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Examining The Free Agent Wasteland

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Welcome to 2017. The hot stove has practically frozen over, and as of today there are 143 major league free agents still looking for their next team. More than 90 percent of those 143 players won’t make a difference on whatever team they end up with. The other 10 percent contains some players that can absolutely be game changers for whichever team digs out the money to sign them. To figure out the current unemployment situation, let’s take a look at MLBTR’s Top 50 Free Agents list to see who’s still cold calling executives around the league.

 

The Big Fish

Mark Trumbo - It feels like Trumbo has had interest from just about every team in the league so far this offseason. Coming off a season in which he hit for career-best power numbers while providing little offensive value otherwise, he declined the Orioles’ $17.2 million qualifying offer. He likely wants a multi-year deal, but as a 30 year old with little baserunning instinct and even less aptitude with a glove, and whose career high OPS is only .850 despite slugging over .450 in 5 of his 7 major league seasons, his options are limited. The draft pick attached to him as a result of the qualifying offer limits his market even further. At this point, he doesn’t even seem to be worth the 1 year qualifying offer.

Jose Bautista - Among all major league players who made at least 3000 plate appearances between 2010 and 2016, Bautista is #1 in HRs (249), #2 in walks (661), #5 in OPS (.929), and #9 in bWAR (34.8). Yet it’s 2017 and he’s still unsigned. Certainly the draft pick compensation attached to him has deterred some teams who may see the 36 year-old slugger as a player on the decline as Bautista seeks a multi-year deal. His former teammate Edwin Encarnacion took a shorter deal to reach the salary figure he was seeking. Perhaps Bautista should consider doing the same.

Jason Hammel - The two names above him on this list are obvious. Make no mistake though, Hammel belongs with the Big Fish. He shouldn’t be a free agent. Yes, he’s 34 and had some shoulder troubles at the end of 2016. However, before the shoulder issue he was carrying a sterling 2.76 ERA for the season, and racked up 5.9 WAR during his two-and-a-half years in Chicago. He was a fifth starter with #3 stuff for the Cubs, and his FIP has consistently outperformed his ERA throughout his career in some of the most daunting hitters’ parks in the majors. Since 2010, he’s produced more WAR than Jeremy Hellickson, Ivan Nova, and Jaime Garcia, all of whom were free agents that have already found new teams this offseason. Some team is going to get Hammel for cheap and they’re gonna love it.

 

The Dead Horse

Matt Wieters - Wieters is probably the only free agent who’s drawn more attention than Mark Trumbo. According to everyone, Wieters is signing everywhere. And it’s not surprising that he’s a one-man rumor mill. Catcher has always been one of the shallowest positions in baseball, and despite his mediocre framing ability and barely average bat, Wieters has still been one of the better catchers in the league throughout his career. There’s no question about his defensive talent. Among all players who have caught at least 5000 innings since Wieters’ debut in 2010, only Yadier Molina, Salvador Perez, and Buster Posey have more defensive runs saved, and only Molina has a higher overall defensive rating at catcher according to Fangraphs. Add that to a bat that hasn’t been much worse than league average, and Wieters becomes a somewhat attractive target for the numerous teams in the league with a tumultuous situation behind the plate.

 

The Relievers

Greg Holland - After two consecutive seasons in which he received Cy Young and MVP votes, Holland fell off a cliff in 2016. The talent is still there and he’s only 31. He’s a good bounceback candidate for a team willing to take a chance.

Travis Wood - Wood is a reliever, but not by choice. He opted not to return to the Cubs so that he could pursue a starting job elsewhere. He has decent stuff but hasn’t shown that he has the stamina for a full season of a starter’s workload as shown by his second half declines in 2012, 2013, and 2014 despite strong starts. He’ll find a place as an effective setup man somewhere.

Neftali Feliz - Following an absolutely disastrous 2015, Feliz bounced back nicely in 2016. Although he no longer looks like the dominant closer that we saw in his Rookie of the Year season in 2010, he still has flashes of that overpowering stuff that he showed in his early years with the Rangers. After his good showing in Pittsburgh in 2016, it won’t be long until a team realizes that he’s still a free agent.

Joe Blanton - Blanton is three years into his bullpen adventure now, and has been inconsistent to say the least. In 2015, he posted his best ERA since the World Series years in Philadelphia, and in 2016 was a key part of the Dodgers’ run deep into the postseason before getting absolutely shelled by the Cubs in the NLCS, giving up 7 runs in 3 innings, including a memorable grand slam by Miguel Montero. Despite his recent postseason struggles, Blanton is an above average reliever and will be an effective option for a contending bullpen.

 

"The Relievers"

Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo - These two were a big part of the Giants’ second half collapse in 2016. After near-dominant performances from both in the first half of the season, they both managed to completely fall apart after the All Star break, along with the rest of the San Francisco bullpen. Despite their second half struggles, Casilla has recorded 69 saves over the past two seasons, and Romo has generally been one of the best setup men in the majors since Casilla took over as closer. Don’t count on either of them to be as effective as the guy who replaced them in the Bay this offseason (Mark Melancon), but both are talented enough to contribute in 2017.

The Young and the Hitless

Michael Saunders - Saunders was hugely impressive in the first half of 2016, earning his first All Star appearance. After the break, however, he was borderline awful (this seems to be a trend among many of the names on this list). His second half OPS+ was less than half of what it was in the first part of the season, and he compiled just 214 plate appearances after the break. Regardless, he’s a replacement level defender in any outfield position with a slightly above average bat and just completed his age 30 season. He’ll land on his feet somewhere soon.

Chase Utley - Not many teams in the majors are in need of a 38-year-old second baseman who has been a worse than average defender for the better part of a decade now. His relative offensive resurgence in 2016 will earn him a one or two year deal somewhere, but don’t expect him to be a huge contributor wherever he ends up.

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Jason Gold
Braves fanatic. Raised in Turner Field
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