7 MLB Free Agents Who Aren't Getting the Attention They Deserve

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistDecember 26, 2015

7 MLB Free Agents Who Aren't Getting the Attention They Deserve

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    Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

    This year's crop of MLB free agents ranks as one of the most talented in recent memory. There's not only a ton of front-line talent but also plenty of depth across the board.

    As a result of that depth, a few players have gone relatively unnoticed this offseason, with little in the way of buzz surrounding their potential landing spots.

    Ahead is a closer look at seven free agents who are not getting the attention they deserve this winter.

    It's a collection of role players, proven veterans and intriguing buy-low candidates who could all make a bigger impact than expected during the 2016 season.

RF Jeff Francoeur

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    2015 Stats

    GBA/OBP/SLGH2BHRRBIRSBWAR
    119.258/.286/.43384161345340-1.1

    Why He Deserves More Attention

    Jeff Francoeur took the league by storm in 2005 as a rookie with the Atlanta Braves, and after three solid seasons he looked like a budding superstar.

    He never took the next step, though, and in the years since he has turned into a journeyman.

    All told, he's played for seven different teams in the past seven years, and it looks like he'll be headed for a new team once again in 2016.

    The 31-year-old made good on a minor league pact with the Philadelphia Phillies this past season, putting together a surprisingly productive season after playing his way into an expanded role.

    The Phillies opted to hold on to him at the trade deadline, and Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly reported back in September that there was mutual interest in re-signing the veteran this offseason.

    However, the two sides don't seem like a match anymore as the Phillies have Odubel Herrera, Aaron Altherr, Cody Asche, Peter Bourjos and Rule 5 pick Tyler Goeddel already in the mix for outfield playing time.

    While he may not be able to find as much playing time with a contender, there should nonetheless be a role for Francoeur thanks to his .280/.329/.453 career line against left-handed pitching and his 2015 pinch-hitting line of .367/.355/.567.

    He also provides veteran leadership and a good clubhouse presence, and he appears to be accepting of his diminished role.

    "I’ve really embraced my role this year," Francoeur told Salisbury. "Doing what I do, coming off the bench, I feel like I can play a lot longer."

SP/RP Edwin Jackson

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    Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    2015 Stats

    GW-LERAFIPWHIPBBKIPWAR
    474-33.073.821.168214055.20.3

    Why He Deserves More Attention

    After throwing 180-plus innings in five straight seasons and with a career 4.40 ERA to his credit, Edwin Jackson signed a four-year, $52 million free-agent deal with the Chicago Cubs prior to the 2013 season.

    The hope was that he could continue to be a workhorse while posting a sub-4.00 ERA in the process, but two years into the deal he was 14-33 with a 5.58 ERA and 1.541 WHIP.

    The team moved him to the bullpen to start last season, and despite his posting a solid 3.19 ERA in 23 appearances, the contending Cubs opted to release him on July 27.

    A few weeks later he latched on with the Atlanta Braves, and he pitched to a 2.92 ERA and 0.932 WHIP in 24 games to close out the season.

    After averaging 92.7 mph on his fastball in 2014, Jackson saw his stuff play up a bit in a relief role as his fastball velocity jumped to 93.9 mph, per FanGraphs.

    At this point Jackson will likely have to settle for a minor league contract and a spring training invite.

    However, with quality stuff and a strong finish to the 2015 season under his belt, he's worth the minimal risk that would come with such a deal.

    He's still capable of starting, and while he's probably best suited for a bullpen gig, his versatility also adds some value.

2B Howie Kendrick

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    2015 Stats

    GBA/OBP/SLGH2BHRRBIRSBWAR
    117.295/.336/.409137229546461.1

    Why He Deserves More Attention

    There has not been much Howie Kendrick news since he opted to decline his qualifying offer from the Los Angeles Dodgers.

    A hamstring injury limited Kendrick to just 117 games this past season, but when healthy he was again one of the most productive players at the position.

    The 32-year-old is a career .293/.333/.423 hitter in 10 big league seasons, and his 28.6 WAR ranks seventh among second basemen since his rookie season in 2006.

    Kendrick had graded out as a solid defender throughout his career, but defensive metrics were not as kind to him this past season, as he had a minus-12 DRS and minus-6.0 UZR/150, per FanGraphs. But even without a bounce-back season on defense, he's still a starting-caliber player because of his bat. 

    The unusual depth on the free-agent market at the second base position has no doubt contributed to the slowly developing market for Kendrick. Ben Zobrist, Daniel Murphy and Chase Utley have already signed, while Neil Walker, Starlin Castro and Jedd Gyorko have found new homes via trade.

    The Los Angeles Angels could be a fit, and Kendrick is open to a return to the team where he spent the first nine seasons of his career, according to Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times.

SP Ian Kennedy

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    Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

    2015 Stats

    GSW-LERAFIPWHIPBBKIPWAR
    309-154.284.511.29552174168.1-0.4

    Why He Deserves More Attention

    Since the start of the 2010 season, Ian Kennedy ranks 14th among all pitchers with 1,175 innings of work, which comes to an average of 196 innings per season.

    While he has been a consistent workhorse, his performance during that span has been far from consistent.

    The 31-year-old was at his best with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2011, going 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA, 1.086 WHIP and 198 strikeouts in 222 innings to finish fourth in NL Cy Young voting.

    However, he bottomed out in 2013, going 3-8 with a 5.23 ERA in 21 starts with the D-backs. Arizona then traded him to the San Diego Padres at the deadline for reliever Joe Thatcher.

    In 73 total starts with the Padres, the right-hander went 26-30 with a 3.97 ERA, 1.298 WHIP and 436 strikeouts in 426.2 innings.

    This past season he dealt with a hamstring injury early and struggled to a 4-9 record and 4.91 ERA in the first half. He finished strong, though, going 5-6 with a 3.64 ERA and 1.262 WHIP in 14 second-half starts. He tallied 10 quality starts and 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings during that span.

    That strong finish was enough to earn him a qualifying offer, which he opted to decline to pursue a long-term deal on the open market.

    Being tied to draft-pick compensation has no doubt hindered his market, but Kennedy is a durable starter in the prime of his career who rebuilt some career momentum with his quality finish to the 2015 season.

1B/OF Steve Pearce

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    2015 Stats

    GBA/OBP/SLGH2BHRRBIRSBWAR
    92.218/.289/.42264131540421-0.4

    Why He Deserves More Attention

    Heading into the 2014 season, Steve Pearce was a soon-to-be 31-year-old with a .238/.318/.377 line over 743 career at-bats.

    Let's take a quick look at his transaction path from the end of the 2011 season to the start of 2014.

    • Nov. 3, 2011: Granted free agency
    • Dec. 15, 2011: Signed with Minnesota Twins
    • Mar. 27, 2012: Released by Minnesota Twins
    • Mar. 29, 2012: Signed with New York Yankees
    • June 2, 2012: Purchased by Baltimore Orioles
    • July 28, 2012: Selected off waivers by Houston Astros
    • Aug. 27, 2012: Purchased by New York Yankees
    • Sept. 29, 2012: Selected off waivers by Baltimore Orioles
    • Apr. 27, 2014: Released by Baltimore Orioles
    • Apr. 29, 2014: Signed with Baltimore Orioles

    The word "journeyman" does not quite do that two-plus-year window justice.

    However, it all culminated in a breakout 2014 season as he hit .293/.373/.556 with 26 doubles, 21 home runs and 49 RBI in 338 at-bats for a 5.9 WAR.

    He fell back to earth this past season but still flashed solid power with 13 doubles and 15 home runs in 294 at-bats.

    He also displayed some valuable defensive versatility with time spent at first base, second base and both corner outfield spots.

3B Juan Uribe

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    Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

    2015 Stats

    GBA/OBP/SLGH2BHRRBIRSBWAR
    119.253/.320/.417911714434021.7

    Why He Deserves More Attention

    For a team that is looking to add some veteran leadership and a positive clubhouse presence this offseason, there might not be a better free-agent target than Juan Uribe.

    New York Mets manager Terry Collins described him as a "leader by mere presence" when talking to George Willis of the New York Post shortly after the Mets acquired him last August.

    "He walked in the clubhouse with personality, with reputation, and the Latin guys flock to him," Collins said. "They know him, they’ve heard of him and he’s an outgoing guy. He’s a lot of fun to be around. People gravitate to those kinds of guys."

    However, that's not to say Uribe is simply a cheerleader at this point in his career, as the 36-year-old is coming off a solid season.

    Despite splitting last season between three different teams, he remained productive every step of the way, and that included posting a .730 OPS with 15 extra-base hits and 20 RBI in 44 games with the Mets down the stretch.

    All told, his 105 OPS+ ranked 19th among third basemen with at least 300 plate appearances, ahead of Trevor Plouffe, Chase Headley and Martin Prado.

    He also remained a rock-solid defender at the hot corner, posting 1 DRS and a 2.3 UZR/150, per FanGraphs.

    Uribe likely won't match the $7.5 million-per-year deal he got when he signed with the Dodgers in 2014, but he showed he has enough left in the tank to make a difference for a contender. 

RP Carlos Villanueva

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    Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

    2015 Stats

    GW-LERAFIPWHIPBBKIPWAR
    354-32.953.741.164215561.00.9

    Why He Deserves More Attention

    The St. Louis Cardinals took a flier on Carlos Villanueva with a minor league deal and a spring training invite last offseason, and he wound up being a key piece of what was one of the best bullpens in baseball.

    The 32-year-old has spent much of his career serving as a swingman, but he has always been significantly better as a reliever than he has as a starter.

    Here's a look at the career splits:

    • Starter: 76 GS, 18-33, 5.00 ERA, 1.380 WHIP, 6.5 K/9, 424.2 IP
    • Reliever: 349 G, 31-20, 3.47 ERA, 1.202 WHIP, 8.9 K/9, 500.0 IP

    The Cardinals wisely used him solely as a reliever last season while still utilizing his ability to pitch multiple innings.

    Over his 35 total appearances, Villanueva pitched two or more innings 16 different times, as he was vital in helping conserve the bullpen when the need arose.

    In fact, if you remove a pair of rough outings (Aug. 21: 1.0 IP, 4 H, 4 ER, Sept. 4: 1.0 IP, 5 H, 4 ER), the veteran right-hander had a 1.83 ERA over his other 59 innings of work.

    Chances are he won't cost much more than the $2 million he made after earning a spot on the 40-man roster last year, and he has a chance to once again be a useful bullpen arm who can go multiple innings.

    All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted.