MLB hot stove: One under-the-radar free agent for each team to target this offseason
There's more to free agency than just Cole, Rendon and Strasburg
Now that free agency is underway, it's time to focus on the important things in life -- like which downmarket type your favorite team could sign this winter. Most anyone can find landing spots for the best of the best free agents, but what about those deep-dive types? Where will they land?
In an honest attempt to answer that question, we've put together a guide with a realistic free-agent addition for every team. Note that none of the players listed below appeared in the top 25 of our free-agent rankings -- this the B-side of the class. Also note that we're not saying these teams will sign these exact players; we do think, however, similar moves could happen.
Let's dive in.
|A number of important Diamondbacks decision makers, ranging from general manager Mike Hazen to skipper Torey Lovullo, are familiar with Brock Holt from their shared time in Boston. Holt would give Arizona a passable platoon option at the keystone, or, at minimum, a versatile bench piece who could offer insurance against Josh Rojas and/or Domingo Leyba stumbling. The Diamondbacks might prefer a right-handed version of Holt instead -- perhaps Sean Rodriguez?|
|The Braves, who have already brought back Tyler Flowers, figure to sniff around Yasmani Grandal as well as some of the other top available backstops. Alex Avila is part of that collection. His on-base skills and feel for hard contact against right-handed pitchers would make him a nature platoon partner for the right-handed Flowers. He'll come cheaper than Grandal, too, which could enable the Braves to pursue other upgrades, be it at third base or elsewhere.|
|Mike Elias and the Orioles aren't going to be big players in free agency, not this winter or anytime soon. Still it would make sense to ink Collin McHugh, who Elias is familiar with from their time together with Houston. McHugh could reestablish himself as a starter with the Orioles (from 2014-17 he started 102 times and posted a 106 ERA+ and 3.38 strikeout-to-walk ratio), and in doing so would give Elias a potential trade chip at the deadline.|
|Chaim Bloom has his work cut out for him this winter, as he tries to reduce Boston's luxury tax number to save his owner some coin. As such, the Red Sox don't figure to be super active on the free-agent front. First baseman Justin Smoak might be hard to pass on, though, given his on-base skills and strength, as well as the high marks he receives in the clubhouse.|
|The Cubs stand to lose Brandon Kintzler in free agency. If Jed Hoyer and crew want a cheap alternative, then Dan Otero would make sense. He generates a ton of ground balls and seldom walks anyone, but can't miss bats and has been prone to the long ball over the past season-plus. Otero should come cheap and has a history of being an effective reliever (he has a career 124 ERA+ in more than 400 innings), suggesting he'd be worth a spot in camp regardless of Kintzler.|
|Another pitch-to-contact ground ball hog, Brett Anderson's success was due in part to an Oakland infield that included Matt Chapman and Marcus Semien. The White Sox's infield defense doesn't get as much acclaim, but last year they converted grounders to outs at roughly the same clip as their Oakland counterparts. Anderson's past durability woes and present sustainability concerns are likely to limit his price, meaning the White Sox could add him to the mix without breaking their budget.|
|The Reds could theoretically fill their hole at second base with some combination of Josh VanMeter and Jose Peraza, but we would prefer them to add a veteran. Brian Dozier isn't what he once was -- a downballot MVP vote recipient -- but he's 32 years old and coming off a decent season, during which he homered 20 times and posted a 95 OPS+. The Reds could do worse.|
|Whether or not Cleveland's ownership permits the front office to spend money is anyone's guess. Kole Calhoun figures to come fairly cheap, however, and would fit the roster as a solid, not great corner-outfield option. Admit it, you can already picture Calhoun in a Cleveland uniform.|
|The Rockies are always good for an odd decision or two over the course of an offseason. Adding Wilmer Flores wouldn't qualify. Flores totes a solid right-handed stick and has experience at both first and second base. The Rockies might end up having lefty batters starting at each position, making Flores a sensible complement to them in a platoon role.|
|A rebuilding team signing a 35-year-old reliever doesn't make sense at first blush. But Yoshihisa Hirano would provide the Tigers with a potential trade asset if he could find himself pitching more like 2018 than 2019. It's worth noting that he retained his swing-and-miss splitter last season, and that his peripherals suggested his 4.75 ERA was a worse fate than he merited. Between Opening Day and the deadline, he could serve in a high-leverage role for the Tigers.|
|If the Astros are going to lose Joe Smith to free agency, then signing Jay Jackson to replace him would make sense. Jackson held right-handed hitters to a .606 OPS in 2019, thanks in large part to a mid-80s slider that induced whiffs on more than half the swings taken against it by right-handed hitters. Jackson doesn't have Smith's track record, but he ought to come cheap and would represent the kind of savvy pickup that the AL champs are known for making.|
|This season, the Royals helped Homer Bailey get back on the map. Now, how about doing the same for Rick Porcello? Porcello had a miserable season, yet there's some reason to think that getting him away from Fenway Park will help. Both his strikeout-to-walk and spin rate numbers suggest he's better than he's shown, and at the absolute least he's proven to be a durable quantity, having started at least 32 times in each of the past four seasons. The Royals aren't going anywhere anytime soon, but someone has to take the ball every five days. Why not Porcello?|
|As the Angels seek pitching help this winter, our recommendation would be to give Chad Bettis some consideration. After all, it's almost always worth looking into any pitcher who has had success in Coors Field -- and Bettis, for his career, has a 93 ERA+, suggesting he's been roughly a league-average starter despite pitching only for the Rockies. Additionally, Bettis has experience as both a starter and reliever, and should come cheap as a finesse right-hander who lives and dies by weak ground contact. He'd probably become best pals with Andrelton Simmons.|
|The Dodgers might prefer to make their splash through the trade market, yet adding Hector Rondon to their middle-relief corps would be a standard piece of Andrew Friedman depth-building. Rondon over the last two seasons has averaged 60 innings, a 127 ERA+, and a 2.88 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He doesn't have the hype of some of the other Astros' relievers hitting the open market, but he's been an effective pitcher and would fit in with the Dodgers.|
|There are a lot of reasons to be skeptical about Avisail Garcia remaining productive, beginning with the fact his underlying measures were essentially the same year-to-year, despite the change in surface-level numbers. But the Marlins could use an outfielder like nobody's business, and Garcia figures to come much cheaper than most of the other options available.|
|The Brewers are one of the most opportunistic teams in baseball. In a weird way, Michael Pineda's PED-related suspension could be viewed as a chance for them to land a solid No. 4 starter for less than he would normally receive. Pineda will miss the first month-plus of the year to complete his punishment, so consider that a sin tax (of sorts) on whomever signs him.|
|Speaking of opportunistic teams and No. 4 starters, Julio Teheran has had his velocity dip to the upper-80s these past two seasons. Minnesota pitching coach Wes Johnson happens to be good at helping pitchers find extra juice, and the Twins surely need some additional starters, as they stand to lose 80 percent of their rotation to free agency. Ergo, Teheran to the Twins makes sense.|
|The Mets probably won't pony up for Didi Gregorius, but they should consider inking Jose Iglesias to be their new everyday shortstop. Iglesias remains a high-skilled defender who is coming off a decent offensive season by his standards. Signing Iglesias would permit the Mets to improve their defense and fill another hole by sliding the speedy Amed Rosario to center field.|
|A late addition to the free-agent pool, Eric Thames would provide the Yankees with a capable left-handed stick who can platoon with Luke Voit at the cold corner and/or see action at DH and -- should the need arise -- in the outfield. There's attrition risk here due to Thames' swing-and-miss, but his on-base skills and well-above-average strength would fit in well.|
|The A's are always seeking value. Tony Cingrani didn't pitch in 2019 due to injury, but in his previous three seasons had struck out more than 25 percent of the batters he faced as a reliever. That includes more than 30 percent of the lefties he'd seen. The A's have been willing to take shots on left-handed arms like Jake Diekman and Ryan Buchter in recent years. Why not Cingrani? Why not now?|
|The Phillies need to address their pitching staff in a major way this winter. Adding Cory Gearrin would be doing so in a minor way. He's a fine right-handed specialist who has bounced around in recent years. Joe Girardi would have to be careful with his deployment -- particularly in light of the three-batter minimum -- but he could be a useful middle reliever with the right oversight.|
|No matter who ends up running and/or managing the Pirates, it's time for them to return to the reclamation business. That means, in this exercise, trying to keep Nate Jones healthy. Jones has thrown 52 innings over the last three seasons, and has topped 50 innings in a season once in his past six tries. If the Pirates could somehow keep him on the mound and get him back to his old standing, he could be a solid value get who would come in handy at the deadline.|
|Hey, it would make that Padres-Mariners rivalry more interesting, right? Felix Hernandez's main problem this season was his fastball. Opponents hit .362 against it; they hit no better than .246 against his curveball, changeup or slider -- and they whiffed on at least 20 percent of their swings taken against each of those pitches. Hernandez threw around 42 percent fastballs last season, we'd like to see him go full Tanaka by lowering that to the 30-to-35 percent range.|
|Farhan Zaidi's first full winter at the helm with the Giants should be interesting. Here, we're pairing Zaidi with one of his former Dodgers charges in Brandon Morrow. Morrow has thrown just 30 innings since leaving L.A. at the end of the 2017 season. He's always battled injuries, but signing him to an incentives-laden one-year deal could pay off the same way it did back then.|
|Jerry Dipoto likes to talk about how the Mariners are swimming in this pond or that pond, and how they're all about giving unheralded players opportunities they might not have received otherwise. It sounds good in theory, but it's also an excuse for not spending money. Here, we're pairing Dipoto with Wade Miley, a former Mariner who should come cheap after a disaster September. Miley's presence wouldn't stop Dipoto from swimming in whatever ponds he wanted -- he would, however, provide the Mariners with a potential trade chip if he pitched well.|
|The Cardinals are making it sound like they aren't inclined to spend much money this winter. Adam Warren would come cheap and has a history of being a useful reliever. Should the rabbit ball go away, he'll probably resume being effective enough to lock down a middle-relief gig.|
|It's possible that the Rays are outbid for the services of Drew Pomeranz, who pitched fantastically for the Brewers out of the bullpen. But Pomeranz is Tampa Bay's type in that he spams the opposition with a high-spin fastball and also has a quality breaking ball. The Rays' bullpen-heavy ways could always use another high-quality arm; he has one.|
|The Rangers are all but certain to add a mid-rotation starter this winter. Homer Bailey isn't that. He is, nonetheless, a competent veteran coming off a decent season. The Rangers could slot him in at the back of their rotation and feel OK about it until they can replace him or spin him off at the deadline for a trifling prospect.\|
|You can always count on a Mark Shapiro-led team to go dumpster diving for relievers. Anthony Swarzak hasn't pitched too well over the past two seasons. Yet his main issue has been the long ball. The Blue Jays might subscribe to the idea that the ball will be altered again, or that Swarzak's home-run rate is due for regression. Either way, he'd come cheap.|
|The Nationals have already declined Yan Gomes' option, leaving them in the market for another catcher to team with Kurt Suzuki. Jason Castro isn't the defensive whiz he used to be, but he's fine back there and competent with the stick against right-handed pitching, meaning he would fit in fine as part of a veteran timeshare.|
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