April’s Best Free Agent Signees: Russell Martin, Anibal Sanchez, Mark Reynolds, Mike Napoli

USA TODAY Sports

Which free agents have done their best to make a good first impression with the teams that are paying them the big bucks?

The hot stove season has given way to the actual season and the time has come for players to perform or suffer the wrath of the fans. For those players that have just inked shiny new contracts, the pressure is officially on. One month is hardly enough to time to pass judgment on any free agent contract, but when expectations (and dollars) run high, a slow start can turn fans against a newly acquired player, while a monster start to the year can buy a sizable reserve of good will to help out when things go south.

After one month of play, these players have made their GMs look like geniuses-

Russell Martin, Pittsburgh Pirates: 2 years/$17M, April WAR: 1.2

Martin didn’t exactly bust out of the gates to start the year. Through April 13, the Pirates backstop was hitting a meager.103/.205/.154. Since then, he has been on fire, however. In the last twelve games of the month, Martin went hit-less just once, while racking up seven multi-hit games and hitting six home runs. That hot streak has brought his line up to .274/.344/.560, good for a wRC+ of 153. He has also been death to opposing base runners, throwing out eight would-be thieves in twenty-one attempts against him. The 17-13 Pirates are just two games back in the NL Central and Russell Martin has been a big part of their early success.

Anibal Sanchez, Detroit Tigers: 5 years/$80M, April WAR: 1.7

Sanchez was the Tigers best pitcher during the month of April, making Justin Verlander just their second best arm. How exactly is that fair to the rest of baseball? With a 1.34 ERA and a ridiculous 11.0 K/9 rate and a 2.4 BB/9 rate, Sanchez was even better than almost anyone to start this season. Even if he can’t keep up this level of dominance, Sanchez is looking like one of the best signings of the off-season and Detroit's rotation is poised to be one of the best in the game for a long time.

Mark Reynolds, Cleveland Indians 1 years/$6M, April WAR: 1.0

Mark Reynolds has always been one of those three-true-outcome players; he walks, he strikes out and he hits home runs. That is basically it for him...at least until April 2013. Last month, Reynolds cut down on the strike outs considerably and managed an average-heavy .301/.368/.651 batting line for the month. He still walked (10.5% walk rate) and he still hit plenty of bombs (8 HR) but for this brief, wonderful time he was also a guy who could make regular, solid contact. Of course, this almost certainly will not last; these are the numbers of spring and summer is coming. However, Mark Reynolds has done just about everything a person can to endear himself to the fans in Cleveland over the first month and they just might be a little more forgiving when he strike out rate creeps back up toward 30% as a result.

Mike Napoli, Boston Red Sox 1 year/$5M (with incentives up to $13M) April WAR: 0.6

If Mike Napoli continues doing what he did in the first month of the season all year, the Red Sox will be thrilled to pay out the extra $8M they will owe him if he reaches all of his contract incentives. Napoli was second in RBIs for the month and one of the most clutch players in the game by Win Probablity Added’s clutch numbers. The early results on his first base defense have been promising as well. Given the relatively low cost and absolutely minimal commitment Boston made with this deal, it is turning out to be an absolute steal thus far.

Travis Hafner, New York Yankees: 1 year/$2M, April WAR: 0.9

Speaking of absolute steals, if Travis Hafner gives the Yankees just half as much production over the rest of the season as he did in April he will have more than justified his modest price tag. The 36-year-old Hafner was a force of nature in the first month, hitting .318/.438/.667 with six home runs in 80 plate appearances. Some day, the rest of baseball is going to figure out how Brian Cashman and company can go around signing guys you thought had retired four years ago and have them play like Mickey Mantle. Some day. Maybe.

Hyun-Jin Ryu, Los Angeles Dodgers: 6 years/$36M April WAR: 0.9

Remember back in March when the Dodgers had too much starting pitching? Very few things went right for the Dodgers in the first month, but one thing that did was Hyun-Jin Ryu. The Korean important was fantastic in the first month, even if his 3.35 ERA doesn’t completely reflect his fantastic work. Over 37 2/3 innings (a top 20 total) Ryu had the sixth highest strikeout of any qualified starter in April and a very strong 2.4 BB/9 rate. The 26-year-old appears to be an incredible value pick up for L.A. if these early results signify anything about his true talent.

Honorable Mentions: Torii Hunter, Detroit Tigers; Ryan Dempster, Boston Red Sox; Ervin Santana, Kansas City Royals; Kevin Correia, Minnesota Twins; Nick Swisher, Cleveland Indians

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