10 Remaining MLB Free Agents Who Can Make an Impact in 2021

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistFebruary 26, 2021

10 Remaining MLB Free Agents Who Can Make an Impact in 2021

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    With spring training underway, some notable free agents are still searching for a team to call home in 2021.

    While many of the market's remaining players are aging veterans likely headed for retirement and roster fillers unlikely to secure an MLB deal, a few impact players are available.

    Center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and right-hander Jake Odorizzi are the two biggest names, and both are candidates to reel in multiyear deals, but others are worth highlighting as well.

    Ahead, we've highlighted 10 remaining free agents who can make an impact in 2021, running down what they could bring to a team and predicting where they might sign and what their contracts could look like.

CF Jackie Bradley Jr.

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Despite his offensive inconsistency, Jackie Bradley Jr. has had no problem generating interest from multiple teams this offseason, though he has yet to pull the trigger on signing.

    Earlier this week, Robert Murray of FanSided added the Milwaukee Brewers to a list of suitors that has at one point or another this winter also included the Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros, New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies and a potential reunion with the Boston Red Sox.

    The Brewers' fit is an interesting one considering Lorenzo Cain is back in the fold after opting out of the 2020 season, but Avisail Garcia could potentially shift into a fourth outfielder and pinch-hitter role.

    The 30-year-old hit .283/.364/.450 for a 118 OPS+ last season in one of the better offensive years of his career, but it's his glove and penchant for highlight-reel plays that has long been his calling card.

    In eight seasons with the Red Sox, he has tallied 18.0 WAR and 53 Defensive Runs Saved in the outfield, and he still looks like a safe bet for a multiyear deal.

    Prediction: Signs a two-year, $20 million deal with the Houston Astros.

SP/RP Trevor Cahill

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Kevin Gausman and Drew Smyly were not the only buy-low success stories on the San Francisco Giants' pitching staff last season.

    Veteran Trevor Cahill was signed to a minor league deal that was worth $2 million when he won a spot on the MLB roster, and over six starts and five relief appearances he posted a 3.24 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 31 strikeouts in 25 innings.

    The 32-year-old has pitched in a variety of roles over the course of his 12-year career, resurrecting his career as a reliever with the Chicago Cubs in 2016 before moving back into a starting role.

    He pitched beyond the fourth inning just once last year, so perhaps he's best suited for a multi-inning relief role at this point in his career, but he's still capable of chewing up innings.

    The Oakland Athletics signed him late during the 2017-18 offseason, inking him to a one-year deal on March 19, and he wound up going 7-4 with a 3.76 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 20 starts. He could take a similar approach this spring and wait until an injury opens up a spot in a team's rotation.

    Prediction: Signs a one-year, $2 million deal with the Seattle Mariners.

3B Maikel Franco

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    Aaron Gash/Associated Press

    What Alec Bohm is today for the Philadelphia Phillies in terms of hype and long-term upside, Maikel Franco was on a similar scale not all that long ago.

    The No. 17 prospect in baseball at the start of the 2014 season, according to Baseball America, Franco hit .280/.343/.497 for a 130 OPS+ with 22 doubles, 14 home runs and 50 RBI in 80 games as a rookie the following year.

    Unfortunately, that proved to be his high-water mark in Philadelphia, and over the next four seasons he hit a paltry .247/.299/.427 despite averaging 22 home runs and 72 RBI.

    He was non-tendered last offseason, and the Kansas City Royals scooped him up on a one-year deal. He enjoyed a bit of a spike in production, hitting .278/.321/.457 with 24 extra-base hits and 38 RBI in 243 plate appearances, but he was non-tendered again in December.

    Still only 28 years old, he has more upside than most of the hitters still looking for work.

    Prediction: Signs a one-year, $1 million deal with the Milwaukee Brewers.

RP Shane Greene

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Shane Greene was one of the most dominant late-inning relievers in baseball as recently as the first half of the 2019 season.

    An All-Star for the first time that season, he entered the break having converted 22 of 24 save chances with a 1.09 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings in 33 appearances.

    The Detroit Tigers sold high at the deadline, trading him to the Atlanta Braves, and he has been a reliable late-inning option pitching alongside Mark Melancon and Will Smith in 2020.

    The Braves were in the mix for Trevor Rosenthal before he signed with the Oakland Athletics, and Jon Heyman of MLB Network was quick to point to Greene as a potential fallback plan to shore up the Atlanta bullpen in 2021.

    They will not be the only team interested in arguably the top reliever still available, but the fact that he has yet to sign could be an indication he was holding out hope for a reunion with a Braves team that is a clear contender.

    Prediction: Signs a one-year, $4 million deal with the Atlanta Braves.

1B/3B Jedd Gyorko

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Here's a quick look at the Milwaukee Brewers' OPS+ leaders from last year among players who recorded at least 100 plate appearances:

    • Jedd Gyorko: 121
    • Christian Yelich: 111
    • Ryan Braun: 101
    • Orlando Arcia: 96
    • Ben Gamel: 92

    Aside from the obvious takeaway that the Brewers offense was a disaster, who would have guessed it would be Gyorko atop that list when he signed a one-year, $2 million contract to join Eric Sogard in a platoon at third base.

    Then again, the 32-year-old has always had sneaky power.

    He slugged 30 home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2016, and he has a 101 OPS+ in 2,983 career plate appearances over the course of his eight-year career. He also offers some positional versatility with experience at all four infield spots.

    Prediction: Signs a one-year, $2.5 million deal with the Seattle Mariners.

SP Jake Odorizzi

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Some players accept the qualifying offer and use it to further boost their stock and set themselves up for a lucrative multiyear payday on the other end.

    For others, it backfires.

    Jake Odorizzi had a career year in 2019, going 15-7 with a 3.51 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 178 strikeouts in 159 innings, and he accepted the one-year, $17.8 million qualifying offer from the Minnesota Twins last winter.

    Unfortunately, the 2020 season was essentially a lost year.

    He started just four games while making three separate trips to the injured list, finishing with a 6.59 ERA and 1.39 WHIP in 13.2 innings of work.

    The 30-year-old has been linked to multiple teams throughout the offseason, with Jon Heyman of MLB Network recently identifying the Phillies and Angels as two teams that have maintained interest. His age and stellar 2019 performance should still be enough for him to land a multiyear deal.

    Prediction: Signs a three-year, $36 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies.

SP/RP Brad Peacock

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Brad Peacock was an extremely valuable arm for the Houston Astros for several years while filling a wide variety of roles on the staff.

    The numbers tell the story:

    • 2017: 34 G, 21 GS, 13-2, 3.00 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 161 K, 132.0 IP
    • 2018: 61 G, 1 GS, 3 SV, 10 HLD, 3.46 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 13.3 K/9
    • 2019: 23 G, 15 GS, 7-6, 4.12 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 96 K, 91.2 IP

    Shoulder discomfort limited him to just three appearances this past season, and he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder at the beginning of October.

    That made it a less than ideal time to reach free agency for the first time in his career, and he'll likely need to prove healthy by way of a showcase before teams are willing to put pen to paper.

    The 33-year-old's status remains uncertain for the start of the 2021 season, but if he can get healthy and pitch like he did during that three-year stretch in Houston, his flexibility would fit on a number of staffs looking to add another quality arm.

    Prediction: Signs a one-year, $1 million deal with the Kansas City Royals.

SP Rick Porcello

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Earlier this offseason, I highlighted Rick Porcello as one of the biggest potential steals on this year's free-agent market, offering up the following argument:

    "He went 1-7 with a 5.64 ERA, 1.51 WHIP and .303 opponents' batting average over 12 starts on a one-year, $10 million contract with the New York Mets.

    "However, there was some reason for optimism.

    "His 3.33 FIP and .373 BABIP paint a picture of a pitcher who suffered some bad luck, and he ranked in the 70th percentile in exit velocity allowed despite his unsightly opponents' batting average.

    "He had a few clunkers among his 12 starts, but he also had a few gems, including seven innings of three-hit, one-run, 10-strikeout ball against the Atlanta Braves on Sept. 20."

    The 32-year-old is not the same pitcher who took home AL Cy Young honors in 2016, but he's a workhorse capable of eating up 180 innings while pitching at a league-average level at the back of a contender's rotation.

    Prediction: Signs a one-year, $4 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels.

OF Yasiel Puig

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    Phil Long/Associated Press

    Yasiel Puig is not the superstar many expected him to become when he exploded onto the scene with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2013.

    That doesn't mean he's not a productive player.

    In his last three seasonsexcluding 2020 when he sat out after a positive COVID-19 test squashed his chances of being signed by the Atlanta Braveshe's posted a 111 OPS+ while averaging 25 doubles, 25 home runs, 76 RBI, 16 steals and 2.3 WAR.

    The 30-year-old has also done some growing up since he first broke into the league, and the concern of him becoming a distraction with his antics is no longer a prevailing issue.

    The Marlins, Royals and Yankees were all linked to him earlier in the offseason, but they have since been ruled out as potential landing spots.

    A chance to play alongside fellow countrymen Jose Abreu, Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert with the White Sox would also provide the South Siders with a low-cost option in the DH role until Andrew Vaughn is ready for the big leagues.

    Prediction: Signs a one-year, $1.5 million deal with the Chicago White Sox.

RP David Robertson

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Baseball historian Bill James had David Robertson at No. 94 on his list of the 100 greatest relief pitchers in MLB history following the 2017 season.

    He then went out and posted a 3.23 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 11.8 K/9 with five saves and 21 holds in 69 appearances with the New York Yankees during the 2018 season, so it's fair to assume he ranks even higher now.

    The Philadelphia Phillies signed him to a two-year, $23 million contract following that stellar season, but he made just seven appearances before Tommy John surgery sidelined him for the rest of 2019 and all of 2020.

    The 35-year-old has held a pair of showcases for scouts this offseason, and more than a dozen teams were in attendance for the most recent one. He reportedly sat 90-91 with his fastball and touched 92 mph, which is right in line with the 92.7 mph average velocity on his cutter for his career.

    Prediction: Signs a one-year, $2 million deal with incentives for games finished with the Atlanta Braves.


    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.