Top Bounce-Back Candidates Available on the 2016-17 MLB Offseason Market
Superstar-caliber players generally dominate headlines each MLB offseason.
They will be agreeing to big-money deals and are often viewed as the missing piece that could push a team over the top in its pursuit of a championship.
However, scouring the market for bargains and taking a flier on a potential bounce-back candidate can be just as important in building a successful contender.
Just look at last season, when guys like Ian Desmond (TEX), Mike Napoli (CLE), Chris Carter (MIL), Matt Joyce (PIT), David Freese (PIT), Fernando Rodney (SD), Neftali Feliz (PIT), Brandon Kintzler (MIN) and Carlos Torres (MIL) all signed modest, one-year deals after disappointing 2015 seasons, only to emerge as key contributors for their respective clubs.
Meanwhile, the trade market also provided bounce-back or breakout gems, led by Jean Segura (ARI), Jonathan Villar (MIL) and Drew Pomeranz (SD).
With that in mind, what follows is a look at the 10 most intriguing bounce-back candidates on the offseason market, ranked based on upside and potential impact.
10. LF Colby Rasmus (Free Agent)
Colby Rasmus played well enough in 2015 to earn a qualifying offer from the Houston Astros, posting a .789 OPS with 25 home runs and 61 RBI.
He wisely accepted that offer, as the free-agent market for outfielders wound up moving slower than expected, and chances are he would not have approached the $15.8 million he earned on that one-year deal.
Rasmus was plagued by injuries in 2016, tallying just 417 plate appearances. His OPS dropped considerably to .641, and he added 15 home runs and 54 RBI.
He won't provide much in the way of batting average or on-base ability, and he comes with obvious injury concerns. However, Rasmus could be a cheap source of 20-plus home runs, and he was a standout defensively in the outfield.
With 14 defensive runs saved and a 31.8 UZR/150, Rasmus was a Gold Glove finalist in left field despite playing just 672.1 innings at the position.
He added three defensive runs saved and a 22.0 UZR/150 over 124.2 innings in center field, making him one of the few capable options on the market at that position.
The 30-year-old underwent hip and core muscle surgeries at the end of October, but he's expected to be ready for the start of spring training, according to Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.
A modest, one-year deal that includes incentives for plate appearances seems like a reasonable contract expectation, and that could make him one of the best bargains of the winter.
9. C Derek Norris (Trade Candidate)
Derek Norris was an All-Star as recently as 2014, posting a .270/.361/.403 line with 10 home runs and 55 RBI in what would be his final season with the Oakland Athletics.
Oakland shipped him to the San Diego Padres that offseason in exchange for pitchers Jesse Hahn and R.J. Alvarez. While the Padres failed to contend as hoped, Norris remained productive with a .709 OPS, 33 doubles, 14 home runs and 62 RBI en route to a 2.5 WAR.
Things went south in 2016, though.
The 27-year-old saw his triple-slash numbers drop to .186/.255/.328 over 458 plate appearances, while his strikeout rate spiked from 23.5 to 30.3 percent.
So what's his appeal as a potential trade target?
For one, it will likely take next to nothing to acquire him.
The Padres are set to turn starting catching duties over to Austin Hedges after he crushed Triple-A pitching last season, leaving Norris as an expensive backup with a $4 million projected salary in arbitration.
For teams uninspired by secondary free-agent options like Kurt Suzuki, Alex Avila, Nick Hundley and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, taking a chance on Norris could be an intriguing alternative.
Even in a down season, he tallied 17 doubles and 14 home runs while ranking as one of the better pitch-framers in baseball, per StatCorner.
He also has two seasons of team control remaining, so if he does turn in a bounce-back season, he'd be more than a one-year rental.
8. SP Derek Holland (Free Agent)
Derek Holland earned a five-year, $28.5 million extension from the Texas Rangers after a breakout season in 2011 in which he went 16-5 with a 3.95 ERA and led the American League with four shutouts.
The left-hander was still a productive part of the Rangers rotation as recently as 2013, when he went 10-9 with a 3.42 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and 189 strikeouts over a career-high 213.0 innings of work.
However, injuries have taken their toll in the years since.
A knee injury limited him to 37.0 innings in 2014, and a shoulder injury capped him at 58.2 innings in 2015.
While left shoulder inflammation earned him a trip to the 60-day disabled list once again this past season, he still managed to make 20 starts, albeit with middling results. He went 7-9 with a 4.95 ERA and 1.41 WHIP over 107.1 innings.
Now the 30-year-old is a free agent after his $11 million option was declined, and a handful of teams have already shown interest.
Jeff Wilson of the Star-Telegram listed the Padres, Pirates and Yankees as three early suitors, while Holland indicated during an appearance on The Ben & Skin Show (via the Dallas Morning News) that his preference is still to re-sign with the Rangers.
A one-year deal seems likely, though a mutual option for a second year could be what separates one of those interested parties from the pack.
7. 3B Trevor Plouffe (Non-Tender Candidate)
In hindsight, the Minnesota Twins should have traded Trevor Plouffe last winter.
Plouffe was coming off a rock-solid season in which he posted a .742 OPS with 35 doubles, 22 home runs and 86 RBI. With limited third base options on the market, he likely would have brought the organization some quality prospect talent.
Instead, he stayed put and wound up playing just 84 games in 2016 while nursing a cracked rib and a left oblique strain.
Now the 30-year-old's salary is set to jump to a projected $8.2 million in his final year of arbitration. Coming off that injury-plagued campaign, he looks more like a non-tender candidate than a trade chip.
The Red Sox, Giants, Braves, Brewers and Angels all come to mind as teams that could view Plouffe as an upgrade at the hot corner, especially if he is non-tendered and can be had for less than his current arbitration price tag.
Justin Turner and Luis Valbuena are essentially it as far as third base options on the free-agent market, and Plouffe still offers decent upside provided he's healthy.
Injury-prone veteran David Freese waited around on the free-agent market last winter until the Pittsburgh Pirates finally signed him to a one-year, $3 million deal in March.
Healthy and productive in a part-time role, he played his way into a two-year, $11 million extension with the Pirates that includes a third-year option.
Plouffe could follow a similar path this offseason.
6. RP Daniel Hudson (Free Agent)
A 24-year-old Daniel Hudson looked like a star in the making when he went 16-12 with a 3.49 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 169 strikeouts in 222.0 innings of work in 2011.
Things quickly crumbled.
Just nine starts into the 2012 season, he underwent Tommy John surgery; then, he re-tore his UCL on the rehab trail the following season and was forced to undergo a second surgery.
The right-hander finally returned to full strength in 2015, and the Arizona Diamondbacks moved him to the bullpen in an effort to keep him healthy.
That proved to be the right move, as he emerged as one of the team's best relievers, posting a 3.86 ERA and 21 holds over 64 appearances.
However, his ERA climbed to 5.22 over 70 games this past season.
Keith Law of ESPN.com ranked Hudson as the No. 19 player in this year's free-agent class:
His stuff remains intact -- a mid-90s fastball, a plus changeup, an average slider -- and his command is more than good enough for him to be a league-average reliever, with some upside if he's in a better environment. If a team is looking for a closer but doesn't want to pay retail for Kenley Jansen or deal with the character questions of Aroldis Chapman, Hudson's a very appealing alternative who should see immediate improvement just by getting out of the desert.
Think of him as this year's version of Shawn Kelley, though it's unlikely he'll match the three-year, $15 million deal that Kelley received from the Washington Nationals last winter.
5. SP Brett Anderson (Free Agent)
Brett Anderson has always been a good pitcher; he just hasn't always been a healthy one.
As a 21-year-old rookie in 2009, the left-hander went 11-11 with a 4.06 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 150 strikeouts in 175.1 innings of work.
However, it was not until the 2015 season that he would top the 120-inning mark for the second time in his career, as a laundry list of injuries consistently relegated him to the role of spectator.
The Los Angeles Dodgers gave him a one-year, $10 million deal prior to the 2015 season, taking advantage of their financial flexibility to roll the dice on one of the market's bigger risk-reward plays.
The risk paid off, as Anderson stayed healthy enough to make 31 starts and went 10-9 with a 3.69 ERA, 1.33 WHIP and 116 strikeouts over a career-high 180.1 innings.
Unfortunately, his good health didn't last, and Anderson underwent surgery this past March to repair a bulging disk in his back.
He eventually returned to action in August, but he made just four appearances on the year, allowing 25 hits and 15 earned runs in 11.1 innings of work.
A substantial pay cut from the $15.8 million he made this past season after accepting a qualifying offer is coming, and it's unlikely he'll match the $10 million he got from the Dodgers in a similar situation two years ago.
Anderson is still just 28 years old, though, and with another run of good health, he's more than capable of holding down a rotation spot and providing No. 3 starter upside.
4. SP Edinson Volquez (Free Agent)
Edinson Volquez burst onto the scene as a 24-year-old with the Cincinnati Reds in 2008, going 17-6 with a 3.21 ERA and 206 strikeouts in 196.0 innings to finish third in National League Rookie of the Year voting.
Unfortunately, that still stands as his best season to date.
After five seasons of ups and downs with the Reds, Padres and Dodgers, he reached free agency for the first time in 2014 and landed in Pittsburgh on a one-year, $5 million deal.
There, he enjoyed a career renaissance in the hands of pitching guru Ray Searage, going 13-7 with a 3.04 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and 140 strikeouts in 192.2 innings and earning the start in the team's Wild Card Game.
As they are wont to do, the Pirates opted to let someone else pay for his resurgent performance, and Volquez landed with the Kansas City Royals on a two-year, $20 million deal that included a mutual option.
His first season with the team was great, as he went 13-9 with a 3.55 ERA and played a significant role in helping the team to a World Series title. However, his ERA spiked to 5.37 this past season, and the Royals declined his option.
What can we expect from the 33-year-old in 2017, and is he capable of returning to the form we saw in 2014 and 2015?
In a market with limited starting pitching options, his upside makes him one of the more attractive arms out there.
If nothing else, he's been durable, making at least 30 starts and throwing at least 170 innings in each of the past five seasons. That in itself is valuable.
3. SP Jaime Garcia (Trade Candidate)
One of the more compelling decisions in the first week of the offseason was whether the St. Louis Cardinals were going to exercise their $12 million option on left-hander Jaime Garcia.
In the end, they did, but that's no guarantee he'll be part of the 2017 roster.
Garcia has struggled to stay on the field throughout his career, making just 56 starts over a four-year span from 2012 to 2015 and failing to top 20 starts in any one season.
However, he's been a solid MLB starter when healthy and provided legitimate front-line production in 2015, when he went 10-6 with a 2.43 ERA and 1.05 WHIP over 20 starts and 129.2 innings.
That's what makes his 2016 performance so puzzling.
For just the third time in his career, Garcia avoided significant injury and topped 150 innings, but the results weren't there.
The 30-year-old finished the season 10-13 with a 4.67 ERA, 1.38 WHIP and 150 strikeouts in 171.2 innings, giving him an 88 ERA+, which indicates he was 12 percent worse than a league-average pitcher.
With Lance Lynn's return from Tommy John surgery and both Alex Reyes and Luke Weaver expected to push for a spot in the rotation, the Cardinals have an abundance of starting pitching.
Even coming off a mediocre season, Garcia has the track record to generate plenty of interest on the trade market, especially in such a weak market.
Here's what GM John Mozeliak told Benjamin Hochman of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on the team's decision to exercise Garcia's option:
As we look to the trade market as we get to the GM meetings, we want to be able to not have our hands tied. For example, if we had not picked up the option, and all of a sudden we feel there's a trade that might make sense for us that's going to have to include a starter, then we're left with having to backfill.
Given what Jaime was able to accomplish last year, clearly it didn't end the way he would've liked it to, but he still ate a lot of valuable innings for us. When I think about what's out there on the free-agent market, I still think it's an asset to have. … And what if we have to move someone else? It would be nice to still have the depth in our rotation.
From the sound of that, he's being viewed as a trade chip first and organizational depth second.
2. RP Greg Holland (Free Agent)
Greg Holland is undoubtedly the X-factor of this winter's relief pitcher market.
Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen both figure to blow past the record contract for a reliever, which currently stands as the four-year, $50 million deal that Jonathan Papelbon inked with the Philadelphia Phillies. Mark Melancon should command a hefty payday as well.
For teams looking for an alternative, Holland is as intriguing as they come.
The 30-year-old was every bit as effective—if not more so—as Chapman and Jansen during the 2013 and 2014 seasons, as you can see:
- Chapman: 122 G, 74/81 SV, 91.4 SV%, 2.29 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 16.7 K/9
- Jansen: 143 G, 72/81 SV, 88.9 SV%, 2.28 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 13.4 K/9
- Holland: 133 G, 93/98 SV, 94.9 SV%, 1.32 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 13.4 K/9
Arm issues rendered him significantly less effective in 2015, though, and he eventually underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery.
Holland was clocked in the 89-90 mph range during a recent showcase for scouts, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, a far cry from the 95.5 mph average he's posted over the course of his MLB career. But scouts walked away happy with what he showed from a health standpoint.
"He had good extension, which suggests he is healthy," one scout told Sherman. "This is his fastball in November, 13 months after surgery—it will be something else in spring training. But this is the key now: What does he look like in four months? That is really what you are trying to figure out."
Agent Scott Boras has already indicated that Holland will not be holding another showcase, according to Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com, so all interested teams will have to work with is what they saw in November.
He'll likely have to choose between an opportunity to close on a non-contender or working—at least initially—as a setup man on one of the big-market teams that's willing to take a chance.
Either way, no pitcher on the market offers more upside.
1. CF Carlos Gomez (Free Agent)
Carlos Gomez has been quite the enigma in recent seasons.
At his peak with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2013 and 2014, he was one of the most dynamic players in all of baseball.
During that two-year span, he hit .284/.347/.491 and averaged 30 doubles, 24 home runs, 73 RBI, 88 runs scored and 37 stolen bases while racking up a 13.3 WAR that ranked fifth among all position players.
The wheels fell off in 2015, though, as he was traded to the Astros at the deadline and finished with a combined .255/.314/.409 over 477 plate appearances while battling a hamstring injury.
Viewed as a potential bounce-back candidate heading into this past season, things instead went from bad to worse, as he hit a meager .210/.272/.322 over 323 plate appearances before finally being released on Aug. 18.
In need of some outfield help after losing Shin-Soo Choo to injury, the Rangers took a chance on Gomez and signed him two days later, a move that turned out to be one of the best of the summer.
In 33 games with the Rangers, Gomez hit .284/.362/.543 with six doubles, eight home runs and 24 RBI, revitalizing his career just before hitting the free-agent market.
How much stock will teams put in a 33-game stint?
Tim Dierkes, Steve Adams and Jeff Todd of MLB Trade Rumors predicted a three-year, $36 million deal for Gomez while also noting that "it's possible he could settle for a one-year contract to rebuild value" ahead of another run at free agency next winter.
If that winds up being the case, there's no player in this year's free-agent class who offers more upside per dollar than Gomez.