The Best Buy-Low Free Agent Targets Available

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This offseason, there are plenty of big names on the free-agent market. The class is headlined by J.T. Realmuto, George Springer, and Trevor Bauer. However, there are plenty of names on the market that could make an impact at a much lower cost. While these players may not be superstars, they are definitely worth taking a look at.

Free Agent: Mike Zunino

Zunino hasn’t quite lived up to the hype that made him the third overall pick in the 2012 Draft. He has hit just .200/.270/.394 (83 OPS+) across eight seasons, including a meager .147/.238/.360 (65 OPS+) line in 2020. Additionally, Zunino has struck out in 34.5 percent of his plate appearances, and he struck at an eye-popping 44.1 percent rate in 2020.

However, Zunino does have very good power when he does make contact with the ball, having hit 20 or more homers in three seasons. Furthermore, Zunino is a very strong defensive catcher, racking 46 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) and throwing out 29 percent of attempted base stealers in his career. He may not be a Realmuto level producer, but he could be a nice pick-up for many teams.

Free Agent: Jake Lamb

Lamb was an All-Star back in 2017, thanks to a monstrous first half, however, he has battled injuries and really struggled to produce ever since then. The Diamondbacks released Lamb this September after he got off to a dreadful .116/.240/.140 (6 OPS+) with no homers. However, the A’s picked him up shortly thereafter, and he produced over the final two weeks of the season, hitting .267/.327/.556 (143 OPS+) with three homers in 49 plate appearances. While Lamb may never return to his early 2017 form, he could certainly still be an effective bat.

Free Agent: Jedd Gyorko

Gyorko rebounded from a dreadful 2019 by having a solid 2020 season. While he wasn’t a full-time player, he still hit .248./333/.504 (121 OPS+) with nine homers in 135 plate appearances. Additionally, he crushed left-handed pitching to the tune of a 267/.404/.644 with five homers, and he also played solid defense at both corner infield positions. Considering that he has hit as many as 30 homers in a season, Gyorko is an intriguing player for many teams to look at.

Free Agent: Ryan Braun

With his massive contract in Milwaukee now over, there’s some speculation on whether Braun‘s great (but controversial) career is done. The former MVP and six-time All-Star looked like a shell of his former self in 2020, hitting just .233/.281/.488 (101 OPS+) in 141 plate appearances. Additionally, Braun was limited to just 20 games in the field, however, he still hit eight homers, which was good for a pace of 32 across a full season.

Furthermore, he ranked in the 66th percentile in exit velocity and in the 78th percentile in barrel percentage. These numbers suggest that he can still be a threat at the plate. Braun isn’t expected to return to All-Star or MVP-type production, but he could still provide some thump for a bunch of teams.

Free Agent: Brad Miller

Miller built off a strong 2019 season with a solid year with more playing time in 2020. While he’s not much of a fielder, he made up for it by hitting a solid .232/.357/.451 (120 OPS+) with seven homers and 25 RBIs; additionally, Miller ranked very well in Statcast categories. Miller ranked in the 73rd percentile in hard-hit rate, the 87th percentile in xwOBA, the 77th percentile in expected slugging percentage, and the 87th percentile in barrel rate. Even if he’s limited to DH duties, Miller is a very potent bat for teams to look at.

Free Agent: Joc Pederson

Pederson has always had lots of power, but also plenty of swing-and-miss to his game. After hitting 36 homers in 2019, Pederson had a dreadful regular season in 2020. He hit just .190/.285/.397 (84 OPS+) and only played mediocre defense in the outfield, however, Pederson had a fantastic postseason, hitting a scalding .382/.432/.559 with two homers and eight RBIs. Statcast had Pederson ranked in the 96th percentile in exit velocity, signaling that his regular-season numbers may have just been an aberration. He’s not a superstar, but he’s definitely a free agent worth keeping an eye on.

Free Agent: Edwin Encarnación

Encarnación is entering his age 38 season and he’s coming off a very disappointing year. He still has massive power, and he ranked in the 86th percentile in barrel rate this year. He can’t really play the field anymore, but Encarnación can still be a free agent that teams look at for his right-handed thump.

Free Agent: Domingo Santana

Santana struggled in the limited playing time he got in 2020. Santana is only 28 and has had some success in the past, having hit as many as 30 homers in a season. Even as just a bench bat, Santana could be a nice pick-up for teams looking for a right-handed power hitter. He isn’t going to cost much either, which makes him an even more enticing free agent.

Free Agent: Robbie Ray

Coming into 2020, Ray looked to be on the top free-agent arms on the market. The former all-star was coming off another solid season in which he struck out a career-best 235 batters. However, he had a dreadful 2020 season, pitching to 6.82 ERA, and 1.897 WHIP and walking a Major League-worst 45 batters in 51.2 innings pitched (7.8 BB/9).

While those numbers are extremely concerning, Ray still managed to strike out 68 batters (11.2 K/9) and averaged 93.9 miles per hour on his fastball. Additionally, Ray’s spin rate on his fastball ranked in the 80th percentile, while his whiff rate was in the 84th percentile. He may not be an ace, but Ray could either slot in as a back-end starter or transition into becoming a reliever.

Free Agent: Kirby Yates

This free-agent class is loaded with relievers, otherwise, Yates would probably be in line for a huge payday if it weren’t for his injuries this season. In 2019, Yates was arguably the best reliever in baseball. He collected a Major League-leading 41 saves while pitching to a 1.19 ERA/1.30 FIP and a 0.890 WHIP with 101 strikeouts in 60.2 innings pitched (15.0 K/9).

Yates was limited to just 4.1 innings this season, and he had to undergo season-ending elbow surgery to remove bone chips this summer. If Yates is healthy, he could be a steal for whoever signs him heading into 2021.

Closing remarks

There are plenty of free agents that could make impacts for many different teams. None of these players are superstars, and a lot of them are coming off down years. The upside is that they could cost much less than the big-ticket free agents, and thus make them much more attractive targets.

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Mathias is a graduate student at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. He is currently studying Broadcast and Digital Journalism on the Sports Media and Communications track. He graduated from The College of New Jersey in 2021, where he studied journalism and served as the Sports Editor and Opinions Editor for the school's newspaper, The Signal. He joined Overtime Heroics as a writer in June of 2019 and became an editor in December of 2020 before taking over the MLB department in June of 2021. Mathias is also a former varsity swimmer and is the youngest of five kids.