(GAME DATE — Nov. 30, 2020) — The free agent class of 2021 — those FA’s who when signed will be available to play in the 2021 season — represents some interesting opportunities, but teams must be willing to spend big to get the best players.
One notable name is future Hall of Famer Danny Sanchez, a five-time batting champ and two-time MVP, who at age 33 is back on the free agent market following a seven year stint with Norfolk, which was recently folded.
The Seattle Salts had the fortune (or misfortune) of selecting him in the contraction draft, and as he was up for free agency anyway, had the choice to make a qualifying offer to him – which they did, and which he rejected. Now, Seattle will earn a compensation draft pick should he sign with another team, and whatever team that is will lose their first round pick.
But Sanchez may be worth it.
He has been a consistent offensive machine since nearly his first day in the league, and currently boasts the highest career batting average of any player in the history of the league, at .341. This is two points higher than Hall of Fame second baseman Chuck Provost. Sanchez drew 192 walks last year. In addition to being named the batting champ for hitting .349, his OBP was a solid .550. He does not appear to be slowing down, either.
Teams might be reluctant to hitch their wagon to him long-term though, especially because he is rumored to be asking upwards of $40 million, which would place him among the highest paid players ever to play in the Bull League. But the “Golden Boy”, who began his career in Montreal, looks like he will keep delivering for at least a couple more years.
Also on the market is another great hitter and multiple season batting champion, Alex Viramontes. Alex walked away from the St. Petersburg Admirals, where he has played since also leaving Montreal a few years ago, where he won three of his four Bull Cup rings. Alex is still a very productive hitter, as in addition to his career .315 average at the plate, he rakes home runs at a clip nearing 30 a season.
Like Sanchez, Viramontes also comes with the dreaded loss of a draft pick attached as another player who had rejected a QO. But the 36 year old represents a far better deal than Sanchez for a similar output, asking in the area of “just” $19 million a year.
One of the youngest FA’s on the market this off season is former Minneapolis third baseman David Baker, a blazing base thief with solid gap hitting capabilities and a great eye. He consistently gets on base at about a .400 clip, and is one of the league’s few 20/20 players, gathering at least 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases since the league switched to a 162-game schedule in 2019. He is the only 20/20 player on the free agent market this year.
Talented pitchers are also on the free agent market, such as Adam “High” Price, who left Seattle after four seasons, where he was earning an average of $30 million a year. At age 37, his asking price has come down significantly, and as a #2 or #3 in a rotation represents a decent deal in the $12 million ballpark. His career ERA rests at 3.66, ranking him tied for 20th all-time. A notorious groundball pitcher, he gives up very few home runs, and managed over 150 K’s a year for the past two seasons.
For under the $10 million a year mark (maybe) a team could also bid on Marshall “Moose” Bennett, who left the Nevada Speeders after two forgettable seasons. As a Speeder, his ERA shot up to 6.48 over a season and a half. Part of the issue may have been his 12 months of rehab after bone chip surgery. But OSA scouts are big on the 32 year old, who is another noted groundballer with a solid selection of pitches. He is asking about $9.1 million, and could slot in a #2 or #3 role easily on a team with decent defense.
Some bigger gambles are also on the market, and it remains to be seen whether teams will take a plunge or not. Xavier de Soto, another guaranteed entry into the Hall of Fame, may be leaving his best years behind him. His 2020 campaign with Miami was not terrible, for most players. But he went from batting .376 and hitting 21 home runs in 2018, a season that was only 100 games long, to hitting .292 and raking just a dozen homers in 2020. He is in a clear decline, not a surprise considering he will turn 37 before Opening Day 2021, but on the plus side he is relying more and more on his speed to leg out doubles and steal bases, swiping 21 last season, the highest since 2012. De Soto wants over $11 million a year for five more years, and though it’s doubtful he will get it, he will produce for his next team, no question, as he has rarely suffered an injury throughout his 18 season career.
Another gamble, who could be a value bet if he maintains his recent performances, is Garth Goyle, a venerable first baseman who spent from 2016 to 2020 with Ohio, where he won a fourth career Bull Cup championship. Goyle led the Lake League in home runs just three seasons ago, and has been over 30 HR’s a year since then. His career .286 average is highly attractive, and he is a switch hitter, which is a huge bonus. He is recently becoming a defensive liability, and as a result a move to a DH role full time would make sense for him. The price? Possibly a steal at under $5 million a year, but he comes with the draft pick loss as another player who turned down a QO.
In short, there are loads of talented players available this year, though at much higher prices than in some recent off seasons. This year, teams are flush with cash from the expanded 162-game seasons, and we should see some monster deals coming soon.