Ranking the 9 Best Last-Minute MLB Free-Agent, Trade Values

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterFebruary 6, 2018

Ranking the 9 Best Last-Minute MLB Free-Agent, Trade Values

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    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    In a normal offseason, there typically aren't many free agents and trade targets still up for grabs once February arrives with spring training in tow.

    This offseason is different. And if nothing else, that's good news for teams on the lookout for last-minute deals.

    We've ranked the top nine value buys remaining on the free-agent and trade markets (there were 10 before Todd Frazier agreed to a two-year, $17 million deal with the New York Mets on Monday night, per The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal).

    Whether they're legitimate stars (e.g. the guy in the picture above) or simply useful, these are valuable players with marketable talents who, for various reasons, don't figure to cost an exorbitant amount.

9. Jarrod Dyson, CF (Free Agent)

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Despite being relegated to a part-time role, Jarrod Dyson's 10.8 wins above replacement since 2014 are more than:

    • Dexter Fowler: 9.8
    • Jacoby Ellsbury: 9.7
    • Carlos Gomez: 9.0
    • Juan Lagares: 8.7
    • Billy Hamilton: 7.3

    Much of Dyson's value comes from his legs. He's stolen 204 bases in only 661 career games. As evidenced by his 55 defensive runs saved, he's also an excellent defensive center fielder.

    The 33-year-old's average sprint has declined from 30.0 feet per second in 2015 to 28.8 last year. That's still very fast, however, and bodes well that it didn't limit his production on the bases or in the field.

    And while Dyson is a platoon hitter with virtually zero power, he's not helpless at the dish. He battles hard enough to maintain above-average on-base percentages.

    Dyson's closest comp on this winter's market is Austin Jackson, who signed with the San Francisco Giants for two years and $6 million. A team should be able to scoop Dyson up for less than that and ultimately end up happier with its purchase.

8. Dan Straily, SP (Trade Target)

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    With Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich and Dee Gordon already off their roster, the Miami Marlins don't have much left to sell.

    Dan Straily is worthy of attention, however. 

    Plenty of numbers confirm he's not an elite pitcher: his 4.26 ERA from 2017, for example, or the 62 home runs he's allowed since 2016.

    But the 29-year-old tossed 191.1 innings in 2016 and 181.2 last season, making him one of only 17 starters who've topped 180 innings in each of the last two years—which is no small consideration at a time when starter innings are in short supply.

    Likewise, Straily's ability to miss bats must not be overlooked. His contact rates have tended to be below average, and he's coming off a 75.3 Contact% ranked 15th among qualified starters, which reflects his crafty, though modest, arsenal led by a 90 mph fastball.

    Since Straily is controlled through 2020, there's no rush for the Marlins to deal him. But given their desperation to save money, they might rather flip him for a reasonable price than pay him roughly $3.5 million in arbitration.

7. Jonathan Lucroy, C (Free Agent)

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    As recently as 2016, Jonathan Lucroy was one of baseball's best catchers and a virtual shoo-in for a big contract in his first foray into free agency.

    Then 2017 happened.

    The veteran catcher began the year on a disastrous 77-game stint with the Texas Rangers in which he hit just .242 with a .635 OPS. On the bright side, Lucroy wrapped up with a .310 average and .865 OPS in 46 games with the Colorado Rockies, reminiscent of his 2012-2016 heyday, in which he was a .291 hitter with an .818 OPS.

    Throughout, however, Lucroy's framing regressed badly enough to place him as the game's least valuable strike framer, per Baseball Prospectus.

    Nonetheless, something that ESPN's Keith Law wrote in evaluating Lucroy's free agency rings true: "I find it hard to believe Lucroy could be so good at something for years and then, at age 31, become the worst in the game at the same thing."

    Lucroy might come even cheaper than Welington Castillo, who got just $15 million over two years with the White Sox. Lucroy's upside makes a roll of the dice well worth taking.

6. Nicholas Castellanos, RF (Trade Target)

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    According to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, "a few teams" have checked in on whether Nicholas Castellanos will be the next player to go in the Detroit Tigers' rebuild.

    It's not hard to deduce what these teams are interested in: his bat.

    Castellanos struggled in his first few seasons but over the last two has hit .277/.325/.493 with 44 home runs. He really turned on the power in 2017, collecting more extra-base hits (72) than all but 10 other hitters.

    No wonder. The 25-year-old's hard contact rate has mostly trended up throughout his career and hit an impressive peak of 43.4 percent last year, which ranked fifth among qualified hitters.

    The not-so-great stuff has to do with Castellanos' one-dimensionality: He's not much of a runner, and based on the early returns, a move from third base to right field won't make him a better defender.

    Between these weaknesses and the fact that Castellanos is due for free agency after 2019, the Tigers might want to cash him in now rather than hope his trade value grows. For other teams, this is a chance to score an impact bat for a reasonable price.

5. Logan Morrison, 1B (Free Agent)

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Logan Morrison signed with the Tampa Bay Rays for $2.5 million last February, kicking off a saga in which he became one of year's best success stories.

    He spent 2017 breaking out with an .868 OPS and 38 long balls, easily topping his previous career highs of .837 and 23. His adjusted OPS+ of 135 rated him as a better hitter than quite a few fellow free agents, including Eric Hosmer (132) and Mike Moustakas (116).

    The 30-year-old had never been lacking in power. He simply became more efficient at tapping into it, notably by chasing fewer bad pitches and hitting more fly balls. These are genuine adjustments that work against any notion that Morrison's career year was a fluke.

    And yet, you could hear a proverbial pin drop in his section of the rumor mill.

    There wasn't a ton of demand at first base to begin with. Following the signings of Carlos Santana, Yonder Alonso and Mitch Moreland, there's even less. 

    The best Morrison can hope for is something like the two-year, $16 million deal Alonso signed with the Cleveland Indians. For any team that still needs help at first base, this equates to a golden opportunity to add a legit slugger.

4. Danny Salazar, SP (Trade Target)

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    As of now, Danny Salazar is a member of one of the best starting rotations in Major League Baseball.

    However, it's not the biggest surprise that he's been the subject of trade rumors. He's an expendable asset for the Cleveland Indians, and certainly a person of interest for many teams.

    Injuries and inconsistency have dogged the 28-year-old throughout his career, including last year, when he appeared in only 23 games and pitched to a 4.28 ERA.

    Salazar still has a mid-90s fastball and a devastating changeup. He's used these weapons to whiff 10.5 batters per nine innings throughout his career, and 12.7 per nine innings just last year. 

    Should he stay healthy, Salazar has the potential to become a top-of-the-rotation starter. Failing that, he could be turned into a lethal relief ace. Since he's under club control through 2020, whoever trades for him would have time to decide on the best course.

    With a World Series in their sights, the Indians aren't likely to give Salazar up for anything less than a viable major leaguer. But given the magnitude of the potential payoff, that's arguably better than surrendering a boatload of prospects for him.

3. Yu Darvish, SP (Free Agent)

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    Tim Bradbury/Getty Images

    Yes, the best pitcher on the free-agent market is a value buy.

    There have been plenty of rumors about which teams are pursuing Yu Darvish, but less about what his suitors are willing to pay. Though perhaps most telling on that front, ESPN's Jerry Crasnick reported in January that the right-hander has "at least one five-year offer on the table."

    That would imply that he doesn't have any six-year offers, which would mean that teams aren't willing to go as far as Bleacher ReportMLB Trade Rumors or FanGraphs went in projecting his contract at the outset. This is perfectly fair since Darvish is 31 and underwent Tommy John surgery in 2015.

    But given his ceiling, he deserves better; this is, after all, a guy with a 3.42 career ERA and an 11.0 K/9 that ranks as the best among all active starters.

    To boot, Darvish was barred from receiving a qualifying offer when the Texas Rangers traded him to the Los Angeles Dodgers last July. Signing him will only cost a team money.

    So at this juncture, it sure seems like a lucky team will get a good deal on an ace.

2. J.D. Martinez, OF (Free Agent)

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    Ralph Freso/Associated Press

    Yes, the best hitter on the free-agent market is also a value buy.

    According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, Martinez and agent Scott Boras began with an asking price of seven years and $210 million. It appears the best offer they've received is the five-year, $125 million offer from the Boston Red Sox reported by Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald.

    Of course, this reflects how negotiations typically go. Players aim high. Teams aim low. The two sides then figure it out from there.

    However, it also reflects Martinez's questionable marketability: He's a 30-year-old with iffy durability and a rapidly declining glove, and he's trying to sell a power bat at a time when everyone and their uncle already has one.

    Despite these concerns, he did just put up a 1.066 OPS and slugged 45 homers in only 119 games last season. From 2014-2017, his 149 OPS+ places behind only Paul Goldschmidt, Joey Votto and Mike Trout.

    And like Darvish, Martinez isn't tied to draft-pick compensation. As things stand now, somebody's going to get one of baseball's elite hitters for well less than his asking price.

1. J.T. Realmuto, C (Trade Target)

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    The best player the Marlins have left is J.T. Realmuto, and he wants out.

    "J.T.'s preference remains the same," agent Jeff Berry told Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. "He would like to be traded to another organization before spring training so he has an opportunity to compete for a championship."

    Christian Yelich's agent made similar remarks to Crasnick before the Marlins dealt him to the Milwaukee Brewers. Since they received a huge haul of prospects in that trade, it's apparent the Marlins aren't about to let trade requests diminish their leverage.

    This is a different situation, however.

    Whereas the Marlins had Yelich signed at cheap rates for five more seasons, they control Realmuto for only three more years. That equates to a tad more urgency to deal him. And because there are fewer job openings for catchers than there are for outfielders, the Marlins have fewer teams to barter with.

    The result could be a team getting Realmuto for something less than a Yelich-like haul. Considering that he's a 26-year-old catcher who's improving both on offense and defense (see: his upward-trending OPS and career-high fielding runs above average from 2017), that's an opportunity that a catching-needy team should seize.

           

    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphsBaseball Savant and Baseball Prospectus.