The 2016 Major League Baseball free agent pool isn’t exactly littered with stars. A top-heavy class headlined by two starting pitchers in David Price and Zack Greinke, many teams will likely be looking to identify potential steals, shop in the bargain bin and attempt to find value where others aren’t looking.
Shopping on the sale rack often means you get what you’re paying for, but sometimes you find a nice clearance item mixed in simply because of circumstance. Focusing on five under-the-radar position players who fit that description and should all be changing zip codes upon signing their next contract, these free agents may not have robust markets, but each can have a definitive impact with a team that decides to roll the dice.
Mike Napoli, 1B Texas Rangers
2015 Statistics: .224 AVG, 18 HR, 50 RBI (133 games)
Projected Landing Spot: Cleveland Indians
Napoli was shipped down from Boston after flaming out with the Red Sox, landing in familiar territory with the Rangers, a team he had played for prior. In 35 games with the team, the veteran hit .295/.396/.513 with five home runs, and that gives you an idea of how bad things had become with the Sox. Having just turned 34 years old and strictly a designated hitter or first baseman, Napoli’s market will be limited to American League teams. For a player still capable of knocking 20 homers, a two-year, $10 million deal is a gamble worth taking.
Franklin Gutierrez, OF Seattle Mariners
2015 Statistics: .292 AVG, 15 HR, 35 RBI (59 games)
Projected Landing Spot: New York Mets
Gutierrez once looked like a potential star in the making, but a myriad of injuries have since hampered his stock. After sitting out the entire 2014 season in order to focus on getting healthy, Gutierrez returned to Seattle this season and posted a .974 OPS, excelling in a part-time role. It’s unlikely that he’d be able to handle a full-time gig, and that’s what makes him a good fit with the Mets. More than a fourth outfielder both with the glove and at the plate, a one-year contract for Gutierrez would provide some insurance behind Juan Lagares (elbow) and an option vs. left-handed pitching if Michael Conforto were to experience a cold stretch.
Steve Pearce, INF/OF Baltimore Orioles
2015 Statistics: .218 AVG, 15 HR, 40 RBI (92 games)
Projected Landing Spot: Chicago Cubs
Pearce very clearly isn’t the player some believed him to be when he launched a career-high 21 home runs during the 2014 season, but he’s not to be completely written off, either. Capable of playing either corner infield spot as well as first, second or third, Pearce’s market should involve at least some of the that lose out on the versatile Ben Zobrist. The Cubs noticeably lacked any kind of instant power on the bench, and with how Joe Maddon likes to mix and match within his lineup, Pearce could make a lot of sense for a team that doesn’t need more than a tweak or two on the offense.
Austin Jackson, OF Chicago Cubs
2015 Statistics: .267 AVG, 9 HR, 48 RBI (136 games)
Projected Landing Spot: Washington Nationals
Denard Span is slated to hit free agency, Jayson Werth has played fewer than 90 games in two of the last four seasons and this is a team—one that had erroneous World Series aspirations—that has too often been forced to play Triple-A level talent when a starter goes down. Jackson, once a VIP member to MLB’s prospect club, is capable of playing in left, right or center field. With Michael Taylor expected to take over as the starter in center and nothing tangible behind him, Werth or Bryce Harper, there could be room for Jackson on Washington’s roster.
Marlon Byrd, OF San Francisco Giants
2015 Statistics: .247 AVG, 23 HR, 73 RBI (135 games)
Projected Landing Spot: Baltimore Orioles
Baseball’s biggest zombie since he keeps coming back from the dead, Byrd should once again draw a number of one-year offers as he prepares for his age-38 season. With 72 home runs over his last three campaigns, an average of 24 per year, a team that is currently desperate for power should be welcoming Byrd’s story. The issue with Byrd is simple: Nobody knows when the fountain of youth is going to dry up. But with a track record of consistent production since his resurgence began, a professional approach and the ability to put the ball in the seats, he’d be a solid if unspectacular fit in an outfield that needs a lot more pop.