Most of the big fish have been lured to their new — or old — destinations in baseball.
The likes of Dexter Fowler (St. Louis), Yoenis Cespedes (Mets), Aroldis Chapman (Yankees), Edwin Encarnacion (Cleveland) and Mark Melancon (Giants), have all been given big money on long-term deals to make their teams better.
There are still several free agents who could have an impact that haven’t been signed, such as Luke Hochevar, Ryan Howard, Colby Lewis, Adam Lind and Jon Niese. Stay tuned on developments as pitchers and catchers report this week for duty.
There have been several lower key signings that we like, where teams were prudent and signed free agents with decent ceiling, but not to outrageous contracts.
We’ve concentrated on 15 players who were signed by new ball clubs — many of them contenders — and with a change of scenery, could alter those teams’ fortunes in a good way.
15. Mark Rzepczynksi, RP – Seattle Mariners
In just eight years, underrated southpaw reliever Mark Rzepczynski has had six different MLB addresses. Drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the fifth round in 2007, he has seen action with the Blue Jays, St. Louis Cardinals, Cleveland Indians, San Diego Padres, Oakland A’s and Washington Nationals. The Mariners, who underwent a significant line-up overhaul in the off-season, took a chance on the hard-luck hurler nicknamed “Scrabble” by signing him to a two-year, $11 million deal. He was good in 70 games between Oakland then Washington in 2016, logging a 1-0 record, 2.64 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 47.2 innings. The blemish on an otherwise decent season were the four walks he issued in two innings of the NLDS, which resulted in him being tagged with the loss in game 5 of the NLDS against Los Angeles. However, considering the dearth of good left-handed relievers in baseball, the M’s did well to ink him.
14. Wilson Ramos, C – Tampa Bay Rays
When Wilson Ramos reported to the Rays spring training facility in Port Charlotte, FLA, the coaching staff probably breathed a big sigh of relief. The catcher-by-committee of 2016 didn’t work for the Rays, who employed Curt Casali, Hank Conger, Luke Maile and Bobby Wilson, none of who really shone at all. Casali (.186 BA, 8 HR, 25 RBI) and Maile (.227, 3 HR, 15 RBI) are still on the 40-man roster, but it’s expected Ramos, who hit .307 with 22 HR and 80 RBI in 131 games with Washington last year, will assume the lion’s share of duties behind the plate once his surgically repaired knee is fully healed. An all-star last year with the Nationals, Ramos fielded his position very well too. He threw out 37 percent of opposition base stealers in 2016 (19-of-51) and is 34 percent lifetime. He only made three errors on 1,158 total chances for a .997 fielding percentage (.994 lifetime in 571 career games). Ramos signed for two years at $6.25 million per season.
13. Mike Dunn, RP – Colorado Rockies
With the loss of RP Boone Logan to Cleveland, an already shaky Rockies bullpen suddenly looked even more fragile. Logan was the only reliever with over 40 games of action to have a sub-4.50 ERA (3.69) and WHIP under 1.400 (1.014). Therefore, replacing Logan’s prowess out of the bullpen was paramount heading into an uncertain season. The Rockies finished third in the NL West at a dismal 75-87 and sported a MLB worst 5.13 ERA. Dunn, who was solid in 51 games in his sixth season with Miami will help solidify the long relief role. He was 6-1 last year with 38 strikeouts in 42.1 innings. He has been a durable workhorse most of his eight-season career, pitching over 70 games with the Marlins four times. Along with fellow signee Greg Holland (for K.C. Royal all-star) the Rockies’ bullpen looks a lot better.
12. Mitch Moreland, 1B – Boston Red Sox
Not many in baseball will envy the task ahead Red Sox new first sacker Mitch Moreland. The eighth-year veteran who had spent his entire seven-year career with Texas, replaces the big shoes left empty by David Ortiz. He also supplants Hanley Ramirez, who moves to designated hitter for the 2017 season. Signed to an economical one-year, $5.5 million contract, the left-hand hitting Moreland will do his best to bend a few homers around the Pesky Pole at Fenway. While his bat isn’t in Ortiz’s class (.233 BA, 22 HR, 60 RBI), Moreland brings better-than-average defence to the position, having won a gold glove at first for the first time in his career. He mad just two errors on 1,103 chances last season for a sterling .998 fielding percentage (lifetime he is a .996 fielder).
11. Neftali Feliz, RP – Milwaukee Brewers
With Jeremy Jeffress gone to Texas at last year’s deadline, the closer’s job this spring is Feliz’s to lose. The eight-year veteran bounce back well with the Pirates in a long relief role in 2016, posting a 4-2 record, 3.52 ERA, two saves, 1.137 WHIP and 61 strikeouts in 53.2 innings pitched. He hasn’t been a full-time closer since 2011 with the Texas Rangers and was the American League Rookie of the Year and an all-star in 2010 when he posted 40 saves for the Rangers. Injuries derailed his once promising career in 2014, causing him to be waived by Texas in 2015 and then non-tendered by Detroit after a fairly horrid stint there later that year (7.62 ERA and 1.482 WHIP in 30 games). Feliz signed a one-year, $5.35 million pact with incentives to assume that closer role.
10. Brandon Moss, 1B/OF – Kansas City Royals
Looking at veteran first baseman/outfielder Brandon Moss’ stats, he should fit in quite well in the Royals’ line-up. With Kendrys Morales gone to Toronto, he’ll be expected to take a most of the former Royals’ reps at DH, instead of his usual 1B (Eric Hosmer owns that) or outfield work other than on a platoon basis. Moss goes across the state from St. Louis, where the free swinger (141 Ks in 464 plate appearances) hit .225 with 28 HR and 67 RBI. His slugging percentage of .484 and OPS of .784 were actually higher than is all-star year with Oakland in 2014 (.438 and .772). He won’t hurt the Royals at first or in the outfield defensively, as he made just four errors on 431 chances with St. Louis last season at first and none in 99 chances in the outfield.
9. Daniel Hudson, SP – Pittsburgh Pirates
With Neftali Perez bolting for division rival Milwaukee, right-handed set-up duties go to converted reliever Hudson. Highly sought after in free agency, the Pirates got Hudson at a fairly reasonable $5.5 million for two years. He was a workhorse out of the Arizona Diamondbacks bullpen the last two years after missing the most of the previous three seasons due to injury and recovery from Tommy John surgery. He pitched in 134 games, posting nine saves and throwing 129 strikeouts in 138 innings. Hudson had an up and down year in 2016, starting with a 1.55 ERA through June 21, followed by a horrid stretch from June 23 to Aug. 2, where he gave up 26 earned runs in just 9.2 innings pitched (24.21 ERA). He finished strong though, recording a 1.66 ERA until the end of the season.
8. Luis Valbuena, 1B/3B – Los Angeles Angels
The Angels, who were pretty much deplorable in 2016, made many off-season roster moves and got themselves some infield versatility and a decent bat with the signing of veteran corner infielder Valbuena. He’ll battle Yunel Escobar for starts at third and spell C.J. Cron at the other corner after signing a two-year pact with the Angels. In 90 games with the Houston Astros last year, Valbuena hit .260, with 17 doubles, 13 homers and 40 RBI. He also posted career highs in slugging percentage (.459), on base percentage (.357) and OPS (.816). In the field, he made six errors in 203 chances at third for a .970 fielding percentage and was perfect in 67 chances at first. He’s definitely an upgrade on Escobar at third, as he made 19 errors on 302 chances (.937 fielding percentage).
7. Fernando Rodney, RP – Arizona Diamondbacks
At age 40, former premier closer Rodney’s best days are behind him. Yet, the Diamondbacks made a solid move by signing the three-time all-star reliever to a one-year, $2.75 million deal. If anything, he’ll bridge the D’backs for a year while they either groom a homegrown for a job or make a splash in free agency for 2018. Rodney wasn’t great for Miami the latter half of last year, going 2-3 in 39 games, with a 5.89 ERA and eight saves, but he did strike out 41 in 36.2 innings of work. However, he opened the year with a fluorish in San Diego, saving 17 games and recording a 0.31 ERA along with 33 Ks in just 13 innings. So, the Diamondbacks are hoping they get the Padres’ version in 2017. Rodney is just three seasons removed from leading the American League in saves with 48.
6. Alex Avila, C – Detroit Tigers
After a short 57-game sojourn with the Chicago White Sox, former all-star catcher Avila is back in familiar surroundings in Detroit, where he played from 2009 to 2015. At one year and $2 million he represents the kind of low cost insurance the Tigers will need behind the plate to spell James McCann, since Jarrod Saltalamacchia left in free agency to Toronto. Familiarity with the Tigers pitching staff is just an added bonus. At the plate, Avila showed good power in limited at bats, slugging seven dingers in 209 plate appearances. He hit just .213 but had a .373 slugging percentage. If he can get his bat closer to his 2011 form when he was an all-star, the Tigers have made gem of a signing (19 HR, 82 RBI, .506 slugging). He fielded .995 in 2016 and threw out seven of 32 potential base stealers.
5. Welington Castillo, C – Baltimore Orioles
The slugging O’s didn’t sign incumbent catcher Matt Wieters to a new deal and with the free agent inking of Arizona’s Welington Castillo, they may have made a lower cost upgrade. The O’s got the 29-year-old catcher for a year at $6 million, likely a lot less than Wieters was asking to re-sign, long term. In terms of production, Castillo’s slash line from 2016 read: .264 average in 457 plate appearances, 24 doubles, 14 HR, 68 RBI, .423 slugging percentage and .745 OPS. Wieters logged a .243 average in 464 plate appearances, 17 doubles, 17 HR, 66 RBI, .409 slugging percentage and .711 OPS. Defensively, Castillo made seven errors on 878 chances (.992 fielding) and threw out 24 of 64 base runners (38 percent). Wieters made 11 errors on 932 chances (.988 fielding) and tossed out 23 of 66 potential base stealers (35 percent). Yup, Castillo is an upgrade.
4. Sergio Romo, RP – Los Angeles Dodgers
For nine seasons, Sergio Romo was a good and loyal soldier for the San Francisco Giants out of the bullpen. An all-star in 2013, the affable Romo also played an integral part in three championships, never allowing an earned run in six appearances in the Fall Classic. For whatever reason, the Giants opted not to re-sign him this year and we’re sure he’s circled April 24 on the calendar, the day he makes his return to San Francisco for a four-game set. With Joe Blanton likely gone in free agency, the Dodgers needed a set-up man for Kenley Jansen, and former closer Romo fills the bill at a modest $3 million for the 2017 campaign. In 40 games last season, Romo registered a 1-0 record, 2.64 ERA, four saves and 33 strikeouts in 30.2 innings pitched. In the unfortunate instance that Jansen goes down to injury, Romo could close, having saved 84 total games in his career.
3. Steve Pearce IF/OF – Toronto Blue Jays
With the signing of Kendrys Morales, the Jays brought in a big bat to try and replace some of Edwin Encarnacion’s departed production. He has played some first base and a little outfield, but will be pretty much a full-time designated hitter in Toronto. With Steve Pearce available, the Jays potentially brought in one of the better utility men in baseball, and a decent contact hitter, at that. Pearce doesn’t strike out a whole lot (54 times in 302 plate appearances last year) and hit a combined .288 in 85 games with Tampa and Baltimore. He had 13 doubles, a triple, 13 homers, 35 RBI, a .374 OBP, .492 slugging percentage and .867 OPS. Pearce, signed to a two-year, $12.5 million contract, played three infield positions last year (1B, 2B, 3B), as well as left and right field and designated hitter. He is a career .994 fielder.
2. Jon Jay, CF – Chicago Cubs
The Chicago Cubs, not content with winning their first championship in 108 years, spent the off-season re-tooling to make another run at the title in 2017. They signed or traded for several pitchers to replace departed ones and will look to fill the hole in center created by the loss of Dexter Fowler to hated rival St. Louis by likely platooning newly signed Jon Jay and rookie Albert Almora. Jay, who also played in St. Louis for six years before finding himself in San Diego last year, is a decent top of the order hitter who has logged a career .287 average in 847 games. In 2016, he hit .291 in 90 games for the Padres, along with 26 doubles, a triple, two homers, two stolen bases, a .339 OBP and .728 OPS. In 82 outfield starts last season, Jay made just one error on 160 chances and had four assists. At one year and $8 million, he’ll cost less than half of what the Cardinals are paying Fowler (for five full years, at that).
1. Chris Carter – New York Yankees
For $3 million, the New York Yankees get two Chris Carters. One is a power-hitting first base/DH who led the National League in homers for Milwaukee last season with 41. The other is a free swinger who topped the senior circuit in strikeouts at a whopping 206 and carries a lifetime batting average of .218. He does walk enough to keep his OBP above .300 (he had 76 walks in 2016) and he also contributed 27 doubles and a triple to put him one shy of 70 extra base hits last year. He drove in a personal best 94 runs last season and also stole three bases. Defensively, he wasn’t too bad in 2016, making 11 errors on 1,400 chances (.992) and his lifetime fielding percentage is .991. As a right-handed bat, he won’t be able to take advantage of Yankee Stadium’s homer friendly right porch, but he does have good power to all fields, so his homers won’t dip considerably.