Top Five Underrated Free Agents Still Available

The free-agent market has certainly thinned out, but there are still value buys to be had.

Exactly four weeks ago, Stephen Strasburg re-signed with the Nationals on the first day of the MLB Winter Meetings, and since then, most of this year’s marquee free agents have signed. Just five remain available of the top 30 free agents ranked in Ben Reiter’s top 50 at the beginning of the offseason, and none of the ranked free-agent starting pitchers are still on the market. That’s not to say teams will have to settle for scraps; it’s just that they’ll have to dig a little deeper to bolster their lineups, rotations or bullpens.

Below is a list of the five best value free agents left to sign.

Editor's note: Shortly after this writing, Eric Thames reportedly signed a one-year, $4 million deal with the Nationals. Jhoulys Chacín has replaced Thames on the underrated free agents list. Reliever Steve Cishek has also reportedly signed with the White Sox.

5. Jhoulys Chacín, SP 

Age: 32 | 2019 Stats: 3-12, 6.01 ERA, 1.558 WHIP, 8.8 K/9, -0.8 WAR | Reiter 50 Ranking: NR 

Current Team: Red Sox | Best Fit: Angels 

Chacín was the Brewers’ Opening Day starter last season in their 5-4 win over the Cardinals. Five months later Milwaukee released him and he completely imploded after signing with the Red Sox. Before his sudden decline Chacín was a solid and durable if unremarkable pitcher. He made 67 starts in 2017-18 and posted 3.69 ERA. He could be a bargain if a team in need of a starter gives him a shot, with a one-year price tag around $1-2 million.

4. Cameron Maybin, OF

Age: 33 | 2019 Stats: .285 BA, .858 OPS, 11 HR, 32 RBI, 9 SB, 1.5 WAR | Reiter 50 Ranking: 35

Current Team: Yankees | Best Fit: Mets

Maybin played for three teams last season, with both the Giants and Indians cutting him before the Yankees claimed him off waivers and purchased him from Cleveland in late April. He was a crucial addition for the injury-plagued Yankees, and in New York he revitalized his career. For teams in need of an outfielder but don’t want to commit multiple years to Yasiel Puig, Marcell Ozuna or Nicholas Castellanos, Maybin is a viable fallback option. He plays all three outfield positions, is a plus baserunner and is coming off his best offensive season yet.

3. Steve Cishek, RP

Age: 34 | 2019 Stats: 4-6, 2.95 ERA, 1.203 WHIP, 8.0 K/9, 7 SV, 1.8 WAR | Reiter 50 Ranking: 37

Current Team: Cubs | Best Fit: Phillies

Cishek is no longer a closer, but for teams looking to add bullpen depth for their middle and late innings, there isn’t a better reliever out there. Relievers are hard to predict. Just look at Edwin Diaz and Blake Treinen. They followed up their elite 2018 seasons with two sub-replacement level campaigns last year. That’s what makes Cishek so valuable. As Reiter wrote in his rankings, “only Kenley Jansen and Clayton Kershaw have pitched more than Cishek’s 243 innings over the past four years to a better ERA than his 2.52.” Sounds perfect for the Phillies or Mets as they look to keep pace in the NL East arms race.

2. Iván Nova, SP

Age: 33 | 2019 Stats: 11-12, 4.72 ERA, 1.455 WHIP, 5.5 K/9, 2.1 WAR | Reiter 50 Ranking: NR

Current Team: White Sox | Best Fit: Angels

I’ve been a Nova fan since his days with the Yankees, and while it’s unlikely he’ll have the same success he had in 2011 and ‘13, he’s a perfectly adequate fourth or fifth starter on a contending team. His lone season on the South Side was one of his worst, but there are still plenty of reasons to sign him.

First, he’ll be cheap. If the Mets can sign Rick Porcello, a former Cy Young winner (chuckles) who’s younger than Nova, for one year at $10 million, another team could get Nova for even less. And actually, Nova (97 ERA+, 2.1 WAR) is coming off a better year than Porcello (87 ERA+, 1.1 WAR).

Secondly, Nova needs throw his sinker less and his curveball more, the same adjustment that’s helped other former Pirates pitchers like Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton and Tyler Glasnow—maybe you’ve heard of them. In this launch-angle era, only the best sinkerballers can miss barrels consistently, and Nova is not one of them. Over the last three seasons, Nova has thrown his sinker 37.8% of the time and opposing hitters have slugged .489 against it. Hitters have slugged .308 against his curveball in that span, yet they accounted for just 19.6% of his total pitches. That usage rate dipped to 16.8% after it had been above 21% in both ‘17 and ‘18. Could that be the reason for his rough year? It’s worth a few million (if that) to find out.

1. Todd Frazier, 3B

Age: 34 | 2019 Stats: .251 BA, .772 OPS, 21 HR, 67 RBI, 1 SB, 2.2 WAR | Reiter 50 Ranking: 36

Current Team: Mets | Best Fit: Braves

If Josh Donaldson’s asking price is too high for the Braves, Todd Frazier becomes the obvious player to sign. The drop off from Donaldson to Frazier is significant, but that’s why Frazier is more affordable option and less of a commitment. Both are 34, though Donaldson is reportedly asking for four years at $110 million. Frazier’s last contract with the Mets was for two years and $17 million. Atlanta, or another team that misses out on Donaldson, could easily give Frazier one or two years at $10-15 million. He’s a great clubhouse guy and a veteran bat who’s good for 20 homers. Not a bad avenue for teams unable to work out a blockbuster for Kris Bryant or Nolan Arenado.