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Available MLB Offseason Targets with the Best Tools

Andrew GouldFeatured ColumnistDecember 15, 2013

Available MLB Offseason Targets with the Best Tools

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    One specific skill makes Shin-Soo Choo the best remaining MLB free agent.
    One specific skill makes Shin-Soo Choo the best remaining MLB free agent.Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    No MLB team is going to find a complete package at this stage of the game.

    Now that many of the top free agents have put pen to paper and executives have ended their business trip to Florida, the list of viable options to solidify a roster is dwindling. 

    In a perfect world, every team would get a Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw, but that's not the way it works. For a free agent to remain dangling on the open market, there must be something wrong with him.

    The remaining contact hitters offer little power, but the power guys don't deliver much contact hitting or defense. If you want a pitcher who can blow through a batting order, you'll have to settle for a guy who can just as likely walk the entire lineup.

    Very few complete players exist, which means teams must disregard Mike Ehrmantraut's advice and take some half measures. Nobody available will hit .300 with 25 to 30 homers, but who can do one or the other?

    General managers are seeking out specific skills to fill certain positions, so let's take a look at which available players possess the best distinct tools.

     

    Note: All advanced stats are courtesy of FanGraphs.

Hit for Contact: 2B Daniel Murphy

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    Daniel Murphy extracts most of his value from a high batting average.
    Daniel Murphy extracts most of his value from a high batting average.Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

    He’s not a free agent, but trade rumors surrounding Daniel Murphy have run rampant.

    The second baseman’s walk rate dived downward to 4.6 percent in 2013, and his career-high 13 home runs can be considered a power surge. Yet his contact ability makes Murphy a worthwhile option to consider.

    A career .290 hitter, Murphy earned an 88.5 percent contact rate last season, falling right in line with his 88.2 percent career clip. That ability to put the ball in play has allowed Murphy to bat .296 over the past three seasons.

    Concerned about his deficiencies everywhere else, the Mets are exploring their options on the trading block, per Joel Sherman of the New York Post, which would then propel them to fill the empty spot with Eric Young Jr. or Wilmer Flores.

    Omar Infante was a prime candidate for this position before he proved very fortunate on Friday the 13th. Infante’s signing could have teams with a void at second base intensifying their pursuit of Murphy.

    With Robinson Cano long gone, teams searching for help at second will find little relief in free agency.

Hit for Power: RF Nelson Cruz

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    Teams like players who can hit a baseball far, so Nelson Cruz won't be unemployed for long.
    Teams like players who can hit a baseball far, so Nelson Cruz won't be unemployed for long.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Power always comes at a premium.

    Just ask the Arizona Diamondbacks, who traded Tyler Skaggs and Adam Eaton to acquire Mark Trumbo. While Trumbo can send 30 to 35 balls over the fence, he also sports a career .299 on-base percentage and won't maneuver well in the outfield.

    The stigma of Nelson Cruz's involvement with Biogenesis presents an ugly stench, swatting some suitors away. But Jhonny Peralta proved that it won't deter teams too much, especially when you bring a valuable asset to the table.

    Even when not serving 50-game suspensions, Cruz rarely stays in one piece for a full year. He has played more than 130 games in a season just once, and he'll turn 34 during 2014—yet he hits the stuffing out of the ball during his abbreviated stay on the field. He has belted an average of 27 homers during each of the past five seasons, slugging .495 throughout his career.

    Cruz is not particularly well-versed at putting bat to ball or drawing walks, but not many sluggers can match his pure power. That will help him track down a corner outfield spot for a team itching to amp up its offense, even if it's just a one-year tryout to rebuild his market value for another run at free agency next year.

Speed: LF Juan Pierre

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    Juan Pierre can run, but he can't offer much else.
    Juan Pierre can run, but he can't offer much else.Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Even at age 36, Juan Pierre can still run. If only he brought anything else to the table.

    During his prime, Pierre found a way to burst onto the league's leaderboard in stolen bases despite an unexceptional ability to reach base. Over his 14-year career, Pierre has swiped 614 bags with a .343 on-base percentage. Imagine if he walked in more than 5.6 percent of his plate appearances.

    Pierre is a pure singles hitter who struggled to provide even that last season, hitting a career-low .247 with the Miami Marlins. Despite his .284 on-base percentage, he still registered 23 steals.

    Since Pierre isn't much of a hitter or fielder at this stage of his career, nobody is jumping to add him to their roster. At best, someone will give him a small, one-year contract as a fourth outfielder/pinch runner.

    Rajai Davis, a younger speed demon, just agreed to join the Detroit Tigers, so few baserunning dynamos exist. Unfortunately for Pierre, it's not a skill that alone draws significant interest.

    If Available: The New York Yankees have a surplus of outfielders, which will cause many general managers to prod Brian Cashman about Brett Gardner's availability. He'd top the list if a deal looked palpable, but the Yankees' decision to reject an offer for Brandon Phillips, as reported by CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, shows they are unlikely to give away one of their few remaining homegrown talents.

Plate Discipline: CF Shin Soo-Choo

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    Choo is among baseball's best at drawing walks.
    Choo is among baseball's best at drawing walks.Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    A no-brainer if there ever was one, Shin-Soo Choo easily touts the best plate discipline of any available player.

    Only former teammate Joey Votto posted a higher walk rate (18.6 percent) than Choo's 15.7 percent mark last season, and the Cincinnati Reds locked up the patient first baseman for a long, long time.

    Choo's agent, Scott Boras, talked about the impact that Choo can have on any lineup, telling MLB.com's Mark Sheldon on Wednesday that his client has a lot to offer.

    "I think every franchise is looking at Choo [as] someone who can add to those types of players but is a guy who certainly has franchise talent," Boras said. "He's earned the respect of his teammates and his league. He came here and spent a lot of time in the Minor Leagues, working his way. He's a very devoted player. And during his brief playoff time, he hit a home run off a very good left-hander. He played well. So I think he's a player who is really revered."

    Choo, however, was deemed expendable. He's sitting on the wrong side of 30, can't play the outfield very well and saw his power begin to wane before joining Cincinnati. His .215/.347/.265 slash line against lefties last season also raises some concerns about awarding him a $100 million deal.

    But what can he do? He can get on base.

    By drawing 112 walks (and getting hit a league-high 26 times), Choo recorded a .423 on-base percentage that trailed only Miguel Cabrera, Votto and Mike Trout. That's some elite company right there.

    Choo comes with a hefty price tag, but he'll set the table for his new team with his superb batting eye.

Defense: SS Stephen Drew

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    Stephen Drew's defense will earn him a few extra million dollars this offseason.
    Stephen Drew's defense will earn him a few extra million dollars this offseason.Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Shortstop is a tough slot to fill. Not only is it ransacked of serviceable hitters, but it's an arduous position to field. So a guy like Stephen Drew, who can hit well enough but man the field incredibly will receive plenty of moolah before Opening Day.

    Drew's .253/.333/.443 slash line won't save him a seat in Cooperstown, but it'll do just fine if he can stay healthy. In just 124 games last year, Drew amassed a 3.4 fWAR, with his glove fueling most of the rewards.

    After starting his career sloppily at shortstop, Drew has morphed into a commendable fielder. He registered a 5.3 UZR last season at a position where sturdy defense resides in high demand.

    His main competition, Omar Infante, made the choice easier by exiting the open market. Even if he remained unsigned, he is an outstanding fielder who can vie for a Gold Glove, but Drew's defense at a scarcer position offers more value to interested parties.

    If Available: Back to that aforementioned rejected Brett Gardner-Brandon Phillips swap. The second baseman is one of the best at fielding his position despite his overrated offensive value. The Reds are hoping someone (other than Phillips himself) overlooks his .310 on-base percentage and bites on his 103 RBI generated from batting behind Choo and Votto. Don't expect them to find a juicy enough deal to trade him.

Pitching Control: SP Bronson Arroyo

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    Bronson Arroyo has stuck around by attacking the strike zone.
    Bronson Arroyo has stuck around by attacking the strike zone.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Throwing strikes isn't everything, but it sure helps a wily veteran collect more checks.

    Bartolo Colon, the obvious choice for this spot a week ago, ruined an easy selection by signing a two-year, $20 million deal with the New York Mets during winter meetings. He's a 40-year-old who hasn't hurled 200 innings in a single season since 2005 and rarely hits 90 on the radar gun, but he throws strikes.

    While Matt Garza and Ervin Santana are hardly as wild as Ubaldo Jimenez, they're not controlled enough to take the top spot here. That honor belongs to another old geezer whose numbers will lull stat-heads to sleep but inspire a front office to snatch him up.

    At first glance, any team would be insane to give Bronson Arroyo a substantial salary. He wields a 4.19 career ERA and 5.84 K/9 ratio, which hardly shouts, "Give me three years and $30 million!" But his durability and command of the strike zone will garner him a sizable haul.

    Throughout his career, Arroyo has walked just 6.5 percent of opposing batters. He's performed even better lately, deflating that rate to 4.5 percent during the past three seasons.

    Last year, 67.2 percent of his offerings were strikes. Since he's also a sturdy bet to pitch 200 innings, Arroyo should find a new landing spot soon. 

    If Available: David Price, whose name occupies most trade gossip, became a control artist last year with a microscopic 3.7 percent walk rate. 

Velocity: RP Fernando Rodney

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    Fernando Rodney is one of the game's hardest throwers out of the bullpen.
    Fernando Rodney is one of the game's hardest throwers out of the bullpen.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Fernando Rodney is a dynamic, hard thrower who showed the potential height of his excellence while controlling the strike zone in a stupendous 2012 campaign. But the 2013 model looks like the more realistic representation.

    A year after posting a mind-numbing 0.60 ERA, Rodney actually upped his K/9 ratio from 9.16 to 11.07. He even threw harder, averaging 96.5 miles per hour on his fastball and 84.5 mph on his changeup. 

    Along with a return to normalcy in his BABIP and strand rate, a regression back to his dastardly career walk rate hindered Rodney from flourishing as an elite closer. He issued 36 walks in 66.2 innings, upping his WHIP to 1.34 after earning a 0.78 WHIP during his breakthrough 2012 season.

    Even with his control issues, Rodney tallied a 3.38 ERA, 2.84 FIP and 1.3 fWAR due to his incredible ability to generate whiffs.

    The guy who dominated for the Tampa Bay Rays two seasons ago won't show up again, and many teams are rightfully wary of his closer experience allotting him more money than he deserves on the open market.

    But if he comes at a fair price, Rodney's fiery fastball can gain some pivotal strikeouts late in a game.

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