Everyone loves a bargain. That's true every day, but it's especially true today, when it becomes acceptable to partake in unchecked consumerism.
As is the tradition here at CBS Sports, we're using Black Friday as a convenient framing device to explore some potential free-agent bargains. Below, you'll find four players we suspect will outperform their next contracts.
Before we proceed, a word of warning: this column is for the seamhead sickos. You aren't going to find obvious rebound candidates like Luis Severino or Tim Anderson in this column. Here, we play on hard mode. That hasn't prevented us from correctly identifying Carlos Estévez, Pierce Johnson, Jakob Junis, Luis Garcia, Josh Harrison, and Anthony DeSclafani as bargains in past editions.
Who will join that group in 2024?
1. Jacob Stallings, C
Stallings is coming off a miserable two-season run with the Marlins. He's nearing his 34th birthday. His framing grades have slipped since he won the Gold Glove in 2021. Despite all of those reasons why he should be written off as a past-his-prime fringe contributor, we detect some reason for optimism.
Stallings offers an OK foundation of offensive skills, beginning with a disciplined approach and a decent feel for contact. He has one other notable thing going for him, too. Research indicates that a batter's exit velocity on four-seam fastballs is a good predictor of future average exit velocity. That's good news for Stallings, whose 92 mph average exit velocity on four-seamers put him in line with J.T. Realmuto and Willson Contreras, among others.
We don't believe for a second that Stallings will perform on Realmuto or Contreras' level in 2024. We do think it's possible that he hits more like he did during the late stages of his Pirates career. Given the state of the free-agent catching market, that potential should be enough to earn him another gig.
2. Travis Jankowski, OF
We originally ranked Jankowski as a top-50 free agent, but he was eventually bumped off that list by some unexpected option decisions.
You can argue that Jankowski's inclusion comes a year too late -- he established a new career-high in Wins Above Replacement last season as a member of the World Series champion Rangers. Our counter is that we think he could remain effective because of how well his skill set aligns with the New Game.
Jankowski is a patient slap hitter with an appreciable talent for spraying low-flying batted balls back up the middle. He's extremely fast, and last season he went 19 for 20 on stolen-base attempts. Defensively, he's best deployed in left, where he's an asset despite a below-average arm.
If that sounds like a spare outfielder to you, well … that's the point. Jankowski isn't going to receive a lucrative multi-year deal to be someone's Plan A. What we're banking on by including him here is that he'll slot into a part-time role and outproduce relative to expectations, if largely on a rate-stat basis.
3. Cole Waites, RHP
One trend in pitching is the desire for hurlers who throw rising fastballs from lower arm slots. Waites meets both criteria. He imparts more than 17 inches of induced vertical break on his mid-90s heater, and he does so while releasing it about 65 inches from the ground. If he qualified, that would put him around the 80th percentile for the former and the 20th percentile for the other.
Factor in a slider that generated more than 45% whiffs last season, and you have the making for an interesting right-handed relief pitcher.
The catch with Waites is his control. He walked 27 batters last season in 32 minor-league appearances. The year prior, he walked 22 batters in 41 innings. We recognize the absurdity of clamoring for a pitcher to get back to walking only 4.8 batters per nine innings, but we think that Waites could be a surprisingly effective middle-relief option if he can do just that.
The Giants non-tendered Waites earlier this month, suggesting he could be had on a minor-league pact.
4. Freddy Pacheco, RHP
Pacheco didn't pitch last season, and he might not pitch next season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in June. (These days, pitchers require about 14 months, tail to tip, giving him little margin for error if he wants to participate in the 2024 campaign.) The Tigers understandably non-tendered him to clear a spot on their 40-player roster. We think Pacheco has a chance to become a nifty long-term addition for some patient club.
The last time Pacheco pitched (then as a member of the Cardinals organization), he was showing off high-leverage stuff. We're talking a mid-90s heater with big-time rise and a bullet slider with a well-above-average whiff rate.
If Pacheco can make a full recovery, and perhaps find a little more consistency with his location, he could end up pitching late in games.