The 2019-20 free agent class is laden with star-level talent, but there are dozens of lesser-known names that are sure to have a major impact on any team that adds their services. Many tend to overlook the bottom half of this year’s free agent market, instead focusing on superstars such as Anthony Rendon, Gerrit Cole, and Stephen Strasburg. Here’s a look at some of the signings that will not make headlines, but will have major implications for next season and beyond.
Eric Thames made his Major-League debut for the Toronto Blue Jays as a twenty-four year old rookie in 2011. He performed decently in his first season, with a .769 OPS and 105 OPS+ across ninety-five games. However, he struggled mightily in 2012, and was traded to the Seattle Mariners mid-season. Thames would eventually sign a deal with the NC Dinos of South Korea’s KBO, the nation’s premier baseball league. He spent three years in Korea, and reinvented himself as a player, recording at least 37 homers, 121 RBI, and an OPS of 1.106 or better in each season. Thames’ spectacular showing in the KBO earned him a three-year, $16 million deal with the Milwaukee Brewers prior to the 2017 campaign. The infielder was a solid piece for the Brew Crew throughout his tenure in Milwaukee, posting a combined OPS of .848 over the course of 383 games.
The Brewers recently declined Thames’ $7.5 million option for the 2020 season and allowed him to become an unrestricted free agent. He should have a decent market, and teams that are in search of a complementary hitter that can DH or play first base will be interested. Some possible suitors include the Rays, Yankees, and Athletics.
Brian Dozier was regarded as one of the premier second-basemen in all of baseball following his breakout 2016 season, in which he mashed 42 home runs with an OPS of .886. He followed it up with another stellar season in ‘17, hitting 34 homers with a .856 OPS. However, Dozier has not come close to reaching a similar level of production since. After a putrid start to the 2018 season, he was shipped to the Dodgers at the trade deadline, and it was hoped that a move to the bright lights of Los Angeles would bring new life into his bat. It was not meant to be, as Dozier posted an OPS of .650 during his time in LA, along with a dreadful postseason OPS of .489. However, the second-basemen showed flashes of solid play after he signed a one-year free agent deal with the Washington Nationals prior to the 2019 season.
While his overall numbers from ‘19 are not all that impressive, a closer look reveals a late-season surge that should interest teams in the upcoming free agency period. In June and July, Dozier had an OPS of .896 and .900, as well as an OPS+ of 131 and 139 in those respective months. For the season as a whole, Dozier slashed .280/.375/.525/.900 against left-handed pitching, suggesting that he could be part of an extremely effective second-base platoon for a team that has another option versus righties. Dozier is not the all-star caliber player that he once was, but he is an interesting – and likely cheap – free agency case.
The Astros, Indians, and Cubs are a few of the teams that would benefit from adding Dozier.
Scooter Gennett quickly became a household name for the Cincinnati Reds after he was scooped up off of waivers from the Milwaukee Brewers. In 2017 and ‘18 combined with the Reds, Gennett slashed .303/.351/.508/.859, and recorded a total of 50 homers and 189 RBI. An injury-plagued 2019 season led the Reds to dump the pending free agent at the trade deadline, as he was traded to the San Francisco Giants for a PTBNL. Gennett’s 2019 OPS of .568 should not be ignored, yet it certainly comes with an asterisk, as the second-basemen was never truly healthy in ‘19. It should not be expected that he will return to his all-star form, but Gennett is a buy-low free agency candidate that could potentially be a huge steal for teams looking to improve their infield.
The Cubs, Indians, and Yankees are among the clubs that could pursue Gennett.
Kole Calhoun has been a staple of the Los Angeles Angels lineup since 2014, his first full Major-League season. Calhoun’s future with the organization that selected him in the eighth round of the 2010 amateur draft was put into serious question when the club declined his $14 million option for the 2020 season. It is unlikely that he will return to Anaheim, so whichever team adds his services will gain a solid complementary player who is capable of playing a solid right field. While he has never been a spectacular hitter, he has almost always been at least near league-average, and did achieve his highest full-season slugging percentage (.467) and OPS (.792) in 2019. Calhoun has also hit for power, as he has tallied at least 17 home runs in every one of his six full Major-League seasons, with a career-high 33 homers in 2019.
The AAV of his contract from a new team will not be close to the $14 million of his previously declined team option, but Calhoun could certainly receive a multi-year offer on the open market. The Giants, Rays, and White Sox are some potential landing spots for the right-fielder.
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Avisaíl García burst onto the scene in 2017 with a breakout season for the Chicago White Sox that many hailed as a sign that the outfielder was finally reaching his massive potential. In ‘17, García slashed .330/.380/.506/.885, with an OPS+ that was 38% above league-average. However, his stats saw a significant dropoff in 2018, as his OPS fell to .719. This led the White Sox to non-tender the outfielder after the ‘18 season, allowing him to reach free agency, where he eventually landed with the Tampa Bay Rays on a one-year, $3.5 million deal.
During his one-year stint in Tampa, García rebuilt his value as a player, which should lead to a more sizable payday this offseason than last. In ‘19, the outfielder rebounded with a .282/.332/.464/.796 slash line, adding 20 homers and 72 RBI. García will be particularly attractive to teams on the free agent market because of his fascinating underlying statistics, such as his 90th percentile sprint speed and 75th percentile expected slugging percentage.
The Angels, Diamondbacks, and Mets may be logical fits for García.
Tanner Roark was quite possibly the most underrated pitcher in all of baseball from 2014-16, posting an ERA below 2.90 and reaching at least 198.2 innings pitched in two out of the three seasons during that time. Roark has been a serviceable arm in the years since, recording at least 165.0 innings pitched and an ERA under 4.67 in each season.
Roark is a perfectly capable middle-of-the-rotation righty, and teams that are in need of starting pitching will look to the experienced veteran in hopes of rounding out their staff. Teams that fit this description, and could be interested in Roark, include the Astros, Angels, and Cubs.
Colin McHugh is a fascinating case, as he has excelled as both a starter and reliever at different points of his eight-year Major-League career. From 2014-17, McHugh appeared in 102 games, all starts, for the Houston Astros and accumulated a 3.70 ERA (3.60 FIP). He proved himself as a reliable option during that period, topping 150.0 innings pitched three times in four years.
McHugh’s standings with the Astros changed in 2018 after the club acquired ace right hander Gerrit Cole. There was no longer room in the rotation for McHugh, so he was shifted into a role as a reliever in which he excelled. He pitched in 58 games for Houston in ‘18 without making a single start, and posted a dominant 1.99 ERA (2.72 FIP), as well as a whopping strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate of 11.7.
McHugh will likely interest teams as a reliever, yet he has said publicly that he wishes to transition back into a starting role. Regardless, the White Sox and Yankees may inquire about McHugh, and a return to Houston is still certainly possible.
Will Harris has been a dependable reliever in every full Major-League season in which he has pitched, featuring a deceptive cutter/curveball pitch arsenal. His best season came at the perfect time for the pending free agent, as he was masterful in 2019, regular and postseason. Harris’ 1.50 ERA in relief during the ‘19 season ranked second best in all of baseball, although it must be noted that his 3.15 FIP was considerably higher. Harris was stellar throughout the the ‘19 postseason, with a 1.86 ERA, despite giving up the improbable series-clinching homer to Howie Kendrick.
Any team that needs to bolster their bullpen would be fortunate to land Harris, and the Cubs, Dodgers, and Rays could participate in the sweepstakes for the righthander.
Blake Treinen represents the quintessential example of a potential low-risk-high-reward free agent signing. The flame-throwing sinker-baller boasts a 2018 season that was one of the very best by a reliever in recent memory, in which he finished seventh in the AL Cy Young voting, nearly unheard of for a relief pitcher. During his unhittable ‘18 campaign, Treinen’s ERA was a miniscule 0.78 ERA (1.82 FIP), and he struck out 100 batters in 80.1 innings pitched (11.2 K/9 IP).
However, Treinen struggled with injuries and command of his pitches in 2019. His numbers reflect this downturn, as his ERA shot up to 4.91 (5.14 FIP) in ‘19. His walk rate per nine innings climbed from 2.4 in ‘18 to 5.7 in ‘19, and his strikeouts per nine innings fell to 9.1. As a result of his poor performance, Treinen was recently non-tendered by the Oakland A’s, making him an unrestricted free agent.
Treinen will likely have to settle for a one-year “prove it” deal. This kind of signing could turn into an absolute steal for whichever team pulls the trigger if Treinen is able to recapture anything close to his 2018 form. The Cubs, Yankees, Dodgers, and a plethora of other clubs will seek to add this wild-card reliever.