Following a lesson from the 2018 postseason, in which two huge spending teams made it to the World Series, it wouldn’t shock folks if last year’s weird winter was turned on its ear and teams started throwing money around like crazy, especially considering this star-studded free agent crop.
Some agents are saying that things are moving at a “snail’s pace” on the market so far (only a few players have signed so far, and none of the biggest ones have, though stars typically take longer) but it may be nothing more than a slow play strategy. While there’s surely concern of a repeat from last year, that seems unlikely this time.
The free agents are just too good.
Monster contracts surely await.
The bulk of the attention is going to go to mid-20s mega stars Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, who both have a chance to break Giancarlo Stanton’s contractual record, but there are about 150 free agents -- 131 were listed here a couple weeks ago, with predicted contracts — and there will be some bargains out there. Here are our 35 picks for some under-the-radar signings (or at least decent deals) that may pay off big-time.
1) Jed Lowrie: He’s always been a productive hitter, but he’s developing into a star in his mid 30s, probably due to his smarts (he’s a Stanford man). He recently changed agents after his longtime guy Brodie Van Wagenen was hired by the Mets as their GM, moving to Casey Close. Folks thought he was going back to the A’s, but negotiations were delayed a bit after the switch. Here’s a little-known fact about Lowrie: While he’s batted just about everywhere in the lineup, over his career the coveted No. 3 hole is his most common spot.
2) Josh Harrison: He had a $10.5-million option declined after a slightly down year with the bat. However, he has a positive defensive zone rating at four different positions and could easily be seen as a poor man’s Marwin Gonzalez. The Yankees, Nats and Reds are all said to be among teams in the game; though Cincinnati would seem to have a full house on the infield, they are as familiar as anyone with the Cincinnati product, University of Cincinnati alum and longtime Pirate.
3) Robinson Chirinos: The Rangers didn’t pick up his $4.5 million option as they are seeking to upgrade their defense behind the plate, but he’s a dangerous hitter with power and could get lost in a catching market with bigger names that now includes Yasmani Grandal, who confounded some by turning down the $17.9 million qualifying offer (there’s a big split on Grandal, as some see him getting four times that; one exec estimated he’d haul in close to $70 million) and many, many others.
4) David Robertson: This feisty competitor and former closer looks like he has something left. And while Robertson is a smart guy, there’s a question how he’ll do in free agency following his decision to represent himself. His old agent, Scott Leventhal, who he praised in this piece by Mark Feinsand, managed to get him a $46-million, four-year deal when he had a qualifying offer attached, so we wonder about the wisdom of such a move. Maybe a team will be the beneficiary of such an odd call. If it was a move aimed at staying with the Yankees, there may be collateral damage from a vote on postseason shares to shore up, as George King wrote in the New York Post.
5) Daniel Murphy: We aren’t hearing his name as much as one might think, but he showed following microfracture knee surgery he can still hit – both in Washington and again in Chicago. He could move over to first base, which could open up some extra teams. The Cubs in a return make sense, and so could the Yankees.
6) Adam Ottavino: The expected run on relievers could mean he’ll be getting the big bucks. But this is a guy who showed a wow factor with pitch movement while pitching in Colorado, which isn’t easy to do. The Brooklyn native is a cerebral type, which may appeal to the Ivy League execs (we always wondered if it got Brandon McCarthy for that reason a few extra bucks four years ago).
7) Jesse Chavez: The secret may be out on the multi-inning reliever who became the Cubs closer late, but his finish was so strong it’s worth keeping an eye on him. Even if he isn’t quite as good next year, it’s pretty clear he has mental toughness.
8) Adam Warren: Another multi-inning reliever has managed to fly under the radar despite two tours of duty with the Yankees.
9) Joakim Soria: Yet another reliever, he’s quite a gamer who became part of the Brewers’ brilliant pen after his deal from the Royals.
10) Wilson Ramos: He’s one of the best hitting catchers in the game, and the injury history could limit him to a shorter deal Wherever he winds up, he will rake.
11) Wade Miley: He was overpaid for a few years, but turned out to be one of the bigger bargains in the sport last year after signing a minor league deal. After returning following a spring injury, he was one of the better lefthanders in the league. Some believe that even with top lefties Clayton Kershaw, Cole Hamels and Hyun-Jin Ryu now off the market, he could get a little lost with a strong contingent that includes Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel, J.A. Happ and Gio Gonzalez.
12) Jose Iglesias/Adeiny Hechavarria/Freddy Galvis: Iglesias is a magician with the glove and put together a decent offseason season last year. Some question his commitment, but he certainly has the talent. Hechavarria and Galvis are two more glove wizards, and a glut of this type of player likely keeps the price down.
13) Asdrubal Cabrera: While he’s probably no longer a shortstop (several years after the Indians moved him off the position the first time), he can rake. He hits to the point where the Phillies even tried to squeeze him in at shortstop following his trade from the Mets.
14) Matt Harvey: He may not be the star he once was, but in smaller Cincinnati, despite their ridiculous hitters park, he pitched effectively just about every time out following his deal from the Mets. Even if he’s just an “innings eater,” as one exec suggests, there’s true value in that.
15) JA Happ: Whoever gets him will get a professional pitcher. He may be quiet but if there was any big-market question about him he answered it by losing only one regular-season game with the Yankees.
16) Cody Allen: The longtime Indians closer looks like a potential buy-low candidate following his only off year. The perfect bounce-back guy.
17) Clay Buchholz: The D-Backs look like geniuses following his stunningly brilliant campaign, but his history of brittleness should limit the deal to one year.
18) Andrew Miller: Sure it’s a risk following a year in which he suffered three separate injuries. But no one has more heart, and few have as much ability when he’s right.
19) Brian Dozier: His off offensive year can be attributable to a deep bone bruise which limited him. But even in a down year, he topped 20 homers.
20) Steve Pearce: The World Series MVP isn’t usually under the radar. But he showed what he can do throughout his stay in Boston.
21) Trevor Cahill: He may not look like a pitcher, but whether starting or relieving, he frequently surprises.
22) Sergio Romo: Whether reliever or opener, he’s been a contributor to winners for years. Most famous for finishing the 2012 World Series with a flourish.
23) Bud Norris: Jordan Hicks’ mentor/tormentor (depending on how you see it) seems to outperform every year, so why should this year be different?
24) Nelson Cruz: The man has hit as many home runs as anyone the last few years. The overpayment of Kendrys Morales may cause some AL teams to limit DH pay. But don’t bet against this guy.
25) Jon Jay: He almost had a big deal with Seattle, but the Royals pounced when he it fell through. Good on-base man can still play some center.
26) Marco Estrada: His trade value proved nil last year due to low velo readings, but he is the type that comes through in the clutch.
27) Hanley Ramirez: He’s determined to come back and working hard in the D.R.
28) Neil Walker: He once had a qualifying offer, and off a late signing/rough start in the Bronx, looks like an excellent buy-low candidate.
29) Carlos Gonzalez: The former superstar is still a nice contributor, but the price isn’t what it was. Can still hit but may finally be time for a change of scenery.
30) Nick Markakis: Sure, he isn’t young. But he sure is productive, particularly when you consider he wasn’t extended a qualifying offer, and over the past few years, no one was clamoring to trade for him. And yet, he did win a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger last year.
31) Kelvin Herrera: Everything but his timing is good. He heads to free agency off his only two bad months and an ankle injury that shouldn’t affect him going forward.
32) Greg Holland: He had a rough time in St. Louis after signing late but got things together in Washington.
33) Drew Pomeranz: The perfect bounce-back candidate. Could be quite a bargain.
34) Jonathan Lucroy: While he hasn’t repeated the sort of offensive production he had in Milwaukee, he obviously guided a staff of reclamation projects and kids to amazing success in Oakland.
35) Garrett Richards: Mike Trout’s longtime roomie has big-time talent. He won’t be ready at the start of the season, but once he is, look out.
Jon Heyman is Fancred's baseball insider. He publishes his weekly Inside Baseball column each Thursday on the App and FancredSports.com. You can download the App here and interact with Jon by following him right here.