We’ve spent some time looking at one-year MLB deals recently, with separate posts checking in on the highest-paid position players, starters, and relievers. More often than not, the results have been underwhelming for those players. There’s still time for turnarounds, but we’re already one quarter of the way through the full duration of those contracts.
Scan a bit further down the list in terms of dollars promised, however, and you’ll find some more promising outcomes. Indeed, quite a few players earning relative peanuts on one-year MLB contracts are turning in downright excellent results. (Note: we’re talking about deals that were guaranteed at the time of signing, not minor-league contracts.)
Here are the ten most impressive, ordered from most to least expensive:
Avisail Garcia, Rays, $3.5MM: An under-the-radar aspect of the Rays strong opening to the season has been the bargain-basement score of Garcia, who has stung the ball early on. He’s humming along at a .283/.343/.507 clip with eight long balls and three steals through 166 plate appearances. Contact quality will probably always be king for Garcia, who isn’t especially strikeout prone but doesn’t walk much. What’s he doing differently? I’m not exactly sure, but he’s barreling the baseball far more (14.3%) than ever before and is underperforming against Statcast’s expectations (.360 wOBA vs. .385 xwOBA).
Jonathan Lucroy, Angels, $3.35MM: The venerable backstop had fallen on hard times over the past two seasons. It was most noticeable at the plate, where the long-productive hitter fell into a deep hole, but the former pitch-framing posterboy also stopped winning strikes for his pitchers. The bounceback has been a rare bright spot in Anaheim, as Lucroy is slashing .265/.326/.439 and once again earning strong marks for his receiving ability behind the dish.
Adam Jones, Diamondbacks, $3MM: The esteemed veteran was all but frozen out of the free agent market this winter until the D-Backs came along with a decent offer. Jones hasn’t exactly morphed into a star, but he’s providing strong offensive output in an everyday role. Through 202 plate appearances, he’s slashing .265/.323/.476 with nine dingers, which is a rather vintage performance at the dish. That sort of production played better back when Jones was capable of playing center, but it’s good value regardless for a player who’s also a plus in the clubhouse.
James McCann, White Sox, $2.5MM: Perhaps the biggest surprise on this list when you look only at the top-line numbers, the younger of the two catching McCanns has been utterly on fire to open the season. He’s slashing a heretofore unheard of .340/.381/.538 in 113 plate appearances. Yeah, yeah … it’s not full-time action. And the regression warning lights are flashing, with a .421 BABIP and -.061 x/wOBA imbalance. McCann is also not getting the ravest of reviews in the framing arena. Still, at this cost, there’s no cause whatsoever for complaint. Bonus: McCann is arb eligible this fall.
Jordan Lyles, Pirates, $2.05MM: Many Pirates fans rolled their eyes and scoffed at this signing, and not without reason. It’s nice to find great value, but was Lyles really a buy-low candidate or just a cheap fill-in piece for a team that should be spending more? He has been one of the most cost-efficient starters in baseball thus far, providing 45 2/3 frames of sub-2.00 ERA ball in eight starts. His peripherals (9.3 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 43.0% GB%, 0.79 HR/9) don’t scream “ace,” but they do suggest he has been quite strong thus far. There’s good reason to think that Lyles has finally found himself after so many missed opportunities, with the Bucs benefiting.
Brian McCann, Braves, $2MM: The original behind-the-dish McCann hasn’t been flashy but has delivered everything the Braves hoped for when they brought him back to town. He’s producing right at the league average offensively through 92 plate appearances, grinding out tough at-bats by walking nearly as often as he’s striking out. The grizzled veteran is obviously valued as much or more for his ability to work with pitchers and nurture a youthful clubhouse as he is for his on-field contributions. It seems fair to say this is working out quite nicely thus far.
Neil Walker, Marlins, $2MM: If you look back at Walker’s career numbers, his rough 2018 season stands out as an outlier. Typically a steady producer at the plate, Walker looked like much the same hitter as ever but suffered from an unseasonably low .257 batting average on balls in play. This year, the BABIP gods have repaid him with a .363 mark, and his output has risen to a strong .290/.371/.427 level. Walker is helping hold down the fort for now in Miami but seems like a rather likely mid-season trade piece, as he ought to be able to help out a contending team as a multi-position infielder.
Blake Parker, Twins, $1.8MM: The Angels would take a do-over on their non-tender decision, as Parker has turned in 16 1/3 innings of 1.10 ERA ball for a bargain rate of pay. True, he’s carrying just 6.6 K/9 with 3.9 BB/9, but his strong 56.1% groundball rate is a nice base to work from. There’s really no reason to think that Parker will keep up the immaculate results, as he’s highly unlikely to carry a .195 BABIP and 96.2% strand rate all year long. Still, he has saved eight games for the streaking Twins and now seems to be a key part of the bullpen picture for a surefire postseason team. Parker is also eligible to be tendered a contract through arbitration one more time this fall.
Tim Beckham, Mariners, $1.75MM: It was a crafty move for M’s GM Jerry Dipoto to double down on the buy-low middle infielders. After acquiring J.P. Crawford, he grabbed a seat-warmer/bounceback piece in Beckham. That combination spread the bets and boosted the upside potential. It has been a hit so far, with Crawford hitting well at Triple-A and Beckham showing big thus far in the majors. Through 171 plate appearances, the former first overall pick owns a .259/.316/.506 slash with nine long balls. Regression may well be in store — Beckham is striking out at a 29.2% clip and hasn’t sustained prior breakouts — but it’s nice to have the production for the time being and he could still be flipped via trade or tendered for 2020.
Brett Anderson, Athletics, $1.5MM: You have to tip your cap to Anderson, who’s still pushing to get to the mound despite a lengthy run of injury woes. He has been able to stay active this year, turning in ten starts and 54 1/3 badly needed innings for the pitching-starved A’s, who brought him back on a late-breaking deal. Anderson isn’t exactly shoving, with a 4.14 ERA and just 4.6 K/9 against 3.3 BB/9 along with a sturdy 51.9% groundball rate, but thus far he’s tamping down the long balls and doing just enough to succeed. Not convinced of the value? Just take a look at the return other teams have received on higher-priced, one-year starters.