MLB's Most Lucrative Remaining Free Agents (02/20/17)
Pitchers and catchers have reported to spring training but there are still a few free agents available on the market that can help Major League teams. As spring games approach, there will be a final push to sign players for teams still lacking in certain areas. Most of the remaining valuable players are fit for specialty roles, but could provide some great value nonetheless. We'll break down the most valuable remaining free agents below.
Pedro Alvarez is the most lucrative bat remaining in free agency. He's also one of the younger free agents left on the relatively weak market at 30-years-old. Unfortunately, he's the least lucrative position player remaining, as well. This shortens his market to half the league as a pure designated hitter.
Alvarez has had five full seasons at the major league level and has yet to have a below average season per wRC+. In fact, last year was his best overall season at 117 wRC+. The Orioles were able to use him efficiently and mostly against right-handed pitchers, which is precisely how he should be used.
The other downfall to Alvarez's market is his career 68 wRC+ against lefties. To an American League team, though, he can provide a nice bench bat or permanent DH against righties. A team with a shorter porch in right field would also be most beneficial to Alvarez.
One team fitting the criteria that just recently lost a historically impressive designated hitter is the Red Sox. A contract to Alvarez would be essentially nothing to the Red Sox for just a few million dollars. Hanley Ramirez looks to hold down the DH spot for now, but he's had a history of injuries and the Sox could still use an additional left-handed bench bat as insurance.
Though the field isn't helpful, the Athletics could use another left-handed bat. They've certainly shown they are willing to platoon players and Alvarez's price and short-term contract would be beneficial to the organization.
At 36, Joe Blanton has revived his career as a bullpen pitcher. His age may scare some teams off, but he's shown to be a reliable reliever and even a spot-starter that can be trusted over the last two seasons.
Blanton pitched to 2.84 and 2.48 ERAs with 2.92 and 3.33 FIPs over the last two seasons. His strikeout rate in that timespan is 25.5%, by far the highest of his career. At his age, Blanton will almost certainly come with a cheap one-year deal, making him affordable to most or all teams.
The Yankees could be a fit for Blanton. As they've slowed down their spending spree, the Yankees can easily afford Blanton and potentially offer him a two-year deal. Clippard, Betances, and Chapman will handle the last three innings of close games; however, they could still use a long reliever. They also have some big question marks in their rotation.
Adam Warren could earn a rotation spot in spring training that would open a bullpen spot for a reliable arm like Blanton. Not to mention, there's no indication that unknowns like Luis Severino or Chad Green could handle an entire MLB season. Blanton could buy each of them a few starts in the middle of the summer to help them stay fresh throughout the long season.
Blanton could also fit in with non-contenders that need massive bullpen help like the Reds, Phillies, or Twins. Lower end teams tend to buy into favorable contract situations for bullpen pitchers that they can flip later in the season while contenders get riddled with injuries or need a swingman to bridge them into the playoffs.
Billy Butler, 30, mirrors Pedro Alvarez above, but while Alvarez is a left-handed bat, Butler is a right-handed bat that is best served facing left-handed pitchers. With that being said, Butler's numbers against righties are still favorable. Butler is going to be a designated hitter in all likelihood, unless some MLB team completely loses their mind.
The Rays are an interesting fit for Butler. They are littered with left-handed bats for a potential DH spot but they have no ability to hit left-handed pitching. Corey Dickerson, Brad Miller, Colby Rasmus, and Logan Morrison are all putrid with lefty-on-lefty matchups. Butler can at least relieve one of those positions for the analytical friendly Rays.
The Mariners could use Butler, as well. Though Nelson Cruz looks to be the consistent DH, on the occasion of facing left-handed pitching, the Mariners have a ton of question marks. Jarrod Dyson, Ben Gamel, and Leonys Maritn are all lefties that will likely struggle with that matchup. This may force Nelson Cruz into the outfield and Butler into the DH spot. Considering those options, Butler also provides a relief to all the left-handed bench bats in late innings.
The most surprising free agent left on the market is Matt Wieters. Catchers are sacred in this league and Wieters is a plus defender. Wieters was not given a qualifying offer making him even more lucrative to teams as they will not have to surrender a draft pick to sign him.
So why is Wieters still on the market? The simple answer could be he's asking for too much considering his declining bat. The more complicated answer is pitch framing. Teams, particularly smaller market teams, have committed to valuing pitch framing to gain an edge on bigger clubs. Wieters is not a valuable pitch framer.
According to StatCorner's leaderboard, Wieters is one of the worst framers in baseball. In his last two seasons, Wieters was 8.6 and 7.3 runs below league average due to framing. He will sign somewhere soon, but it's likely going to be less than he anticipated due to both his bat and poor pitch framing.
The Rays, who desperately need a catcher, made an offer to Matt Wieters that clearly didn't overwhelm him. The Rockies have spent the most money this offseason and remain without a catcher. Tom Murphy and Tony Wolters are their current options. Murphy and Wolters are 25 and 24 years old, respectively. They've shown promise thus far but have only compiled a combined 103 major league games.
02/21/17 Update: It appears as though Wieters might be off of the market. Jon Heyman has reported the former Orioles catcher is very close to inking a deal with the Washington Nationals.