While there is lots of activity surrounding the big-name, big-dollar free agents every offseason, and this offseason perhaps more than most, there are also some very good bargains to be had among the 150 or so free agents who played this season.
We list the top 10 bargain free agents still on the market and what they might bring to a team.
1. JON SEALS (CF)
A young, fast outfielder who last played for the Toronto Nomads, Seals has great defensive tools and raw speed, though he has struggled in his early attempts to break into the top level.
He was once ranked by the OSA as the #32 prospect in the league, but after suffering a few minor injuries, and slumping through two seasons at AAA and the top level, he seems like a huge risk on paper. He was last paid the league minimum, and has placed himself at the $900K mark for a contract, which could be a really good bargain if he flips the switch and makes use of his raw tools.
2. RAY ROACH (LF)
Though similar in many ways to Jon Seals, Roach has the added bonus of being a switch-hitter, and being a bit more defensively-minded. He showed great improvement in 2017 at AAA-level, but didn’t spend long on the Denver Danger big league roster, playing just two games in defensive substitutions.
Though saddled with less raw power and speed than Seals, he is a capable baserunner and disciplined hitter who won’t make too many mistakes at the plate, or on the field. He is seeking a similar dollar figure to Seals, in the $900K range.
3. MIKE BARRIERE (P)
Veteran right-handed reliever Barriere has speed that most 34-year-old relievers don’t have, and can still work magic with his control.
Where he trips up is his flat curveball, which can cause the occasional issue. But this fitness guru and zen-like hurler has had great seasons recently, if brief. The Nevada Speeders had him for 2017, though he did not see much use, just 6 scoreless innings, with a pair of hits and a walk allowed. The year before that, he was a very passable bullpen role player for the Arizona Cowboys, going 3-1 with a 2.31 ERA and 1.20 WHIP, over 30 games and just 23.1 innings.
At a rumored $1.4 million, he would look good in most bullpens that already have an established closer, and need a setup man or momentum-stopper.
4. OMAR ‘POP’ MEDINA (2B)
Another free agent from the Toronto Nomads, Medina had been brought up through the minors quickly with the Nomads in an effort to turn that ship around. He may have gone through the levels too fast, and his 2017 batting stats show the risk: .253/.296/.367, an all too unimpressive slash line, along with 104 strikeouts in 379 at bats.
Toronto has now moved on from him, and for the $1 million range he can join another club that could use a solid defensive middle infielder with high potential to make contact and hit line drives for some power.
Once ranked the OSA’s #10 prospect in the league, just three seasons ago, the 23-year-old could easily find his groove and develop into a top-of-the-order hitter. A team like Arizona or Denver could make hay in their infield and bottom of the order with a solid two way player like Medina, and at a bargain price just above what they have invested in their 2B or SS now.
5. BRIAN CURRELL (RF)
The 25-year-old Currell left Denver after two great seasons, where he crafted an average of .310 through both years, and showed plenty of good baserunning speed and smarts. He was “non-tendered” and released to free agency after what was actually a decent season offensively.
His major weakness is his defense, but when it comes to hitting he’s got great bat speed and ability to connect, and is an artist at stealing bases.
$1.1 million sounds pricey for a bench player, and most teams would balk at that price for an occasional pinch hitter. But if he transitioned into a DH role, he would be a solid producer.
6. JORGE DURAN (RF)
Though he hit a bit of a slump last year, mainly due to starting off the season injured, Duran actually showed plenty of promise in his brief stints playing for five Bull League teams since 2010.
Arguably, 2016 with Hamilton was his best year, where he was stellar in the outfield and a solid contributor at the plate, with career-high numbers of doubles and runs batted in. But Duran is still a bargain even at his requested $1.5 million per season after his injury-plagued 2017 year.
A disciplined groundball hitter with speed, he can beat a lot of the throws, or at least put pressure on the infielders with men on base, and was particularly effective with runners on 1st and 3rd last season.
His postseason stats showed he had fully recovered from his injury, as well, going 8-for-30 (.267) with a trio of runs and a trio of doubles.
There is little doubt that Duran will bounce back in 2018, and at any rate is a run-saver in the outfield, and worth the price just to see the priceless catches.
7. Mitchell Nicols (P)
The young Nicols has a proven track record out of the bullpen as a reliable solution for the mid-game, especially when ahead in the count. Opposing batters hit just .133 against him any time he was ahead, just 6-for-45. He was also a tough pitcher in high leverage situations, where he got 23 of his 36 K’s.
Nicols has a hard fastball but a better slider, which executes great movement. He’s already been recognized with two All-Star appearances, and finished third in Woodchuck Trophy voting in 2016, proving he is a solid reliever.
Nevada non-tendered, and he’s now looking to get back in at the $2.4 million level, which could easily be a great value if he’s over his 2017 slump (3-8, 5.05 ERA) and back to his 2016 self (4-1, 21 saves, 1.94 ERA).
8. DANNY TRISTAN (SS)
A hitter with above-average contact potential, some speed and an ability to lay off the bad pitches once in a while might be worth a lot, especially if he can play the hardest defensive position on the field well.
Tristan checks all those boxes. Hes a career +0.9 zone rated shortstop, meaning his defense won’t cost a team runs. His hitting at the minor level, including the crucial AAA-level, has been in the low .300’s and higher. Though he doesn’t swing for power, and makes lazy mistakes at the plate that cost him strikeouts, he can often connect well and has the speed to beat the throws.
Tristan is a good option not only defensively, but out of the bench as either a pinch runner or hitter, and is a reasonably priced regular starter option at shortstop near the middle of the order.
The former Anchorage Aces utility man is looking for $1.1 million and is sure to get that or more.
9. JUAN ‘CHA CHA’ CHAVEZ (3B/SS)
Chavez could teach a clinic on infielding, where he has crafted a standard of excellence at both shortstop and third base, with zone ratings above +5 at both positions. But it is shortstop in particular where he really excels, though Battle Creek tried him at both positions for a game each this season.
His big variable is his offense, but his defense and speed more than makes up for it. Many teams would lie, cheat and steal to get a utility infielder with wheels who could play off the bench, or serve as a regular for a team that already has offense coming from other positions.
With a bit more time, perhaps he can shift from being a .230 hitter to a .250 hitter, but either way, defensive awards are in his future, and any pitcher is thankful for a play-maker on the hot corner or at short who can turn a double play or help hold runners.
Cha Cha has no specific contract demand, and with just 33 days at the big-league level, he would almost certainly sign for a league minimum contract, or even consider a minor league offer with the glimmer of hope of a promotion in the next two seasons.
10. ALEX ‘DOUBLE A’ AXEL (P)
A third reliever on the list (it is telling that no free agent starters are considered a good value), Axel also tops it by having been a solid contributor to Arizona this past season, along with having a reliable 3-pitch repertoire and great velocity on his heater, coupled with a talent for holding runners.
Double A was at his best in the middle innings, 4 to 6, where hitters sank to a 1.60 average against him, and he gave up no extra-base hits in 25 at bats. He was hard to hit with runners in scoring position, and right-handers only managed to hit .231 off him during the season, compared to .250 for lefties.
For about $1.5 million, this highly regarded groundball pitcher would make an effective addition to the middle relief role on most clubs, and at a bargain price.