5 underrated free agents on the market this offseason

While the world waits on the Shohei Otani situation, the rest of free agency goes on in Major League Baseball. General managers just finished meeting in Orlando, with very little movement to speak of. In just a few weeks, they’ll be back in Florida for the winter meetings. By then, the hot stove should be burning with rumors about Jake Arrieta, J.D. Martinez, and Yu Darvish.

But what about the lesser-known guys? If your favorite team doesn’t have the money to spend on Darvish or Martinez but needs to fill holes on the roster, here are five guys they could be looking at.

  • Logan Morrison

The big name on the market at first base is Eric Hosmer, whom some have projected at getting more than $150 million. Hosmer would be a good choice for a team in need of a first baseman with plenty of money to spend. For teams with a tight budget and several areas of need, Logan Morrison might be the better option.

Morrison had a career year in 2017, hitting 38 home runs with a 135 OPS+ and 3.6 WAR. In comparison, Hosmer had a 132 OPS+ and 4.0 WAR. There are some questions about whether Morrison can repeat such a season, given his struggles with left-handed pitchers throughout his career — that makes him a risk. However, MLB Trade Rumors projects that Morrison will get a three-year, $36 million contract while it has Hosmer at six years, $132 million.

For three fewer years of commitment while saving nearly $100 million, some team will end up with Morrison. Even if Hosmer repeats his performance the next three years and totals 12 WAR over that period, is the extra $100 million worth it if Morrison posts between 7-10 WAR over the same time span? The potential gap between the two players’ performances isn’t nearly as big as the gulf between their future salaries.

  • Pat Neshek

Funky, side-winding, right-handed reliever Pat Neshek is on the free-agent market, and once again he’s not going to get the kind of contract that blows anyone away. But considering his remarkable consistency, he’s probably going to be a bargain in 2018. MLB Trade Rumors has Neshek at two years, $12 million, which is insanely low when compared to the money Wade Davis or even Addison Reed will likely earn.

Neshek is 37 years old, which is a factor, but he also has a 2.50 ERA with 8.5 K/9 and just 1.8 BB/9 in 291 1/3 innings over the last six seasons. In 2017, Neshek threw 62 1/3 innings over 71 appearances, posting a 1.59 ERA, 1.86 FIP, just three home runs allowed, and 10 K/9 to 0.9 BB/9.

The right-hander has been a lot tougher on right-handed batters than lefties in his career, which makes him more of a situational reliever than a setup man or a closer – Neshek has just eight career saves. A team aiming to shore up the seventh inning will probably find Neshek to be a major bargain for the production level.

Sep 27, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Rockies relief pitcher Pat Neshek (37) pitches in the ninth inning against the Miami Marlins at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 27, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Rockies relief pitcher Pat Neshek (37) pitches in the ninth inning against the Miami Marlins at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

  • Chris Tillman

Baltimore Orioles starter Chris Tillman was once regarded as one of the best pitching prospects in the game. By the time he turned 25, Tillman had developed into a solid starter despite the Orioles’ history of bungling their young pitchers. From 2012-2016, he started 143 games for Baltimore and posted a 3.81 ERA, 4.27 FIP, and tossed 844.2 innings.

But shoulder problems destroyed Tillman’s 2017, leaving him with just 93 innings pitched, a 7.84 ERA, and way too many walks (51) with not enough strikeouts (63). Not good timing for a 29-year-old heading to free agency.

If Tillman is actually healthy in 2018, however, he could be an excellent addition to somebody’s starting rotation for way under market value. MLB Trade Rumors has him at a one-year, $10 million deal, but even that dollar amount seems high. Imagine what a healthy Tillman could do on a team with a pitching coach such as Jim Hickey, Mike Maddux, or Larry Rothschild?

  • Jon Jay

Outfielder Jon Jay very quietly had a solid season for the Chicago Cubs in 2017. He often gets overlooked because he’s not a great defender, doesn’t have stolen-base speed, and won’t hit many home runs, but Jay does a lot of little things. He makes plenty of contact, gets on base, and runs the bases well. He played for the Cubs on a one-year, $8 million deal, and it seems fair to assume he’ll get something similar for 2018.

For his career, Jay has a .288 batting average and .355 OBP. He topped both of those numbers in 2017, hitting .296 with a .374 OBP in 433 plate appearances. He spent much of his time in the leadoff spot ahead of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, but he also performed well coming off the bench. Jay had a .391 OBP in 46 plate appearances as a pinch-hitter and a .435 OBP in 62 plate appearances as a sub.

Jay is no superstar, but he’s not going to cost a lot of money and is the classic “glue guy.” His teammates think highly of him, he’s extremely unselfish, and he’s willing to do whatever is asked of him. Every team needs a guy like that, and it’s an extra bonus when he can actually hit, too.

  • Welington Castillo

For a while, Welington Castillo has been one of the more underrated catchers in the game. He has a strong arm and caught 24 of 49 attempted base-stealers in 2017. Castillo does well blocking pitches, allowing only five passed balls in 88 games behind the plate. While he was not a good pitch-framer early in his career, Castillo has improved in that category over the last few seasons.

Castillo is easily one of the top 10 offensive catchers in the game, posting a 113 wRC+ in 2017. That was seventh-best in Major League Baseball among catchers with at least 350 plate appearances. He hit 20 home runs in just 96 games, and although he tends to miss a decent chunk of time each season – Castillo’s career-best in games played is 113 – he adds a ton of value when he’s on the field.

Since 2014, Castillo averages 2.4 WAR per season in just 108 games per year. If you stretch that to “per 650 plate appearances,” Castillo is averaging closer to 4.3 WAR over the last four years. That’s up there with the elite starting catchers in the game. Make no mistake, Castillo won’t play every day, but considering that he’ll probably cost less than $20 million over two seasons, he gives teams quality production.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Bob

    Nov 20, 2017 at 11:12 pm

    As a Cubs fan, I’ve got to say I hope he comes back to the team. Watching him play, you appreciate him over the course of the season. He was really good coming off the bench, too, and while his defense left something to be desired at times, he’s a smart player and solid in the clubhouse.

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