It’s not always big-name signings who put a team over the top. Sometimes clubs find players in the offseason who end up contributing in a significant way, even though they don’t immediately make headlines.
Here are 10 under-the-radar free agents teams would be wise to target.
Players’ seasonal ages for 2020 listed in parentheses. Tables show 2019 statistics.
Asdrubal Cabrera, IF (34 years old)
It was a roller-coaster campaign for the 13-year veteran in 2019. Cabrera was released by the Texas Rangers in early August after posting a .711 OPS, then proceeded to play the best baseball of his career after joining the Washington Nationals a few days later. The 34-year-old slashed .323/.404/.565 in 38 regular-season contests with Washington and ended up winning a championship. Cabrera isn’t an elite defender but brings versatility, having played shortstop, third, second, and first base over the last two seasons.
Robinson Chirinos, C (36)
With Yasmani Grandal and Travis d’Arnaud off the market, Chirinos is the best catcher remaining in free agency. The Venezuelan hit 17 or more homers in three straight seasons and finished second among AL backstops in on-base percentage (minimum 400 plate appearances). He’s already generating interest from the Rangers, Houston Astros, New York Mets, and Cincinnati Reds.
Steve Cishek, RP (34)
The righty reliever might be the next best option for teams that miss out on Dellin Betances and Will Harris. All Cishek has done over his 10-year career is put up stellar numbers: The 33-year-old owns a 2.69 ERA with a 9.5 K/9 rate in 572 appearances. He can also fill multiple bullpen roles as evidenced by his 132 career saves and 82 holds.
Brian Dozier, 2B (33)
Dozier is fresh off a World Series win with the Nationals. Although he played himself out of Washington’s postseason lineup by failing to record a hit in the playoffs, the veteran infielder still provides value. Since 2014, Dozier’s 168 home runs lead MLB second basemen and his 21.5 WAR ranks second behind Jose Altuve. Dozier’s 20 homers and .771 OPS last season should prove enticing to any team with a need at second base.
Avisail Garcia, OF (29)
Any team looking for outfield depth with some pop should consider signing Garcia. The Venezuelan is still relatively young and coming off a solid if unspectacular season with the Tampa Bay Rays, hitting .282/.332/.464 with 20 home runs in 125 games. Garcia is also just two years removed from an All-Star campaign, during which he posted a .885 OPS.
Brett Gardner, OF (36)
Gardner’s age-35 season was one of his best, as he set career highs in home runs (28), RBIs (74), slugging (.503), and OPS (.829). The former Gold Glove winner posted a positive DRS for a 12th consecutive season in the New York Yankees’ outfield, playing mostly in center field. Gardner has spent his entire career in pinstripes, but if the Yankees decide to move on, another team will stand to benefit.
Mitch Moreland, 1B (34)
Moreland will offer power and defense at first base to the club that signs him. The 34-year-old hit 20-plus homers in four of his last seven seasons and won a Gold Glove in 2016. He went deep 19 times in just 91 games for the Boston Red Sox last season, while posting an .835 OPS. Moreland has traditionally struggled against left-handed pitching but slugged .507 versus righties in 2019.
Justin Smoak, 1B (32)
Last season was Smoak’s least productive in Toronto since 2016, but he still has the ability to leave the yard (85 homers since 2017) and is generally viewed as a positive defender (.996 career fielding percentage). The switch-hitter’s logged an OBP above .342 in three straight campaigns, which may explain why he was recently drawing interest from both contenders and non-contenders at the GM meetings.
Eric Thames, 1B/OF (33)
Thames has mashed the ball since returning to MLB from South Korea in 2017. The 33-year-old slugger went deep 72 times and accrued an .848 OPS in three seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers. Thames is a legit power threat who can be had without breaking the bank and can cover first base or right field. However, he’ll need to be platooned after slugging just .340 against lefties in 2019.
Alex Wood, SP (29)
Last season was a wash for Wood, as he made just seven starts due to back issues. The southpaw established himself as a reliable starter for the Dodgers in his two seasons prior, with 25 wins and an NL All-Star selection in 2017. Perhaps Wood, who has experience as both a starter and reliever, could become next year’s version of Drew Pomeranz and set himself up for a long-term deal next offseason if he can return to form in 2020. Likely looking to rebuild his value, Wood could be a nice piece for a team searching for a starter on a short-term deal.