Pitchers and catchers have started reporting for duty already, which should get everyone jazzed about the upcoming baseball season.
One issue, though, has caused consternation — mostly at the player and agent levels — and that is the slow-as-molasses free agent market.
That is, premier talent like Jake Arrieta, Eric Hosmer, J.D. Martinez, Alex Cobb and Mike Moustakas are all still waiting on offers.
After the elite there are second tier players waiting and beyond that many decent, but less expensive, ball players hoping for another crack.
Some teams have been proactive and signed depth players to cost effective deals of varying lengths. Some of these players will start, while others will play utility roles. These are the kind of meat and potatoes players every team needs.
In that regard, we have come up with a list of 15 players who fit the “reclamation” criteria. They are: new team, small-sized contract ($5 million per year or less), a possible injury comeback and prospective fit with new club.
15. C Chris Iannetta – Colorado Rockies
Of the two “premier” catchers available this off-season, Baltimore’s Welington Castillo and Colorado’s Jonathan Lucroy, only one has signed. He would be Castillo, who inked a two-year, $15 million contract with the Chicago White Sox. Next in line are guys like Iannetta, who spent his 12th season on a one-year pact with Arizona last year. He came full circle, going back to the Rockies, who he played with from 2006 to 2011, finalizing a two-year, $8.5 million deal. Iannetta is a solid, if unspectacular, catcher who provides consistent offence and defence. Last year with the Diamondbacks the 34-year-old Rhode Islander was better than his own average, hitting .254, with 19 doubles, 17 homers, 43 RBI, a .865 OPS and .511 slugging percentage in 89 games. He also posted a .991 fielding percentage and threw out 24 percent of prospective base stealers. He may not be Lucroy, but is a pretty good fall-back platoon option for a very good Rockies team.
14. SP Kris Medlen – Arizona Diamondbacks
Not that long ago, Kris Medlen was a better-than-average starter with the Atlanta Braves. Used primarily in a long relief/set-up role his first four seasons in the big leagues, the now 32-year-old hurler had a breakout season as a starter with the Braves in 2013. He went 15-12 in 31 starts and sported a 3.11 ERA and 1.223 WHIP. But, all that work (197 innings worth) must have been hard on his previously repaired elbow, as it was discovered in 2014 that he would miss the season to have Tommy John surgery again. He bounced back, somewhat, with Kansas City in 2015 and 2016, even pitching a scoreless inning in relief during the Royals 2015 World Series triumph. That nagging injury, though, hampered his 2017 campaign, which was supposed to be with the Braves. He ended up starting 20 games from A to AAA in Gwinnett and garnered enough interest to get a one-year, $1.1 million minor league contract with the D-Backs. They have a solid rotation, so his best fit would be long relief and spot starting.
13. SP Wily Peralta – Kansas City Royals
The Royals are probably hoping a move from the homer dome that is Miller Park to pitcher friendly Kaufmann Stadium is just the tonic for one-time dynamic starter Peralta. In 2014, the stout Dominican was 17-11 for the Brewers, with a 3.53 ERA. Not great, but good numbers for a third-year starter. However, he was a combined 12-21 over the next two seasons, spending some time in the minors, too. In 2017, he was 5-4 with a 7.85 ERA in 19 games (eight starts) before being designated for assignment in late July and appearing in 13 games at AAA. The Royals will be a wholly different club in 2018, what with the loss to free agency of Lorenzo Cain and impending departures of Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. This means low rent players like Peralta, who signed a one-year, $1.525 millon contract (with an option for 2019) will be good to bridge the gap. He is slated for relief, so far.
12. RP Yusmeiro Petit – Oakland Athletics
In the “Money Ball” manifesto, under “relief pitcher” criteria, it says “see Yusmeiro Petit.” The A’s, forever getting rid of talent deemed too expensive to keep around, shopped the market with stealth this winter, plucking the hard-throwing long reliever off the AL West rival L.A. Angels roster. The Athletics signed him to a fairly reasonable two-year, $10 million contract to provide the kind of relief he gave the Halos in 2017. He appeared in 60 games for the Angels last season, going 5-2 with a 2.76 ERA, 0.953 WHIP and 101 strikeouts in 91.1 innings. His ERA and WHIP both represented career bests. For those that might remember, Petit was famous in San Francisco (who he won a World Series with) for coming within one strike of pitching a perfect game against Arizona in one of his 12 starts during the 2014 season.
11. 1B Matt Adams – Washington Nationals
With an All-Star at first base already in Ryan Zimmerman, the signing of former longtime St. Louis Cardinal first sacker Adams (who spent the last part of 2017 with Atlanta) seems a little bewildering. Sure, the contract is decent one-year and $4 million, but Adams hasn’t played many games out of position and was a fairly good run producer in his own right last year. In 131 total appearances between the Cards and Braves, he played around 100 at first and 31 in left field, his first ever games out there. At the plate, he hit .274, with 22 doubles, a triple, 20 homers and had 65 RBI. While he will spot start and be insurance in case Zimmerman goes down, it’s likely he was brought in for playoff experience (26 games, four HR, 11 RBI), familiarity with AL East foes and to platoon at first and in left.
10. OF Peter Bourjos – Chicago Cubs
Based on his speed, decent bat and defensive ability, it’s kind of galling that Peter Bourjos has only been a big league regular once in his career. That was in 2011, when he played in a career high 147 games with the L.A. Angels, hitting .271 with 26 doubles, a league leading 11 triples, 12 homers and 43 RBI. He also stole a career high 22 bases and logged a personal best .765 OPS. Since then, the career .241 hitter has been a journeyman platoon man. In 813 MLB games, he has 88 doubles, 36 triples, 42 homers and 164 RBI. Last season with Tampa, Bourjos appeared in 100 games and hit .223, along with nine doubles, three triples, five homers, 15 RBI and five stolen bases. In terms of outfield defence, he has a career fielding percentage of .992 (11 errors on 1,458 total chances), along with 27 assists. The Cubs signed him to a minor league deal for one year at $1.45 million. Should he crack the line-up, he’s versatile enough to play all outfield positions and provide speed on the base paths for a club that swiped just 62 bases in 2017.
9. SP Drew Smyly – Chicago Cubs
Smyly is a true reclamation project, coming into 2018 off a season missed due to injury. The Cubs, who signed the former Rays starter to a two-year, $10 million contract, will have to wait until mid-season to insert him into a starting rotation that gained Yu Darvish and will likely lose Jake Arrieta. Smyly had middling success in the AL with Detroit and Tampa Bay from 2012 to 2016, starting 85 of 156 total games and recording a 31-27 record, 3.74 ERA, 1.199 WHIP and 552 strikeouts in 570.1 innings. Those numbers aren’t All-Star worthy, but decent enough for the lanky lefty to get picked up by the 2016 champs. The Cubs are probably banking on the 28-year-old making a successful recovery from Tommy John and then being able to insert him into the line-up before the trade deadline, which might preclude them from having to make a move. Win-win.
8. C Alex Avila – Arizona Diamondbacks
It’s interesting that after the Snakes lost robust catcher Chris Iannetta to free agency (Colorado), they went out and signed his clone, Alex Avila, away from the Chicago Cubs. Also sturdily built, Avila posted similar numbers to Iannetta, including a .264 batting average, 13 doubles, one triple, 14 homers and 49 RBI in 112 games split between the Detroit Tigers and the Cubs. It was with the Cubs that Avila provided good defence (throwing out 6 of 22 base stealers and 17 of 55 overall last year) and an adequate bat down the stretch (six extra base hits and 17 RBI in 35 games). He also had a hit in his lone plate appearance of the playoffs. He is penciled in as starter for the D-Backs, mostly for his pitch-handling duties and will platoon with either Jeff Mathis or Chris Herrmann.
7. INF Adam Rosales – Philadelphia Phillies
Journeyman infielder Adam Rosales is another one of those “Money Ball” guys the Oakland A’s employed not just once, but twice. Capable of playing every infield position, Rosales first appeared in Oakland in 2010 and in 80 games, he hit .271, with 17 extra base hits and 31 RBI. He played parts of three more seasons in the Bay area before bouncing around between Texas and San Diego, eventually ending up with the A’s again in 2017. Rosales got into 71 games with Oakland, hitting .234 with four homers and 27 RBI before a deadline trade to Arizona, where he hit .202 in 34 games with three more homers and nine RBI. The Phillies, who have been fairly active trying to re-make their team, signed him to a one-year minor league deal worth $1.75 million. He is listed on their depth chart as back-up at short, second and third.
6. OF Leonys Martin – Detroit Tigers
At one time, as a teenaged member of the Cuban National Baseball Team, Leonys Martin made $40 per week. Now, in the crazy world of major league baseball salaries, he’s earning a “cheap” $1.75 million for one season to play with the Detroit Tigers. Now 29, Martin is a seasoned baseball veteran coming off a bad year. As an international phenom, he originally signed with Texas in 2011 to a five-year, $15.5 million contrac that had a $5 million signing bonus. By 2013 he was a regular. Martin was with Seattle in 2016 and had pretty fair year, batting .247 with 35 extra base hits, 47 RBI and 24 stolen bases. The speedy, defensively astute outfielder spent much of the 2017 season in the M’s minor league system, hitting just .174 with three homers and eight RBI. He was picked up by the Chicago Cubs late in the season and even after just 13 at bats, was put on the playoff roster. It’s expected he’ll platoon in Detroit, playing multiple positions.
5. INF Trevor Plouffe – Texas Rangers
By all counts, it was a lost year for infielder Trevor Plouffe. Just two years removed from hitting .244 in Minnesota, with 35 doubles, four triples, 22 homers and 86 RBI, the 31-year-old Californian slipped to .198 with Oakland and Tampa Bay. In 100 games he had just seven doubles, nine homers and 19 RBI. The Rangers infield is fairly set, though Plouffe could get some reps in at third, where 38-year-old star veteran Adrian Beltre will need to be spelled from time to time. He could put in work at any position in the infield and if he can elevate his tepid offensive stats just a smidge, he might just earn that minor league, one-year $1.75 million contract.
4. RP Seung-Hwan Oh – Texas Rangers
The Rangers are a team without a bonafide closer right now. Signing veteran arm Seung-Hwan Oh was a step in the right direction. Even though he has just two seasons of big league experience under his belt, the 35-year-old South Korean had already been a star closer with Samsung of the Korean Baseball Organization for a number of years. In two seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, Oh appeared in 138 games, logging 39 saves, 7-9 record, 2.85 ERA and 157 strikeouts in 139 total innings. He was better in 2016 than 2017, which tainted his free agent value somewhat (he signed a one-year, $2.75 million contract). He’ll battle it out with guys like Matt Bush (10 saves in 2017) and Alex Claudio (11 saves) for closer duties in 2018.
3. OF Austin Jackson – San Francisco Giants
For what they paid him, the Gigantes got a heck of an outfielder in Austin Jackson. The 31-year-old speedy veteran will get to patrol the spacious confines of AT.&T Park after inking a two-year, $6 million pact with San Fran this off-season. He’s played just 29 of 999 big league games in the National League and his signing in the Bay Area returns him to the senior circuit for the first time since playing with the Cubs for a brief bit in 2015. Last year, with Cleveland, Jackson saw action in 85 games and hit a healthy .318, with 29 extra base hits, three stolen bases (111 lifetime) and 35 RBI. In five post-season games against the Yankees, Jackson had three hits in 14 at bats, scored three runs and stole a base. He adds considerable depth to the new look Giants.
2. SP Michael Pineda – Minnesota Twins
Eventually, the New York Yankees loss will be the Minnesota Twins gain. The Twinkies signed hard-throwing giant Michael Pineda to a two-year, $10 million contract in December, 2017, knowing full well he might not pitch until either late 2018 (at the earliest) or in 2019. What the Twins get in the 6’7″ Dominican is a player recovering from Tommy John surgery, who, when healthy lights up the radar gun in the mid-90s with his fastball. In four seasons with the Bronx Bombers and one with Seattle (2011 his lone All-Star campaign), Pineda registered a 40-41 record in 117 starts, with a 4.05 ERA, 1.190 WHIP and 687 strikeouts in 680 innings pitched. He would look great scuffing the mound at Target Field in 2018, but the faithful may have to wait another year.
1. 1B Adrian Gonzalez – New York Mets
As far as free agent first basemen go, the New York Mets could have done a lot worse than five-time All-Star, four-time Gold Glover and two-time Silver Slugger award winner Adrian Gonzalez. And, they got him for one year at the low, low bargain basement price of $545,000. Sure, the normally very durable 35-year-old veteran is coming off an injury plagued season that saw him hit just. 242 with three homers and 30 RBI. However, detractors ought to remember that he averaged 99 RBI the four previous seasons from 2013 to 2016 (396 total) and slashed 137 doubles and 95 homers. With a healthy body, there is no reason not to believe A-Gon can’t return quickly to form with the Mets. Being a left-handed batter at Citi Field, which has a very inviting right field fence, he has the potential to hit 20 dingers, too. He’ll push incumbent Dominic Smith very hard for the starting job.