10 Impact Free Agents Teams Can Still Snag Before Opening Day

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistFebruary 27, 2016

10 Impact Free Agents Teams Can Still Snag Before Opening Day

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    Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

    The free-agent market was slow to unfold this offseason, leaving a number of high-profile players unsigned heading into the new year.

    Most of the significant dominoes have now fallen as spring training is underway, but there are still a handful of potential impact players searching for a new home here at the end of February.

    Ian Desmond is the top name still sitting out there, but he's by no means the only position player looking for work, as a former home run champion and a World Series MVP are also available.

    On the pitching side of things, we have a two-time Cy Young winner in Tim Lincecum headlining the remaining crop, while a few former All-Stars are also in need of new deals.

    We've highlighted the top 10 free agents that teams can still snag in an effort to upgrade their rosters before Opening Day.

Other Notable Remaining Free Agents

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    Justin Morneau won the NL batting title in 2014, but he's still looking for a place to play in 2016.
    Justin Morneau won the NL batting title in 2014, but he's still looking for a place to play in 2016.Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

    Position Players

    • OF Chris Denorfia
    • 1B Justin Morneau
    • OF Alex Rios
    • 2B Dan Uggla


    • RP Joe Beimel
    • SP Chad Billingsley
    • RP Randy Choate
    • RP Jason Frasor
    • RP Nick Hagadone
    • RP Greg Holland
    • RP Brandon League
    • SP Kyle Lohse
    • RP Sean Marshall
    • RP Franklin Morales
    • RP Joe Nathan
    • SP Alfredo Simon
    • SP Jerome Williams

SP/RP Justin Masterson

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    Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

    2015 Stats


    Why He's Still Available

    The Boston Red Sox took a flier on Justin Masterson last offseason with a one-year, $9.5 million deal, but hip and shoulder issues limited him to just 59.1 innings, and he was eventually released in August.

    Five teams had shown interest in signing Masterson back in December, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network, but nothing has progressed to this point, and he remains unsigned. 

    How He Can Make an Impact

    According to another tweet from Heyman back in November, Masterson underwent a cleanup procedure on his shoulder after being released and is expected to finally be back to 100 percent this season as a result.

    Still just 30 years old, he's not all that far removed from a terrific 2013 season that saw him go 14-10 with a 3.45 ERA, 1.202 WHIP and 195 strikeouts in 193 innings of work.

    Counting on him to hold down a rotation spot would be foolish, but there may not be a better reclamation project on the free-agent market outside of Tim Lincecum.

SP Aaron Harang

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    Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

    2015 Stats


    Why He's Still Available

    Among 78 qualified starting pitchers in the majors last season, Aaron Harang ranked 74th with a 4.86 ERA while making 29 starts for the Philadelphia Phillies.

    His 4.83 FIP doesn't exactly provide much hope for improvement, and entering his age-38 season, there's not much left in the tank.

    How He Can Make an Impact

    The one thing Harang does provide is durability and cheap innings.

    He's averaged 181 innings over the past 12 seasons and was right in line with that number again last year with 172.1 innings of work.

    He was also quietly effective in 2014, going 12-12 with a 3.57 ERA while twirling 204.1 innings for the Atlanta Braves, so some level of improvement over his 2015 numbers isn't out of the question.

OF Ryan Raburn

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    Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    2015 Stats


    Why He's Still Available

    Ryan Raburn is a career .256/.318/.440 hitter who has never topped 400 at-bats in a season over the course of his 10-year career.

    The 34-year-old has a .693 career OPS against right-handed pitching, relegating him to platoon duties, and that is part of the reason the Indians opted to decline their $3 million option on him this offseason.

    How He Can Make an Impact

    Raburn may be a platoon bat, but he was one of the best in the league last year.

    He hit .325/.415/.589 with 16 doubles and eight home runs in 176 plate appearances against left-handed pitching last year.

    In fact, his 1.004 OPS against southpaws was ninth in the league among players with at least 100 plate appearances. His $3 million contract may have been steep for the small-market Indians, but he could be a steal at that same price for someone else.

OF Marlon Byrd

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    Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

    2015 Stats


    Why He's Still Available

    In a deep outfield market, 38-year-old Marlon Byrd has seemingly fallen through the cracks after the San Francisco Giants declined his $8 million option.

    His .247 average and .290 on-base percentage last season represented the worst full-season marks of his career. A 101 OPS+ made him roughly a league-average hitter, and he didn't provide any defensive value with 1 DRS and a minus-2.0 UZR/150 in left field.

    How He Can Make an Impact

    Since bottoming out in 2012, Byrd has averaged 24 home runs and 82 RBI per season over the past three years, and his 72 home runs during that stretch rank 12th among all outfielders.

    After a mediocre run with the Cincinnati Reds last season, he was dealt to the San Francisco Giants in August and finished the season with a .764 OPS, 18 extra-base hits and 31 RBI in 39 games following the trade.

    He may not have much left to give, but he'd be a cheap source of power and a relatively low risk on a one-year deal.

OF Austin Jackson

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    2015 Stats


    Why He's Still Available

    Austin Jackson looked like a star in the making when he hit .300/.377/.479 with 55 extra-base hits as a 25-year-old with the Detroit Tigers in 2012.

    However, he's hit just .265/.319/.382 over the past three seasons, and while he remains a good defender and solid threat to steal bases, he now profiles better as a fourth outfielder than an everyday option.

    How He Can Make an Impact

    At 29 years old, Jackson still has upside and at least some bounce-back potential after a disappointing run with the Seattle Mariners.

    He's capable of playing all three outfield spots, and while penciling him in as an everyday starter may be unwise, he's a backup capable of stepping into a larger role and producing if a team is bit by the injury bug.

    The Scott Boras client recently turned down a one-year deal from the Los Angeles Angels said to be in the $5-6 million range, according to Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com.

RP Matt Thornton

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    Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

    2015 Stats


    Why He's Still Available

    Matt Thornton is not the same dominant pitcher he was in his prime, as his strikeout rate maxed out at 12.0 K/9 in 2010 but dropped all the way to a career-low 5.0 K/9 last season.

    The 39-year-old is clearly on the decline, and his 3.52 FIP last season on a 2.18 ERA could be a sign of some regression to come heading into 2016.

    How He Can Make an Impact

    At his peak, Thornton was one of the most dominant left-handed relievers in all of baseball, posting a 2.84 ERA, 1.104 WHIP and 10.7 K/9 with the Chicago White Sox from 2008 to 2011 while making the All-Star team in 2010.

    His fastball velocity topped out at 96.1 mph in 2010, and while he doesn't quite light up the radar gun to that extent anymore, he still averaged 93.5 mph last year.

    Now that Neal Cotts has signed, Thornton is easily the best left-handed option on the market, and he should be able to make a serious push at winning a roster spot on a minor league deal.

SP Tim Lincecum

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    Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

    2015 Stats


    Why He's Still Available

    After a strong start to the 2015 season saw Tim Lincecum go 4-2 with a 2.08 ERA in his first eight starts, the wheels fell off once again and he posted a 7.53 ERA in his next seven starts before being shut down with a hip injury that eventually required season-ending surgery.

    All things considered, Lincecum has not been a quality starter since the 2011 season. Over the past four years, he's gone 39-42 with a 4.68 ERA and 1.402 WHIP in 106 starts and seven relief appearances.

    How He Can Make an Impact

    At some point this spring, Lincecum is going to hold a showcase for scouts in an effort to prove he's still capable of holding down a rotation spot.

    That being said, a move to the bullpen could be exactly what he needs to jump-start his career.

    He made a significant impact as a reliever during the 2012 postseason, and his diminished stuff could play up in a relief role. He'll be eyeing an opportunity to start with this showcase, but the 31-year-old's future could be as an impact bullpen arm.

3B David Freese

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    Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    2015 Stats


    Why He's Still Available

    David Freese was the top free-agent option at third base, but teams have instead opted for the bargain play (Juan Uribe, Will Middlebrooks) or trade market (Todd Frazier, Yunel Escobar) to address needs at the hot corner.

    He's been a consistent run producer when healthy, but the 32-year-old has also dealt with injuries throughout his career and has only topped 500 at-bats once as a result. 

    How He Can Make an Impact

    Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register discussed the dilemma of extending a qualifying offer to Freese at the beginning of the offseason, and avoiding that burden certainly gives him more flexibility as a free agent.

    At this point, you almost have to assume he'll spend at least a few weeks on the disabled list, but even with his time missed, he's averaged a .754 OPS with 13 home runs and 62 RBI since becoming an everyday player in 2012.

    Count Angels outfielder Kole Calhoun among those surprised he's yet to find a new home.

    "It's kind of crazy. ... Good player, great in the clubhouse," Calhoun told Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com. "It's as surprising to me as it is to anyone around baseball. Hopefully, something comes around. He definitely deserves it."

1B Pedro Alvarez

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    Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    2015 Stats


    Why He's Still Available

    With a projected salary of $8.1 million in his final year of arbitration, according to Tim Dierkes and Matt Swartz of MLB Trade Rumors, the Pittsburgh Pirates opted to non-tender Pedro Alvarez in favor of a platoon of Michael Morse and John Jaso at first base.

    Despite good power numbers once again, Alvarez was essentially a replacement-level player last year with a 0.1 WAR.

    That was due in large part to his struggles defensively (minus-14 DRS, minus-26.4 UZR/150) in his first season as a first baseman, while a .243 average and 26.7 percent strikeout rate didn't help much, either.

    How He Can Make an Impact

    Alvarez isn't going to contend for a batting title anytime soon and he's a liability defensively, but he's capable of offsetting those shortcomings with his big-time power.

    The 29-year-old led the NL with 36 long balls in 2013, making the All-Star team and winning Silver Slugger honors in the process.

    His 111 home runs over the past four seasons rank 11th in all of baseball, and as a designated hitter who sees occasional time at the corner infield spots, he could be a great value signing.

SS Ian Desmond

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    Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

    2015 Stats


    Why He's Still Available

    Ian Desmond would not even have been a free agent this winter if he had accepted the seven-year, $107 million extension offered up by the Washington Nationals two offseasons ago.

    Instead, he turned in a mediocre contract season and was saddled with a qualifying offer, and now that Yovani Gallardo and Dexter Fowler have signed, he's the lone QO player still on the free-agent market.

    How He Can Make an Impact

    After three straight 20/20 seasons, Desmond was a major disappointment in 2015, but there's plenty of reason to think the 30-year-old can return to form.

    A terrible first half hurt his overall numbers, but he rebounded to hit .262/.331/.446 with 12 home runs and 38 RBI after the All-Star break.

    According to CBS Sports' Mike Axisa, there has also been talk this winter of him entertaining the idea of moving into a super-utility role of sorts, and that opens up more teams as possible landing spots, since versatility is always a valuable trait.

    All standard stats and WAR totals courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, while defensive metrics come via FanGraphs.