they are coming off injuries, or down years, but retain significant upside. Perhaps they do a lot of things, but none of them extraordinarily; or just one, but very well. Maybe they’re like Charlie Morton, whom the Astros signed for two years and $14 million dollars two years ago and returned more than $50 million in value, based on his WAR. Or maybe they’re like Jhoulys Chacin, who was inked to a two-year, $15.5 million pact by the Brewers last winter and whose value to Milwaukee has already exceeded $20 million; or Trevor Cahill, who delivered $15.8 million of value on Oakland’s $1.25 million investment.
Here are six players—three hitters and three pitchers—who did not make the initial list, but who represent intriguing low-risk gambles for clubs this winter:
Position: RP | Age: 35
Current Team: Cubs | Best Fit: White Sox
2018 Stats: 5-2, 2.55 ERA, 1.059 WHIP, 8.7 K/9, 5 SV, 3.2 WAR
The game has come around to Chavez, a reliever who can endure a heavy workload (95.1 innings, second-most in the majors); who can throw multiple innings at a time (he got more than three outs in 28 of his 62 appearances); and who is equally effective against righties (.642 OPS against) and lefties (.651). Chavez thrived after arriving in Chicago from Texas in July, with a 1.15 ERA in 32 appearances, many of them high leverage. In other words, he fits everywhere—including on the South Side, where the White Sox badly need a reliable relief arm.
Position: DH | Age: 32
Current Team: Astros | Best Fit: Tigers
2018 Stats: .226 BA, .736 OPS, 25 HR, 78 RBI, 1 SB, 0.4 WAR
El Oso Blanco basically does one thing these days: mash taters. The erstwhile catcher wore a glove of any type for just four innings last season—he famously bats barehanded—but went on a mid-season power binge, cranking 20 homers between May and July before his playing time dwindled. So he’ll be limited to AL teams, and the Tigers—who hit a league low 135 bombs in `18, and have Mikie Mahtook penciled in at DH—could turn to him as a cheap source of pop.
Position: Utility | Age: 31
Current Team: Pirates | Best Fit: Twins
2018 Stats: .250 BA, .656 OPS, 8 HR, 37 RBI, 3 SB, 0.3 WAR
Harrison will be a fine consolation prize for one of the many teams who fall short in the Marwin Gonzalez sweepstakes: he’s a player who can play and produce most anywhere on the diamond. A broken hand and then an injured hamstring ruined his 2018, but he was an All-Star (and a 3.3 WAR player) in `17. He’d work well in Minnesota, as an upgrade on punchless second base option Ehire Adrianza and insurance at third for the injury-prone Miguel Sanó.
Position: SP | Age: 32
Current Team: Yankees | Best Fit: Phillies
2018 Stats: 10-10, 4.77 ERA, 1.526 WHIP, 9.2 K/9, 0.8 WAR
Clubs realized that his 2017 season with the Cardinals was a bit of a mirage, as he had a 3.43 ERA against a 4.82 FIP. That was why he could only command a one-year, $12 million free agent deal, from the Twins, for whom he disappointed (5.10 ERA). But Lynn, now two years removed from Tommy John surgery, showed signs of his old form after a mid-season trade to the Yankees: a fastball that again sat at 94 mph (up from 92.6 in `17), an excellent strikeout rate (10.1 per nine) and a FIP (2.17) that was actually much lower than his ERA (4.14), suggesting he was a bit unlucky. He’d represent solid mid-rotation filler for the Phillies, who look to be feeling spendy this winter.
Position: C | Age: 32
Current Team: Astros | Best Fit: Mets
2018 Stats: .225 BA, .627 OPS, 9 HR, 44 RBI, 0 SB, 0.5 WAR
The clear No. 3 option in a catching market headlined by Yasmani Grandal and Wilson Ramos, Maldonado’s value is based on what he does behind the plate, not beside it. Despite some mishaps in the postseason, he’s an underrated receiver—his framing stats were notably excellent after his mid-season trade from the Angles to the Astros—and he’s got a cannon, gunning down a ridiculous 49% of would-be base stealers in `18. Mets catchers, meanwhile, had a caught stealing rate of just 21% last year, the second-worst in the majors.
DICKEY: How Good Is Bryce Harper Anyway?
Position: RP | Age: 37
Current Team: Indians | Best Fit: Mets
2017 Stats: 1-1, 1.39 ERA, 0.742 WHIP, 12.0 K/9, 0 SV, 1.3 WAR
The 16-year veteran simply destroyed lefthanded hitters last year, striking out 22 of the 65 he faced and walking only one. New G.M. Brodie Van Wagenen has indicated he’ll be free to spend at least some money this winter, and—lacking a southpaw in the bullpen—he could bring Perez (a Mets starter between 2006 and `10) back to New York, in a different role.