The hard part about writing these “Best Free Agents Available” pieces is that you run the risk of having one of the players listed signing a contract 20 minutes after you publish. However, over the past two MLB offseasons it’s gotten much easier. Guys are signing later, so throwing out these types of articles in December, January, and even February makes you relatively safe.
Publishing in March is still tough because 1) at this point, players really need to be in camp in order to be ready by Opening Day, so most everyone is signed , and 2) there is typically a pretty good reason why remaining free agents don’t have a team.
STATS’ advanced analytics show there is still talent swimming around in the free agent pool, and it goes beyond Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel. Through STATS’ advanced metrics such as RVAA (run value above average), DEF (defensive), Contact (adjusted contact rate relative to average), and BIP (ball in play quality), we can find some players that can still provide some value if they find the right role.
Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel
These are the obvious guys everyone knows about, hence why they are grouped together. It doesn’t take a lot of convincing to show teams should sign them.
According to STATS’ xRVAA metric, which estimates how many runs a pitcher is better than average, Keuchel was 5.6 and Kimbrel was 9.5 runs better than the average pitcher. Among starting pitchers, Keuchel ranked 52nd in xRVAA. That could explain part of why he and agent Scott Boras have not gotten the huge contract they desired at the beginning of the offseason. Kimbrel was a bit better, although he ranked just 24th among relievers.
The bottom line with these two is simple. They are both proven, World Series-winning arms. They will get signed, and they will be valuable to whichever team grabs them.
Sipp was incredible as a lefty specialist for the Astros last year. Over 54 appearances, he logged a 1.86 ERA, only allowed 11 percent of inherited runners to score, and had a home run rate of 0.7 percent. Those are dominant numbers, and until MLB institutes a three-out minimum for relievers, Sipp’s performance last year is extremely valuable to clubs.
The problem for Sipp is that the two years prior to 2018, he carried a 5.33 ERA over 81 innings, allowed 39 percent of inherited runners to score, and 5.6 percent of his opponent’s plate appearances ended in a jog around the bases.
Although there is some concern that 2018 was an outlier for Sipp, at this point in March it is worth it to sign him to a “prove it” deal, like we hear about in football all the time. Sipp’s xRVAA last year (6.2) was better than Keuchel. He belongs in a major league bullpen.
Maldonado’s bat is not where his value lies. His -18.5 RVAA was 15th-worst in MLB last year among players with at least 100 at-bats. For the year, he totaled -0.6 oWAR (offensive WAR).
Veteran backup catchers – and that’s what Maldonado is at this point – don’t get paid for their bat, though. And as far as defensive ability, Maldonado is one of the best in the game. He was seventh in MLB last season in STATS’ Defensive metric, fifth among catchers. His work behind the plate was the main contributor to his 1.4 overall sWAR (STATS WAR), despite the negative number at the plate.
Morrison signed a lucrative deal with the Twins last offseason after hitting 38 home runs for Tampa Bay in 2017. In exchange for the $5.5 million the Twins gave him, Morrison hit .186 with 15 home runs in 95 games.
Morrison’s trouble finding work this offseason has much to do with his bad year, but also lies within teams leaning towards more arms in the bullpen than bats on the bench. And with a bad glove and no positional flexibility, he’s simply a powerful left-handed pinch-hitter. If a team were to be looking to fill that role, Morrison isn’t a bad option. He collected 1.6 oWAR and totaled 7.1 RVAA against righties last year.
If Span could still patrol center field and be passable there, he more than likely would have found a starting gig this year. But he can no longer play center, which brings his value down. It’s hard to carve out a role when you are a corner outfielder that hits like a center fielder. His 6.8 RVAA was identical to A.J. Pollock, who just signed a four-year, $55 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but Pollock can still play in center.
Span still puts together good at-bats, though. According to STATS metrics, he was above average last year in Contact (six percent above average) and Discipline (17 percent above average) metrics.
He’s a left-handed bench bat that gives you a little speed to play with and can give you innings in multiple positions.