John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
In honor of Black Friday, where the lure of bargains convinces otherwise rational people to navigate the madness of overcrowded shopping, here's a list of free agents on which you won't find Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, or Anthony Rendon.
No, this isn't the big-ticket aisle but more of a discount store for players who could provide the best bang for the buck.
In some cases that means gambling on bounce-back seasons for players who were dealing with injuries, in others it means settling for an under-the-radar level of performance and certainty.
In most cases age is part of the equation, and part of the gamble as well, as teams would be betting on older free agents and going against the analytical trend in a sport that is getting younger and younger.
In any case, with the help of scouts' opinions, here are 10 potential value signings, and where they could land. No coincidence that the Mets, who are indicating they'll be looking for low-cost deals this winter, figure prominently.
1) Didi Gregorius
He's not in the bargain bin just yet, but the fact that the Yankees wouldn't make him a qualifying offer tells you they're not sure what to make of him after his production dropped dramatically in 2019, as he had a .276 on-base percentage and a .718 OPS.
However, Gregorius is still relatively young, turning 30 in February, so it's hard to believe his fall-off wasn't related to the effects of Tommy John surgery, which delayed his season debut until June 7. Just one season earlier he hit 27 home runs and put up an OPS of .829, and I'd bet he'll get back to at least something close to that level in 2020.
Who Signs Him? Reds. His lefty power will play at Great American Ballpark nearly as well as it did at Yankee Stadium.
2) Dellin Betances
Yes, there's plenty of gamble here, after Betances missed nearly the entire season due to a shoulder/lat injury, then suffered a partially torn Achilles tendon in his first game action of the season, hopping off the mound after striking out the only two batters he faced.
But he might be willing to sign a one-year to rebuild his value, which would make him worth the gamble at almost any reliever market price.
And if you believe that over-use is the biggest factor in the notorious year-to-year volatility of relievers, as many baseball people do, perhaps the year of relative inactivity serves Betances well for 2020.
Who Signs Him? Mets. Brodie Van Wagenen is dying to act boldly in some manner, and with limited money to spend this is one way for him to do it.
3) Cole Hamels
Again, injuries are at the root of any decision on this one-time All-Star who will pitch at age 36 next season. He was dominant for the Cubs through 16 starts last season, pitching to a 2.92 ERA, before he was sidelines with an oblique injury, and he was never the same afterward, pitching to a 5.79 ERA in the second half.
Still, he had righted himself until late-season shoulder fatigue again rendered him ineffective, and there is plenty of reason for teams to be wary of more injuries at this stage of his career. But there is some thought that pitching with lingering effects from the oblique injury led to the shoulder fatigue, and that Hamels still has the stuff and savvy to be an excellent pick-up on a short term deal.
Who Signs Him? Phillies. They really need two starters if they want to win big, and Hamels is the second of the two, it seems like a natural to bring back their former World Series MVP.
4) Howie Kendrick
Why not? It wasn't just the post-season where Kendrick shined. He hit .344 with an eye-popping .966 OPS for the Nationals, playing everywhere but shortstop at times. Always a natural contact hitter, Kendrick credited hitting coach Kevin Long for making adjustments to his stance and approach that paid obvious dividends.
He'll be 37 in July and injuries have cost him time the last few seasons, but there's no reason to think he'll suddenly stop hitting.
Who Signs Him? Nationals. He seemed to be a huge part of their chemistry, in addition to the big hits in October.
5) Will Harris
An unsung hero all season for the Astros out of the bullpen, Harris gave up the World Series-losing home run to Kendrick in Game 7, albeit on a knee-high cutter toward the outside corner that was anything but a mistake pitch. But that shouldn't deter teams from recognizing him as one of the most consistent relievers in recent years.
In fact, Harris has posted a 2.36 ERA in his five seasons with the Astros, covering 297 innings. He doesn't have the big fastball but gets weak contact with a very good curve ball and spin rate-related deception that should allow for more success next season at age 35.
Who Signs Him? Dodgers could use the certainty he provides, especially with the uncertainty surrounding Kenley Jansen.
6) Steve Cishek
Perennially underrated it seems, the sidearming righty reliever has a 2.59 ERA over his last four seasons, and though he's not a hard thrower, he creates deception with his delivery and his spin rate.
Cisheck, 33, can be vulnerable to lefthanded hitters at times, but for the season lefties hit only .216 against him last season, and righties .206.
Who Signs Him? The Mets are going to sign relievers, and Cishek would give them a different look they could use with their more traditional power arms.
7) Asdrubal Cabrera
He's not for everybody, as the Texas Rangers found out, but put Cabrera in the right spot on a winning team, and the former Met can still be a great fit as a utility guy who hits good pitching and makes plays in the infield with his great hands--despite his lack of range at age 34.
He proved that with the Nationals after they acquired him at the trade deadline, playing a lot of second base down the stretch and delivering some big hits for them.
Who Signs Him? The Rays could use his versatility and even use him as their DH at times.
8) Jason Castro
A lefthanded-hitting catcher with power, Castro commanded a three-year, $24 million deal with the Twins but then wound up as the backup to breakout star Mitch Garver last year.
Castro still hit 13 home runs in 275 plate appearances, to go with a .232 average and a .767 OPS. He's considered solid defensively, largely because of very good pitch-framing, despite slipping a bit overall last season that scouts think could have been the result of his first year back from knee surgery.
Who Signs Him? I'll go Mets again here, as Castro's .851 OPS vs. RH pitching would be an ideal complement to Wilson Ramos, who dominates lefty pitching.
9) Corey Dickerson
Injuries limited him to 78 games but Dickerson still put up a .906 OPS in 2019, as he was traded at mid-season from the Pirates to the Phillies.
Scouts see him as one of the better pure contact hitters in baseball, noting his relatively low total of 56 strikeouts in 279 plate appearances.
Who Signs Him? The Indians would be a good fit, as he could replace Yasiel Puig.
10) Cameron Maybin
Was his renassiance of sorts with the Yankees the real thing? That's the gamble a team would take in signing him, as Maybin rebounded from some light-hitting years to put up an OPS of .851 in 82 games after Brian Cashman signed him as emergency replacement due to injuries.
He'll fit best as a fourth outfielder, where his defense will be an asset even if his bat falls off a bit.
Who Signs Him? The Giants could be a good fit, as they need defense in that spacious outfield, plus they're short on outfielders.