By: Chris Larson
Every offseason, you can look at the free agent class and begin classifying the group based on different tiers. This offseason is no different and in fact, there are clear tiers of the most exceptional guys that will cost a premium, guys that are middle of the pack but have the potential to have some serious impact on their new team, and guys that are going to come on the cheap but have the chance to provide a team with some serious punch.
For example, when you look at this year's class of free agents, right-handers Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg as well as the likes of third baseman, Anthony Rendon, can easily be put in that first tier because they're going to cost a premium. Then you move down below that and you will find guys like left-handed starting pitchers Madison Bumgarner, Dallas Keuchel, and Hyun-Jin Ryu, relievers Drew Pomeranz and Will Harris, and position players like third baseman Mike Moustakas and Josh Donaldson as well as outfielders Marcell Ozuna and Nicholas Castellanos. All of those individuals can be put into the level of guys that aren't necessarily the cream of the crop, but have significant potential to really impact their new team's chances of competing at the big league level.
However, below both of those classes are another group of individuals that are likely going to come on the cheap or won't necessarily command the type of contract that some of the aforementioned names will. That's where some teams might end up going shopping because they see terrific value opportunities to not only sign impactful players, but do it in a way where they can spread out their payroll in multiple guys instead of signing one or two of the big fish and stopping there.
With that being said, here are ten free agents this offseason that can be put in that "Bang for Your Buck" shopping cart.
* All stats listed under a players name are for the 2019 regular season. *
1. SP Cole Hamels (Age 36)
ERA+: 117, WAR: 3.0
This past week, it was reported that Cole Hamels and his camp were marketing the idea of the left-hander pitching for "another five seasons", but that seems unrealistic the way the past few seasons have gone. Regardless, Hamels is still a great opportunity for teams looking to inject a veteran presence in their starting rotation and need backend depth on a short-term deal. When we say short-term, probably two years but no longer than three, would be ideal for many interested teams. In fact, the Philadelphia Phillies have already reportedly come out saying they have interest in Hamels and would love for him to return to the City of Brotherly Love. It seems as though the interest is mutual at this point for both sides, as Hamel reportedly said he would love to return there as well, and the Phillies definitely need to focus on bolstering their starting rotation this offseason. Last season with the Chicago Cubs, Hamels brought back his classic changeup to his pitch repertoire and that could be a positive sign heading into this offseason as he looks to land a big league opportunity.
2. SS Didi Gregorious (Age 30)
OPS+: 87, WAR: 0.6
Of the names on this list, shortstop Didi Gregorious is likely to be the guy that ends up commanding the most money and maybe getting the longest deal. That depends on if teams are sold that he is fully healthy after returning from Tommy John surgery halfway through last year and are willing to commit to him in their shortstop position for the next handful of seasons. Grgorious, who will turn 30 in February, could very well still have a few good seasons left in the tank and when he is healthy, he is able to play both sides of the baseball extremely well. It was only a year ago that Gregorious finished the season with the highest Offensive rating (17.5), the highest Defensive rating (9.8), and the highest WAR (4.7) value of his big league career. A team like the Cincinnati Reds could see great potential in Gregorious and slide Freddy Galvis over to second base on a full-time basis which would bring about more clarity to their middle infield picture. Furthermore, it is not out of the realm of possibilities, that the New York Yankees reunite with Gregorious either on a short-term, lower AAV type of contract. The Yankees have not publicly come out and stated whether or not Gregorious is in their long-term plans, but it definitely makes sense from here.
3. SS Jose Iglesias (Age 30)
OPS+: 85, WAR: 1.5
If a team fails to land the aforementioned Didi Gregorious, then Jose Iglesias is going to be a tremendous back-up option. In fact, when you look around baseball among shortstops last year, Jose Iglesias stood out in his own individual way especially from a defensive perspective. Among qualified shortstops around baseball during the 2019 regular season, Iglesias ranked eighth in Defensive Runs Saved (8), had the seventh highest Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) of the position group at (5.9), and concluded the season with an overall Defensive rating of (11.9). His defensive instincts and abilities might not necessarily be as elite as other well-known shortstops around baseball like Javier Baez of the Chicago Cubs, Trevor Story of the Colorado Rockies, or Marcus Semien of the Oakland Athletics, but he is still very athletic in his own way and could provide some type of solution for a team in need of a defensive-first type of shortstop in their infield. If the Cleveland Indians end up trading shortstop Francisco Lindor this offseason, maybe they end up going down the road of signing Jose Iglesias to keep their competitive window open for a few more years.
4. 1B Ryan Zimmerman (Age 35)
OPS+: 86, WAR: -0.2
Ryan Zimmerman took sort of a big step backward from where he was at the conclusion of the 2018 regular season and part of that is likely due to his age, but don't sleep on the type of veteran leadership and impact that Zimmerman that can bring to a young team both on and off the field. Zimmerman is coming off a season in which he helped the Washington Nationals win a World Series Championship and knows what it takes to win so he would be a terrific mentor for one of the rebuilding teams around baseball that might be looking for first base help. As someone who was drafted by the Washington Nationals in the first round of the 2005 Amateur Draft, it's going to be quite different for Zimmerman assuming that the Nationals don't bring him back and let him walk in free agency which seems to be the way things are looking right now. If that happens, then a perfect destination could be the Toronto Blue Jays or Kansas City Royals, two teams that are in the midst of their rebuilds but need the extra depth at first base and could certainly benefit from the leadership that Zimmerman would bring everyday.
5. RP Brandon Morrow (Age 35)
DID NOT PITCH
For a team that is looking for additional bullpen depth, right-hander Brandon Morrow could be a great option. Morrow is coming off a year, in which he missed the entire 2019 regular season, because he had to recover from right elbow debridement that he had done prior to the start of the season. As a result, it could take some for Morrow to work out the rust and get back on track, but he was definitely effective for the Chicago Cubs during the 2018 season. During that season, Morrow finished the year with a 1.47 ERA over 30.2 innings of work along with (31) strikeouts, a (2.96) Fielding Independent Percentage, and a Runs Allowed Per 9 value of (1.47). If interested teams feel as though Morrow is able to take the mound healthy again, then someone could take a gamble on him this offseason and it could end up being a very good value move. Another possibility is that Morrow ends up signing a, minor-league deal with a team that consists of an invitation to major league Spring Training camp, and allows him the opportunity to win a spot in that respective teams bullpen. Either way, it's a signing that includes big risk, but one that could equally be just as impactful and valuable.
6. SP Tanner Roark (Age 33)
ERA+: 103, WAR: 2.0
If there is a team out there looking for back of the rotation depth (looking at you New York Mets), then Tanner Roark is going to be your guy. Additionally, Roark might even fit well within the blue print of a rebuilding team or one that is full of young, unproven arms that might need some veteran stability within it. Based on his age and overall peripherals from last season, it's hard to imagine that Tanner Roark is going to be able to do better than a one-year deal. Some team might be willing to extend that another year, but he might be better off going year-to-year as a free agent and try to prove his worth that way. Last season, Roark got traded prior to the July 31st Trade Deadline from the Cincinnati Reds to the Oakland Athletics and provided the Athletics with some nice depth down the stretch. Now, the numbers weren't necessarily that impressive (4.58 ERA over 55.0 IP, 8.2 K/9), but it was still a serviceable workload for the Athletics and provided them with some stability among all of their young arms. Roark might end up being signed by a team, such as the Detroit Tigers or Seattle Mariners, that might need an arm and then end up getting swapped come mid-season once again.
7. OF Yasiel Puig (Age 29)
OPS+: 100, WAR: 1.4
A couple of seasons ago, it looked like this could be the offseason where outfielder, Yasiel Puig, really cashed in big time, but since then he's had his struggles and hasn't necessarily lived up to every expectation that teams had for him. However, he still has enough impact in his bat to make a difference within any team's starting lineup and is still young enough where he could potentially get even better within the next few years. Last season, Puig recorded the second most plate appearances (611) of his seven-year big league career, finished the season with a (.458) slugging percentage), and had (24) home runs and (84) RBI over that span. For a team that is looking for a rightfielder, Puig might be very attractive and it's not out of the question that he could potentially end up with a long-term deal. For instance, if the Miami Marlins feel as though now is the time to go in on someone that can become a part of their core moving forward, maybe they sign Puig and utilize him to reunite the fanbase in the Miami area and as a marketing asset. Miami is very Cuban-decent and it would make a lot of sense for the franchise to try and find a player like Puig to connect with fans and the local community alike.
8. SP Alex Wood (Age 29)
ERA+: 79, WAR: -0.3
Considering the amount of teams that are in the market for starting pitching this offseason, it's almost a guarantee that there's going to be at least a few teams interested in Alex Wood. Wood is coming off a season in which he allowed the highest Runs Allowed Per 9 value of his big league career (6.31) and allowed (23) earned runs over the span of (35.2) innings of work, but it's important to remember that Wood missed the entire first half of the season recovering from a back injury. Regardless, if a team feels as though his health checks out just fine, they should be willing to give Wood at least a one or two-year deal to help fulfill their starting rotation needs. According to computer projections, Wood is expected to post a 4.04 ERA over 89.0 innings pitched next season meaning that he could be a hybrid option for the team that signs him. That team might utilize Wood in at the back end of the starting rotation and then have him pitch in relief as needed which could boost his overall value. A return to the Queen City with the Cincinnati Reds isn't out of the question, but there should be at least some favorable interest from a number of different contending teams.
9. 2B Jason Kipnis (Age 33)
OPS+: 84, WAR: 0.5
For a team that is in need of help at second base, Jason Kipnis could be a very good option. Kipnis, who was drafted by the Cleveland Indians during the second round of the 2009 Amateur Draft, still has the ability to produce healthy offensive numbers. During the 2019 regular season, Kipnis posted a .245/.304/.410 batting line over 511 plate appearances with (17) home runs, (65) RBI, (40) walks, and (88) strikeouts. Health has become a bigger concern for Kipnis over the last couple of seasons than it was previously which contributed to him playing in only (121) games last season and (90) games during the 2017 regular season. Still though, for teams that need a value option at second base and want to increase the amount of veteran presence in their clubhouse, Kipnis would be a good pickup option. When you start to survey potential teams that could use Kipnis at second base, there's a few contending teams like the Milwaukee Brewers and Washington Nationals that standout, but a reunion with the Cleveland Indians is possible as well if the Indians are willing to sign him. Cleveland has a need at second base and both sides are very familiar with one another.
10. RF Kole Calhoun (Age 33)
OPS+: 108, WAR: 2.3
The ball might have been juiced during the 2019 regular season, but Calhoun still finished the year with the highest slugging percentage (.467) of his eight-year big league career. The power is still there from all accounts, as illustrated by Calhoun's Isolated Power value of (.236), and he has plenty of discipline at the plate as indicated by his walk rate of (11.1%) from last year. In the right environment and with the right team, Kole Calhoun should be able to thrive and provide some valuable offense over the next few seasons. While he might not necessarily get a multi-year deal in free agency, Calhoun should still be able to land a job at the big league level and could end up being yet another valuable pickup. The Los Angeles Angels haven't stated publicly whether they would like to resign Calhoun or not, but they did exercise the $1 million dollar buyout option on him for the 2020 regular season instead of bringing him back at $14 million dollars. Granted, that doesn't mean that his tenure is done in Anaheim by any means as the team could bring him back through free agency on a short-term, lower AAV contract. However, all of that depends on what the Angels end up doing in other areas of the free agent market such as in the starting pitching department.