Remaining 2016-17 MLB Free Agents Who Suddenly Look Like Huge Values

Seth Gruen@SethGruenFeatured ColumnistDecember 4, 2016

Remaining 2016-17 MLB Free Agents Who Suddenly Look Like Huge Values

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    It’s fairly easy to write a check. Do you want a free agent on your team? All an executive really needs to do is offer that player a bigger contract than every other team in contention for his services.

    The more difficult task for general managers around the game is to identify players who offer an organization great value.

    Inevitably, those players are flawed. Otherwise, they would be fielding high-priced offers that would negate the idea that they bring any value. So have an open mind when considering the following choices.

    Sure there are holes in each player’s game but might some teams see a bargain and take a risk?

Mark Trumbo

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    Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

    Mike Trumbo hits home runs. Really well, mind you. But it’s about the only thing his does at an elite level. He led MLB with 47 homers for the Baltimore Orioles in 2016.

    He’s an average hitter, at best, and walks much less than most hitters with his kind of power.

    His deficiencies as a player lessen his value, quite obviously. So, Trumbo will command less than most power hitters, which is the very reason he might be a bargain to whichever team signs him.

    It would have to be the right situation. Trumbo could struggle if he’s forced to be the fixture in a weaker lineup. But if an already offensively proficient team signs him, Trumbo would be protected in the lineup.

    He would then see fewer breaking pitches, lessening the likelihood of his striking out and increasing his chances to hit home runs. Last season he averaged 14.2 plate appearances per home run, a number that he could cut down with capable breaking-ball hitters around him.

Jason Hammel

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    Paul Beaty/Associated Press

    Jason Hammel neither has an elite arm nor, at 34, does he offer teams any semblance of long-term security in their starting rotations.

    But the right-handed starting pitcher could capably fill a hole in the rotation of a contending team, especially after posting a respectable 3.83 ERA as the Chicago Cubs’ No. 5 starter in 2016.

    Playing anywhere other than on baseball’s best rotation in 2016, would have caused Hammel to be slotted higher. Nonetheless, he proved last season that he still has something left in his arm.

    In 2014, Hammel posted a 2.98 ERA in 17 starts for the Cubs. He was then shipped to the Oakland A’s with Jeff Samardzija in a deal that netted Chicago shortstop Addison Russell. The team re-signed Hammel for the 2015 season when he posted a 3.74 ERA.

    Pitching isn’t cheap. Once he signs with a team, Hammel’s annual salary may not appear to be a bargain.

    But the key to remember is that baseball contracts are guaranteed. So the value of a contract isn’t examined on an annual basis but in the totality of the deal. Once a player signs a deal, that teams is guaranteeing him every dollar in that contract with the exception of any incentives.

    Because of his age, Hammel won’t command a long-term deal. He’s likely to sign a two- or three-year deal, which won’t force teams to lock themselves into a long-term commitment.

    That’s what the Cubs did by signing John Lackey to a two-year deal last offseason. They were able to upgrade their rotation without much commitment. Though his numbers aren’t as impressive as Lackey’s, he offers a similar financial dynamic.

Michael Bourn

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Michael Bourn hit .283/.358/.435 in 24 games with the Baltimore Orioles after being traded to the club from the Arizona Diamondbacks on Aug. 31. With the two clubs combined, he hit .264/.314/.371.

    At 33, Bourn is not the elite center fielder and leadoff man he was earlier in his career. But his performance with Baltimore, a team in contention, suggests he has something left to offer a club eying a World Series.

    He is not among the most discussed center fielders in free agency. Dexter Fowler and Ian Desmond are expected to command much larger contracts.

    Accordingly, Bourn will come at a much cheaper price for a team with a hole in center field.

    It should be noted that Bourn has struggled to get on base since posting a .348 OBP in 2012. But he did post a 0.4 WAR in 2016, according to FanGraphs, meaning he was better than a replacement-level player.

Travis Wood

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Left-handed relievers at the trade deadline are like door busters on Black Friday. Baseball executives are trampling each other to try to acquire one.

    But instead of waiting until the trade deadline in 2017, it might make sense to sign someone like Travis Wood in the offseason.

    He was the Cubs’ left-handed specialist out of the bullpen, maintaining his status as one of the team’s best bullpen arms until Chicago traded for Mike Montgomery and Aroldis Chapman at the trade deadline.

    Now a free agent, teams should really consider Wood, who won’t come at too high a price. Bullpen specialists typically aren’t pricey in the offseason. When teams try to trade for them, however, a player like Wood costs a tremendous amount in prospects.

    The value of relief increases as the season progress.

    Left-handed hitters slashed .128/.208/.217 against Wood in 2016. He only allowed 14 hits to such batters all season.

Joaquin Benoit

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Ordinarily, Joaquin Benoit might command big money after posting a 0.38 ERA in 25 games as a reliever for the Toronto Blue Jays. The right-hander was traded to Toronto from Seattle, where he struggled in 2016.

    But his performance with the Blue Jays affirmed that, even at 39, he is one of the game’s valued bullpen arms.

    A calf injury, however, required surgery and kept him out of the 2017 playoffs. And at his age, such an injury could lessen his value on the free-agent market. Certainly, it’s a red flag.

    Still, he might be a player worth taking a risk on especially at a discounted rate. No team will give him a long-term deal and even on an annual basis, his salary could be a bargain for a team willing to take a calculated or medical risk.

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