Every notable name that was a free agent when the market opened three weeks ago remains on the board in what has been the most painstakingly slow offseason in recent memory. There are numerous theories as to what’s holding up the top end of the free-agent market, but at some point, even with the top names lingering on the board, the lower tiers of free agency should begin moving.
While the entrants on this list haven’t grabbed many headlines early in free agency, each is coming off a quietly strong season and has a shot at landing a multi-year deal or, at worst, providing surplus value on a one-year pact. Black Friday and Cyber Monday have mercifully come and gone, but here’s a look at some perhaps undervalued and underappreciated players available in free agency:
- Yusmeiro Petit, RHP: Petit has had to settle for a one-year contract and a minor league deal over the past two offseasons, but his 2017 performance should generate much more robust interest. The 33-year-old led MLB relievers in innings this past year while pitching to a pristine 2.76 ERA with 10.0 K/9 against 1.8 BB/9. He’s worked as a swingman, a starter and a high-leverage arm in late innings and somewhat anonymously set a big league record for most consecutive batters retired while pitching with the Giants. Petit lacks the blistering velocity that many of his late-inning peers boast, but he’s posted a 3.59 ERA and 3.40 FIP in 399 innings dating back to 2012.
- Joe Smith, RHP: Smith was one of the best one-year signings in baseball this past season, though his strong work with both the Blue Jays and Indians flew largely under the radar. Like Petit, Smith lacks premium velocity but nonetheless posted elite K/BB numbers. In 54 innings, the sidearmer posted an impressive 11.7 K/9 against 1.8 BB/9 en route to a 3.33 ERA. Many would be surprised to note that Smith has only posted an ERA north of 3.60 once (3.83 in 2010) and boasts a 2.97 ERA over an 11-year career. His 37.8 percent chase rate and 11.4 percent swinging-strike rate in 2017 were far and away the best marks of his career. Smith will turn 34 next spring and doesn’t even average 90 on his fastball, but he continually posts effective numbers.
- Matt Albers, RHP: Another mid-30s reliever? Another mid-30s reliever. Albers struggled through a disastrous 2016 season but rebounded with a 1.62 ERA in 61 1/3 frames for the Nationals this past season — his second sub-2.00 ERA in three years. The righty averaged 9.3 K/9 against 2.5 BB/9 with a 51 percent grounder rate in 2017, serving as the Nationals’ most reliable reliever over the course of the year. Albers will be 35 in January, but his velocity and swinging-strike rates sat at their best levels since 2013 in what proved to be a terrific rebound season.
- Brian Duensing, LHP: Duensing will turn 35 in February and doesn’t have a lengthy track record, but he enjoyed his best full season as a reliever with the Cubs in ’17, tossing 62 1/3 innings with 8.8 K/9, 2.6 BB/9 and a 48.6 percent ground-ball rate en route to a 2.74 ERA. Pitch values from Baseball Info Solutions pegged his sinker/two-seamer and his changeup as his two best offerings, and they were two of his least-used pitches. If he can sustain their effectiveness over a greater usage rate, Duensing could enjoy similar success in 2018.
- Austin Jackson, OF: He’s not the star he once was, but Jackson will turn just 31 in February and somewhat quietly rebounded with an excellent season for the Indians in a part-time role. In 318 trips to the plate, Jackson slashed .318/.387/.482 with seven homers, 19 doubles and three triples. Jackson’s production was buoyed by a .385 BABIP that he surely won’t repeat, but he’s always handled lefties well (with the exception of 2016) and made significant K/BB gains against southpaws this past season. Jackson may have fallen into the part-time mold sooner in his career than he hoped, but a fourth outfielder that can play all three spots and mash lefties still carries value, as Chris Young and Rajai Davis can attest.
- Cameron Maybin, OF: Maybin is somewhat similar to Jackson in that he’s a right-handed-hitting fourth outfield option that can play all three spots, but he doesn’t come with Jackson’s track record against lefties, so he doesn’t fit as nicely into a platoon. Maybin’s baserunning, however, remains elite — as evidenced by the 33 steals he tallied in 2017 despite collecting just 450 PAs. He’s also improved his walk rate in three straight seasons (11.3 percent in ’17) and should still be capable of above-average glovework in the outfield corners while also handling some time in center field.
- Chris Iannetta, C: Big seasons from Alex Avila and Welington Castillo generated far more notice than Iannetta’s under-the-radar campaign in Arizona. He’ll turn 35 in April but still put together a very strong .254/.354/.511 slash with 17 homers and 19 doubles in just 316 PAs. Iannetta’s 24 percent caught-stealing rate wasn’t great but was in line with his career mark (25 percent), and he posted very strong framing marks for the second time in the past three seasons. Avila, Castillo and Jonathan Lucroy get the most attention on the market, but a club looking for a quality backup to help guide a young staff or mentor a young starting catcher could get a bargain if Iannetta can come anywhere close to his ’17 output.
- Adam Lind, 1B: Lind hammered righties at a .303/.364/.534 clip in 269 plate appearances last season, but age (34), a longstanding struggle against left-handed pitching and the flooded market for platoon first basemen should suppress his earning power despite solid on-field value in the right role. He should earn a raise from last year’s $1.5MM base salary with the Nats, but Lind could still be had as a nice bargain for a team with a right-handed platoon option. He did fake it in left field for nearly 200 innings last season as well, but most clubs will likely view him as a first-base/DH only candidate.