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2021 MLB Offseason: Biggest Free Agency Bargains

As the 2021 MLB season gets closer and closer, the 30 team’s rosters have stood the test of the many moves within an organization, whether that is arrivals or departure. Therefore, the 2021 MLB offseason can be proclaimed over, with the recap that comes, in turn, running between now and the conclusion of the 117th Fall Classic.

It is unknown when exactly the term “market inefficiency" earned its place within the baseball vocabulary. However, few outlets have shed a brighter light on the impact of the term than the 2003 Michael Lewis book “Moneyball". The book focused on Billy Beane, Paul DePodesta, and the Oakland Athletics which revolutionized objective thinking within Major League Baseball.

However, 18 years later, after all, teams embraced the Moneyball ideology, and some went even further, the logical phenomenon of meritocracy is still reigning supreme. Some teams seemingly have no interest in spending efficiently, which is exactly why, year after year, they spend big bucks, only to be outplayed by low-payroll clubs. Moreover, nothing proves these occurrences better than the mass of players on huge deals that end up underperforming. Contrary to a popular belief, this isn"t a player failure (except when you consider the fully-guaranteed-contracts factor) but rather a valuation failure.

Nonetheless, this article is dedicated to the players that were underpriced during the 2021 MLB offseason. Their new teams were able to get incredibly consistent assets at a low price. These moves could give them leverage during the upcoming season while also serving as evidence of their effective policies.

2021 MLB Offseason Bargains: Adam Eaton

Even though this past offseason has been one of the slowest in the recent history of the game, many remain baffled to see Adam Eaton only get a cheap one-year deal. The skeptics of the deal he signed with the Chicago White Sox, worth just $8 million, are rightfully questioning the lack of demand for him on the market and his potential heading into his early 30s is seeming more and more interesting.

Eaton entered the league with the Arizona Diamondbacks back in 2012. However, he wouldn"t become a regular starting-caliber asset until his inaugural season with his first AL club, and his new home, the White Sox. Adam Eaton spent the next three campaigns in South Chicago before joining the Washington Nationals for four seasons in a trade involving Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez.

During the six years between his Chicago debut and his latest display in a non-shortened campaign, Eaton appeared in more than 100 games on four occasions. Furthermore, in one of the other two cases, he turned in 95 games and 370 PA. Therefore, he was an everyday starting outfielder throughout almost the whole time. And he did not disappoint.

Adam Eaton posted an on-base percentage north of .360 and a slugging figure over .400 in each of those six seasons. Moreover, he averaged an OBP of .362 over that period. This was the 26th-best amongst qualified batters throughout the 2014-2019 cycle. Similarly, during his tenure with the White Sox, his base-reaching accomplishments ranked 25th. Also, his half-sliced 2018 campaign saw Eaton post a career-high .394 on-base figure.

His quiet performance in a COVID-impacted environment might have been the main reason for his decreased value heading into the 2021 MLB offseason. However, it has been clear that Adam Eaton has been one of the most consistent major-league hitters in normal conditions.

By prioritizing quality over price and star factor, the White Sox were able to acquire a player comparable to the best hitters on the market at a dramatically friendlier price. For instance, Michael Brantley‘s OBP during that span is just four hundredths higher – he was worth twice Eaton"s $8-million-a-year price. Also, Despite getting $25 million per season to be a leadoff hitter, George Springer"s career OBP is sixth-hundredths lower than Eaton"s. Springer entered the league the same year Adam Eaton was a regular starter for the first time.

Very few signings epitomize the term “efficient spending" better in the context of the White Sox in the 2021 MLB Offseason. It went a long way towards allowing them to improve other components of their roster, such as the rotation and the bullpen. Meanwhile, it also promises to pay avid dividends as regards Chicago"s lineup production throughout 2021.

Yusmeiro Petit

Despite his availability on the 2021 MLB offseason market, Yusmeiro Petit went off-the-radar for a very long time. Finally, the Oakland Athletics opted to bring him back for another year in the middle of February. As they have perhaps grown used to in recent memory, they were smart enough to wait around for his value to drop further. That way, the A"s signed one of the most consistent relievers in the league for just $2.5 million in 2021.

Petit failed to make a name for himself during his first MLB stint, with the Marlins and the Diamondbacks from 2006 to 2009. When he came back in 2012, he was largely a relief piece except for parts of his second and third years with San Francisco. While he had significant problems keeping the ball in the strike zone in his first tenure, Yusmeiro Petit"s pitching game found a new, promising look as the improvement was now an annual trend.

His last three seasons (excluding 2020) show just how high his ceiling (and peak) is. Between 2017 and 2019, Petit allowed just a walk and a half, in addition to just over a homerun and 8.3 punchouts, every nine innings. That span follows more than 250 innings pitched, at least 80 for the Angels and the A"s every year. Furthermore, he never conceded beyond 1.3 HR/9 and 1.8 BB/9 within those three years.

Meanwhile, the 2020 season lacks credibility but even if that is taken into consideration, the only metric that saw Petit post a decline was the walks, which went up to 2.1 per nine innings. Yet another league-wide comparison indicative of his stability – he ranked seventh in the fewest allowed walks per nine amongst qualified relievers between 2017 and 2019.

One of the cons? He was 122nd in terms of home runs surrendered per nine innings. Sure, that is a subpar rank. However, the point here is that the risk it represents is considerably low, especially when you compare his three-true-outcome values to other, much more volatile pitchers.

All of that – for just $2.5 million. Probably the one thing that the Athletics did wrong was that they didn"t offer Petit a multi-year deal in the 2021 MLB offseason. He might be 36 years old. However, he seems to have at least two or three more years in the tank, making that kind of deal even more impactful. Nevertheless, Petit promises to be a huge contributor to the A"s bullpen during the 2021 campaign.

Sean Doolittle

Sean Doolittle has had so solid a career that one cannot help but wonder how even a quiet, almost no-show 2020 season, and even the crisis that the 2021 MLB offseason comes with, could affect his market value insofar.

After extracting his rookie 2012 campaign and the shortened and injury-ridden 2020 season, Sean Doolittle"s numbers are tough to beat by any MLB relievers in that span. Within that period, Doolittle allowed the seventh-fewest bases on balls on average per nine, as well as an HR/9 figure south of 1.00. Whereas his 0.9 home runs per nine might be amid the bottom part of the table (>250 IP), few of the pitchers around him in the BB/9 table have lower HR/9 numbers. Or, if they have, they were much more expensive this year or weren"t on the market at all.

For example, Mark Melancon, with comparable, albeit apparently more impressive, numbers, was twice as expensive. Pat Neshek was available but he would be entering his age-41 season. Moreover, Roberto Osuna, in the same boat as Melancon in the comparison with Doolittle, is yet to sign with his next team due to an injury and recommendation for Tommy John surgery.

Instead, the Cincinnati Reds, wanting to add multiple assets to an agonizing bullpen, knew what it takes to make an efficient financial transaction, even in Major League Baseball. The Reds acquired Doolittle on a one-year, $1.5-million contract to fix one of the club"s big holes.

Similarly to Petit, his value might go up drastically if he makes a good season. That would mean that the club wouldn"t be able to re-sign him, not fully capitalizing on his discount during the 2021 MLB offseason. Nonetheless, it has allowed them to put quality over reputation and to seek balance by getting several affordable players on different positions rather than a huge splash on a high-profile free-agent.

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