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Friday, March 23, 2018

12 best under-the-radar MLB free agents

Every single season, at least one team gets lucky with one of their offseason acquisitions. Typically, a player who didn’t get much attention during the offseason ends up being a key piece in a World Series or playoff run — just look at Charlie Morton of the Houston Astros or Brandon Morrow of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Here’s a look at 12 free agents who aren’t going to command massive contracts and astronomical bidding wars, but could still be big contributors for someone in 2018.

Carlos Gonzalez, OF

Gonzalez has some caveats associated with him. The biggest one is that he’s simply never been as good away from Coors Field as he was at home, and obviously he won’t have that luxury anymore. This is still a guy who hit 40 home runs two years ago and hit .298 with 20 homers in 2016, so there’s pop in the bat despite an awful 2017. The fact is that Gonzalez can still contribute to an offense, even away from Coors Field — he could be a nice bounceback candidate.

Steve Cishek, P

Once one of the game’s more respected closers, Cishek has been marred by some inconsistency over the past few seasons, which is not exactly a unique thing for relief pitchers. He was great under-the-radar with Seattle and especially Tampa Bay in 2017, posting a 2.01 ERA overall. He may be able to close for someone, but he’s been performing so well as a setup man that any interested teams may simply want him to fill that role and stay there.

Melky Cabrera, OF

Cabrera is 33 now, but he’s still a safe option if you’re in need of hits. Even in 2017, he hit .285 between Chicago and Kansas City, adding 17 home runs. Cabrera isn’t an elite player, and he has his limitations, but he’s such a safe option. He’s consistently hit between .280 and .310 with double-digit home run tallies for about six years now, and he hasn’t yet showed signs of slowing that down. He’ll come fairly cheap for someone, but he could be a fine complementary piece.

David Hernandez, P

A trade to Arizona seemed to derail what had been a pretty solid season for Hernandez with the Angels. He was minimizing his walks, not allowing home runs, and getting a fair amount of strikeouts — traits that also made him a good reliever in his first stint with the Diamondbacks, particularly in 2012. Hernandez has been inconsistent, as relief pitchers sometimes are, but he has shown in the past he has a big arm and can get hitters out. Someone may want to take a chance on him.

Adam Lind, 1B

Lind filled a pinch-hitting reserve role for the Washington Nationals in 2017, and he did it very, very well. He hit an impressive .303 with 14 home runs in limited duty — another strong campaign after consecutive 20-home run seasons. Lind’s future may be in a pinch-hitting role for a National League team, or perhaps even a designated hitter in the American League. There’s still enough pop in his bat to make him a good fit for either role.

Chris Tillman, P

Tillman is not exceptionally far removed from being the undisputed ace of the Baltimore Orioles. In 2016, he won 16 games and posted a 3.77 ERA. All he had to do was repeat it to likely land himself a really nice deal this winter. It didn’t happen — Tillman won once and posted a 7.84 ERA. That’s bad news for him, but potentially great news for a team looking for a buy low bounceback candidate. Tillman is just 12 months removed from a quality season, and he has posted several more like it, meaning his success couldn’t simply be chalked up as a fluke. Someone may get themselves a very nice pitcher here.

Jonathan Lucroy, C

Once regarded as one of baseball’s best catchers, Lucroy will likely find himself on his fourth team in three seasons when 2018 rolls around. A move to Colorado last season seemed to revitalize his bat somewhat, even if the defensive skills — primarily the pitch framing — aren’t quite as elite as they used to be. Lucroy can definitely still catch, and he can do it well enough to start for teams looking to fill a need at the position, even if his star has faded somewhat in the last two to three years.

Jake McGee, P

McGee started his career as a dominant left-handed reliever for the Tampa Bay Rays, even doing some closing for them. The Colorado Rockies saw him as a potential closer too, but for whatever reason — perhaps it was the change of scenery to Coors Field — he simply wasn’t as good there. If it was the altitude, that will be easily addressed when the gifted McGee, who improved some in his second season with the Rockies, finds himself a new home. He’s proven in the past that he has a huge arm. If he rediscovers it, whoever adds him could be richly rewarded.

Mitch Moreland, 1B

Moreland is a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman with some pop in his bat. He was somewhat disappointing in 2017, but part of that is because he was replacing David Ortiz in Boston, which is bound to be a letdown. Moreland has hit 20 homers or more in four of his last five seasons, with an injury-riddled 2014 the only one in which he fell short. Moreland isn’t an elite hitter, but he’s a solid glove who can hit .250 with 20 home runs. He’s a nice complementary piece for a contender, potentially.

Joe Smith, P

One of the game’s leading right-handed specialists, Smith has bounced around the game for the past two seasons, twice becoming a low-key trade chip for contenders. He was on the 2016 Chicago Cubs team that won the World Series, and he was dealt to the Indians at the deadline last season. Though he turns 34 in March, he has a long, consistent history of pitching well out of the bullpen, particularly limiting right-handed hitters. He’ll never be a closer and probably isn’t even quite cut out to be an elite set-up man, but he can definitely get guys out for someone.

Neil Walker, 2B

Not a ton of teams need second basemen, which could serve to make Walker even more of a bargain. The former Silver Slugger isn’t quite what he once was, but second basemen who play good enough defense and have some pop don’t just grow on trees, which is exactly what Walker is. He’s not yet exceptionally old — he’s 32 — and he’s only a year removed from a season in which he hit .282 with 23 home runs. His numbers in 2017 were slightly worse, but he’s still a solid player.

Michael Pineda, P

Anyone who picks up Pineda will be playing a long game. Pineda is likely out for 2018 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. The arm, though, is good enough that some team may risk it and give him a two-year deal in the hope that he recovers and contributes in 2019. Pineda has a huge arm and has struck out a batter an inning over the course of his career. However, he found himself a bit susceptible to the home run ball, particularly with the Yankees. His stuff is good enough that teams will give him a shot — and he could pay off for them big time.

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