We already looked at some minor-league contracts that have been winners for teams in the early stages of the 2018 season. (Starters; Relievers; Position Players.) Now, we’ll check in on some of the best low-cost, one-year MLB contracts that were handed out over the winter. We’ll start with the position players.
As with the minors deals, single-season MLB contracts leave teams free from worry about long-term entanglements. But the payout is measured in terms of months (at least, except in cases of players who are still eligible for arbitration). Now that we’re over a month into the season, a substantial portion of these contracts is already in the books.
Here are the one-year contracts signed by position players that have delivered the best value thus far, ordered from cheapest to most expensive:
- Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Mets ($545K): Despite only a .254 BABIP, Gonzalez is producing at a useful .247/.324/.438 clip with five home runs over 102 plate appearances. That’s not eye-popping output by any means, but the Mets can’t have reasonably hoped for much more given the league-minimum commitment that they made. Statcast, too, suggests there’s likely more in the tank, as A-Gon is credited with a .397 xwOBA and only carries a .318 wOBA.
- Leonys Martin, OF, Tigers ($1.75MM): He’s now out with injury, but Martin has been one of the more interesting budget signings of the winter. The talented defender and baserunner doesn’t need to do much at the plate to justify a roster spot, so his .294/.355/.508 output has more than justified the expenditure. He’s also showing a promising x/wOBA deficit (.057) that suggests he’s more than earning the slash with good contact. If he can get back to health and show that he’s still in good form with the bat, Martin could draw the attention of some contenders at the trade deadline.
- Nick Hundley, C, Giants ($2.5MM): It’s not that surprising to see a Giants catcher with a 156 wRC+ at this stage of the season, but nobody expected it to be Hundley rather than the man he backs up, superstar Buster Posey. There’s no real reason to believe that Hundley will sustain anything like his current output, which has come over just 57 plate appearances. But he is absolutely stinging the ball at present. Indeed, Statcast feels he has been rather unfortunate, valuing his batted-ball output at a .443 xwOBA that far exceeds his actual .388 wOBA. The Giants are surely pleased with their decision to allocate some precious luxury tax space to bring him back.
- Rene Rivera, C, Angels ($2.8MM): Known as a glove-first backstop, Rivera has similarly raced out of the gates. He’s slashing a robust .283/.340/.478 through fifty trips to the plate. In this case, the good fortune is apparent on the face of the stat sheet, as Rivera carries a .407 BABIP and .308 xwOBA. He won’t keep it up, but the added offense has been a nice bonus thus far for the Halos.
- Matt Adams, 1B/OF, Nationals ($4MM): If there’s one player on this list whose performance to date has arguably changed his outlook, it may be Adams — though, to be fair, we already held this debate about him last year. The big difference? The 29-year-old is not only mashing taters at a Ruthian rate (ten in 95 plate appearances) with the batted-ball output to match (.464 xwOBA), but is drawing walks in 14.7% of his plate appearances — more than double his career rate. He has been one of the most productive hitters in the game to this point of the season.
- Curtis Granderson, OF, Blue Jays ($5MM): The veteran outfielder seemed to fade late in 2017, but he’s back strong to begin the current campaign. There’s likely some batted-ball fortune (.419 BABIP) at play, but Granderson is walking at a career-high 19.1% rate and still delivering plenty of pop (.216 ISO). That makes his soaring strikeout rate (29.8%) easier to stomach.
- Jonathan Lucroy, C, Athletics ($6.5MM): His framing numbers still lag his once-outstanding levels, and the power may never fully return, but Lucroy is providing good value to the A’s after signing late. Thus far he owns a .289/.355/.392 batting line, which is above league average despite the fact that Lucroy has not yet hit a home run. His days as a star may be over, but it seems that Lucroy has figured out a way to get on base enough to remain a regular presence behind the dish, where he remains respected even if he no longer steals strikes with the best of them.
- Mike Moustakas, 3B, Royals ($6.5MM): This deal includes a mutual option, but there’s little reason to believe it’ll function as more than a means of pushing back some of the salary. Moose has picked up right where he left off last year, with ten long balls and a .292/.325/.569 slash over 154 plate appearances. It seems reasonable to anticipate that K.C. will get a shot at cashing him in for some young talent at the deadline.