Part of the fun in the early offseason is the optimism teams have about signing the franchise-changing free agent. The rumor mill could lead you to believe two dozen clubs have a genuine shot at signing Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg or Anthony Rendon.
That isn't reality. But there’s still hope for teams that don’t want to dole out nine-figure contracts to free agents. DJ LeMahieu (two years, $24 million) and Josh Donaldson (1 year, $23 million) were perhaps the two best signings last winter. Both signed for less than 10% of one (1) Bryce Harper or one (1) Manny Machado.
So where are there bargains to be found this winter? Let's have a look.
Corey Dickerson, 31, OF
Dickerson is probably the most underappreciated free-agent outfielder this winter. Since 2014, Dickerson is one of only seven outfielders with a slugging percentage better than .500 and an OPS+ of at least 120. Four of them—Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Bryce Harper, Giancarlo Stanton—have won an MVP award, and the other two—J.D. Martinez and Charlie Blackmon—made at least $20 million in 2019.
Dickerson is also a better defensive player than Marcell Ozuna and Nicholas Castellanos, who are the two best free-agent outfielders this offseason. He’s older than both Ozuna (29) and Castellanos (28), and they both offer more upside on offense. However, for teams looking to sign an outfielder to a shorter, more affordable contract, Dickerson is as good a bargain as any this winter.
Didi Gregorius, 30, SS
Gregorius’s contract year didn’t do much to help his value on the open market this offseason. He hit .238/.276/.441 with 16 homers and posted 0.6 WAR in 82 regular-season games. The Yankees did not extend him a qualifying offer, and with Gleyber Torres more than capable of starting at shortstop, they appear to be in a position to move on from the man who replaced Derek Jeter.
There were just three everyday shortstops last season in their 30s—Elvis Andrus, Brandon Crawford, Miguel Rojas—and none were league-average hitters (100 OPS+). Gregorius posted an 87 OPS+, meaning he was 13% below average offensively.
However, there are a few reasons to believe Gregorius’s 2019 campaign was more of a fluke than what prospective teams should expect from him moving forward. He had Tommy John surgery in October 2018 and debuted less than nine months later in June. It’s quite possible Gregorius wasn’t at full strength when he returned, considering he came back ahead of schedule and his offensive struggles could, in part, be attributed to that.
Also working in Didi’s favor is his track record. His bat improved steadily in each of his four years with the Yankees before his injury to go along with his consistently stellar defense. He hit 20-plus homers in three straight seasons (2016-18), and in the two seasons before the injury (‘17-18) he averaged 4.0 WAR, 26 homers and a 114 OPS+. If he regains form in 2020, he’ll certainly be a valuable addition to any team.
Avisail Garcia, 29, OF
Garcia probably won’t repeat his breakout 2017 campaign, when he slashed .330/.380/.506 with a 138 OPS+ and 4.6 WAR with the White Sox. But he also won’t be as bad as he was the following year, playing just 93 games due to injury and producing as a league-average offensive player (95 OPS+). If Garcia performs somewhere in the middle of those two extremes over the next few years, he’ll be a valuable addition to a team that doesn’t sign a more expensive outfielder like Ozuna or Castellanos.
That middle ground probably looks similar to what Garcia did in 2019 with the Rays, when he posted a 111 OPS+ and 2.0 WAR. Tampa signed him to a one-year deal in January and he was an important part of the team’s postseason run, especially in the second half when he hit .293/.330/.497. According to Fangraphs, Garcia’s projected value last season was $14.7 million, and he made just $3.5 million. As a solid-hitting outfielder still in his 20s, any team that can add Garcia for an average annual value in the $10-15 million range should consider it a bargain.
Yasiel Puig, 29, OF
The third bargain outfielder on this list is the most talented of the group. Shoot, if free agency were decided on ability alone, Puig would probably be the most in demand of the available outfielders. When he’s on, the Wild Horse boasts all five tools. He’s remarkably athletic, a fan favorite and a dramatic showman.
But he’s also underperformed on the overwhelming expectations set during his first two season. Not to mention his share of negative headlines for antics in the clubhouse and away from the ballpark. Some teams in need of an outfielder might hesitate signing Puig because of the baggage coming in tow.
Still, that’s why a player as talented as Puig is such an intriguing free agent. He has the highest ceiling of any available position player other than Rendon, and his floor is still better than many of the other available outfielders. Teams shouldn’t let the uncertainty of Puig turn them away from him; they should use it to their advantage.
Dallas Keuchel, 32, LHP
Keuchel isn’t one of the five best starting pitchers available this offseason, but he’s reliable and effective. For teams looking to add an experienced starter as a complementary piece to a rotation, Keuchel is probably their best option.
Over the last six seasons, Keuchel’s 3.33 ERA ranks 12th among starters with at least 1,000 innings. His 0.82 home runs allowed per nine innings is the second lowest (tied with Clayton Kershaw and Jake Arrieta) in that span, behind only Jacob deGrom’s mark of 0.78. He’s thrown at least 200 innings in three of the last six seasons. He’s a Cy Young and World Series winner. For teams that have concerns about signing a pitcher in his 30s, Keuchel has never relied on overwhelming velocity to pitch. Instead, he changes speeds and relies on location, two strengths that become assets to aging pitchers.
The Braves got a bargain when they signed Keuchel for $13 million in June. He stabilized their young rotation and proved he could still be one of the better starters in the league. There’s no reason to expect him to be any different in 2020.