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article imageOp-Ed: Many productive MLB free agents remain

By James Poellnitz     Feb 17, 2016 in Sports
Here we are, in the middle of February and the list of available MLB free agents still holds players who can make a difference. We have former All-Stars, Gold Glove winners and even a former MVP still sitting in the unemployment line.
All of this talent still out there on the open market has left us all scrambling for answers as to why this is happening.
The draft pick compensation that comes with those players who rejected qualifying offers has certainly played a part in scaring teams off. There is also a growing interest in teams tanking their seasons in order to start a rebuilding phase. That added emphasis on adding prospects has resulted in ball clubs pursuing upgrades via trade instead taking financial risks with free agents.
The Chicago White Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, Oakland Athletics, New York Mets and Arizona Diamondbacks have all made trades this offseason to improve themselves for 2016. The Atlanta Braves, Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds are three of the most notable teams who have refrained from filling holes on their rosters with free agents, aiming to get a look at their prospects instead.
It's hard to believe as we get close to Spring Training, teams will look at their rosters and pass on an opportunity to get better. Even those ball clubs that have no interest in winning this season would be wise to sign a few of these available players. If they get production out of a player they sign, they could then flip them before the trade deadline for prospects thus potentially speeding up their rebuilds.
As I look at the list of available free agents, most see names like Yovani Gallardo, Dexter Fowler and Ian Desmond. What I notice is the amount of talented players who could be had at bargain prices. Here is a list of the top 10 bargains that still remain.
1B/3B Pedro Alvarez - Alvarez ended the 2014 season on the bench because of poor defense at third base. Last season in the biggest game of the year, Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle had him on the bench once again because of poor defense at first base. Defense is the reason he was non-tendered by the Pirates this offseason but that is no excuse for him to be jobless right now. There are 15 teams in the American League who can put his bat in the lineup without ever having him field a position. Only nine left-handed hitters hit more than the 27 home runs Alvarez had last season. He also coming off a year in which he hit a career-best .258 against left-handers, another positive for teams to consider in adding him. With so many teams constantly expressing a need for left-handed power, here is one option that can be had at a very reasonable price.
1B Justin Morneau - Morneau, 34, is the 2006 AL MVP, a four-time All-Star and the winner of a NL batting title in 2014. How can someone with a resume like that and such recent success be unemployed? The easy answer to that is health. A concussion limited him to just 49 games with the Colorado Rockies last season. It was the third time in his career (2010 and 2011) he suffered a concussion serious enough to knock him out of action for months. When healthy, he is great hitter. In his limited action last season, he hit .310/.363/.458. Just like with Alvarez, teams can certainly use his left-handed production and because of the injury risk that comes with signing him, should come cheap to those interested.
3B David Freese - Going into the offseason, Freese was viewed by many as the top free agent third baseman on the market. However with the former World Series MVP coming off of two down seasons as a member of the Los Angeles Angels (slashed .258/.322/.401 during that time), a market just hasn't developed. Just about every team that went into the offseason with a hole at third addressed it either internally or via trade. Freese will be entering his age 34 season and the odds are his best days were left in St. Louis. In comparison to other third baseman around baseball, he is still productive enough to be an everyday player. He just never developed into the star he appeared destined to become after postseason success.
OF Austin Jackson - When Jackson is at his best, he provides a great mix of power, speed, defense and the ability to get on base. He has played for four teams in the last two years so his inconsistent play over that time could be attributed to a lack of comfort. As a fourth outfielder or platoon partner, Jackson holds great value. Last season he slashed .281/.333/.437 versus lefties. At 29 years of age, he could certainly be more than that if given the opportunity. He would be a perfect addition as an everyday player to a rebuilding team that ends up being traded before the deadline.
OF Alex Rios - Last season, Rios was well on his way to a bounce-back year before a broken hand cost him a month and a half of action. When he returned, he was never the same. At this point in his career, he still swings a solid bat, is capable of swiping a bag and doesn't hurt you in the outfield. He still has a pep in his step that most 35 year old guys don't have. What teams will have to accept from Rios is that he is no longer much of a power hitter. He has slugged under .400 each of the last two seasons. If you have a hole in your outfield (I'm talking to you Baltimore Orioles), Rios is a cheap, low-risk, high-reward type of player.
LHP Matt Thornton - Thornton doesn't quite post the high strikeout totals we saw from him five years ago but according to Fangraphs, the 39 year-old lefty still has an average fastball velocity of 95.5 mph and remain productive. He made 60 appearances last season and posted a 2.18 ERA while holding opponents to a .212 average (.198 vs lefties). Thornton has made it known to teams he has no interest in taking a minor league deal but it shouldn't take too much guaranteed money to sign him. As we speak, there are likely multiple offers already on the table.
RHP Jason Frasor - Since 2012, Frasor has been a very productive reliever. His ERA the last three seasons have been 2.57, 2.66 and 1.29. Maybe it is the fact that much of it has come in low-leverage situations that teams don't seem eager to have Frasor around. The World Series champion Kansas City Royals released him midseason last year despite a 1.54 ERA at the time in 26 games. The 38 year-old veteran is likely to get a minor league deal from some team and eventually earn a spot in the majors.
OF Marlon Byrd - Byrd's 23 home runs last season marked the third consecutive year the veteran posted more than 20 in a season. The consistent power is a good sign the 38 year-old still has quite a bit left in the tank. Unless he can catch on with a rebuilding team, the days of him being an everyday player are likely over. But that power in addition to a strong reputation as a corner outfielder gives him plenty value to teams in need of depth. Whether he plays a platoon role or ends up as a fourth outfielder for some team, he should be able to net himself a major league deal laced with incentives he won't likely play enough to get.
RHP Alfredo Simon - Simon went from an All-Star in 2014 to one of the league's worst starting pitchers in 2015. Despite his struggles, the Detroit Tigers never demoted him to the bullpen. In 2016, the pen might be the best place for him. Remember, while with the Baltimore Orioles, Simon spend time as the team's closer and later followed that up with two very successful seasons (2012-2013) of relief work in Cincinnati before moving to the rotation. That versatility leads me to believe some team will sign him before Spring Training. It may even come on a minor league deal.
OF Ryan Raburn - If you look up the word "platoon" in the dictionary, there should be a picture of Ryan Raburn in there. The veteran utility man has made a career out of crushing left-handed pitching (.827 vs lefties as opposed to .693 vs righties) and in 2015 at age 34, he had his best season as a pro. Raburn slashed .301/.393/.543 (mostly vs lefties) in 82 games. It is amazing that the league's best platoon player can't get a job. He is the closest thing to a sure thing in free agency right now.
(All statistics are courtesy of Baseball Reference unless noted otherwise)
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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