clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Ranking every MLB team’s best free agent signing of 2017

New, 1 comment

Some of the offseason’s most highly-touted free agents haven’t necessarily been the most valuable ones this season.

Cleveland Indians v Detroit Tigers Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

Even with a free agent class that was widely considered subpar heading into last offseason, free agency provided plenty of excitement heading into the 2017 season. Players like Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Turner, and Jose Bautista tested the free agent waters and then ultimately decided to remain with their previous clubs, veterans like Edwin Encarnacion, Ian Desmond, and Dexter Fowler cashed out and joined new teams, and a trio of closers—Mark Melancon, Aroldis Chapman, and Kenley Jansen—received large contracts that were unprecedented for relievers.

While plenty of those big names have made major impacts on their teams this season, the high-profile free agents aren’t the only ones who have stood out. More than a few players who joined their teams on minor-league deals or one-year “prove it” contracts have made extremely valuable contributions this season.

Here are our rankings of every team’s top free agent signing based on performance this season:

Diamondbacks: Chris Iannetta Arizona went out and signed Iannetta to serve as part of a platoon with Jeff Mathis because of his defensive proficiency. Surprisingly, the 34-year-old backstop has gone on to have his best offensive season since 2008, posting an .847 OPS with 14 homers in 289 plate appearances this season.

Dodgers: Justin Turner — The Dodgers pretty clearly had the best free agent class of the offseason, re-upping with Turner, Kenley Jansen, and Rich Hill while also bringing in one of their most effective relievers this season, Brandon Morrow, on a minor-league deal. Turner gets the edge in a crowded field because of his .951 OPS, which ranks 11th in the majors among qualifiers this season.

Giants: Nick Hundley — San Francisco certainly hoped that Mark Melancon would be here after they signed him to a four-year contract worth $62 million this offseason, but since the veteran closer was limited to 32 mostly erratic appearances due to a nagging elbow injury, the honor goes to Hundley. The longtime starter has been the best backup catcher the Giants have had since Buster Posey backed up Bengie Molina for several weeks in 2010, posting a .249/.275/.429 slash line with eight homers this season.

Padres: Jhoulys Chacin Chacin, who signed with San Diego for just $1.75 million last December, served as the Padres’ Opening Day starter and has been the anchor of their rotation all season. Over 29 starts, he’s posted a 4.12 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP.

Rockies: Greg Holland — Holland endured a rough August and has begun to show some signs of fatigue in his first season back from October 2015 Tommy John surgery, but he still leads the National League with 40 saves and has been very reliable as Colorado’s closer, posting a 3.62 ERA while holding hitters to a .193/.288/.344 slash line.

Brewers: Eric Sogard — The Brewers probably didn’t think they’d return to being a playoff threat this quickly, and they weren’t big players in free agency during the offseason. But Sogard, who came to Milwaukee on a minor-league deal after missing all of 2016 due to knee surgery, has been a very pleasant surprise. He’s posted a .274/.391/.390 slash line in 267 plate appearances, and he was particularly impactful prior to the All-Star break, posting a .924 OPS over his first 43 games in a Brewers uniform.

Cardinals: Dexter Fowler — Fowler has been somewhat of a disappointment during his first year in St. Louis, being limited to 108 games due to forearm, knee, and heel injuries. He’s produced when healthy, though, posting an .838 OPS with 16 homers in 445 plate appearances. Ultimately, he’s been more successful than St. Louis’ other major free agent signing, lefty reliever Brett Cecil, who has struggled all season.

Cubs: Jon Jay — Playing his first full, healthy season since 2014, the 32-year-old Jay has experienced a resurgence in Chicago, posting a .286/.374/.369 slash line in 390 plate appearances this year. An honorable mention goes to lefty reliever Brian Duensing, who has posted a 2.47 ERA and 1.18 WHIP over 63 games after signing a one-year deal last December.

Pirates: Ivan Nova — Nova, who thrived in Pittsburgh after being acquired as a deadline rental last season, had a stellar first half, posting a 3.21 ERA and 1.09 WHIP prior to the break. Nova has struggled mightily during the second half, but he still has an above-average 103 ERA+ for the season.

Reds: Drew Storen — The rebuilding Reds weren’t very active in free agency last offseason, and while Storen’s numbers—a 4.45 ERA and 1.46 WHIP with 48 strikeouts and 23 walks in 54.2 innings—aren’t exceptionally impressive, he’s been the best of their free agent additions this year.

Braves: Kurt Suzuki — After signing a one-year deal in January, the 33-year-old Suzuki has enjoyed the best offensive season of his major-league career as one half of a platoon with Tyler Flowers, posting a .263/.339/.494 slash line with 15 homers in 275 plate appearances. R.A. Dickey, who has been Atlanta’s most consistent starter, and lefty reliever Sam Freeman, who has been dominant all year after coming into spring training on a minor-league deal, were also very good additions.

Marlins: Brad Ziegler — Ziegler’s overall numbers (5.04 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, 25 strikeouts, and 16 walks over 44.2 innings) aren’t pretty, but he has been absolutely filthy at certain points this season. He posted a 0.87 ERA and 0.87 WHIP through 13 appearances in April, and he was unscored upon for the entire month of August, posting a 0.77 WHIP over 13 outings.

Mets: Yoenis Cespedes — It’s tempting to go with lefty reliever Jerry Blevins here, as the 34-year-old has a 3.11 ERA over 70 games and has been one of the few Mets who have stayed healthy all year. But Cespedes was his usual game-changing self when he was actually on the field this year, hitting for a .292/.352/.540 slash line with 17 homers in 81 games.

Nationals: Matt Albers Albers, who signed a minor-league deal with the Nats on the last day of January and spent the first six days of the season in Triple-A, has been one of the best value signings in baseball this year. Over 57 games, the 34-year-old righty has a 1.60 ERA and 0.89 WHIP with 60 strikeouts and 17 walks in 56.1 innings.

Phillies: Daniel Nava After two seasons filled with injuries and all-around poor performance, it looked like the 34-year-old Nava’s career might be coming to a close. But after coming into spring training as a non-roster invitee and winning a big-league job, Nava has resurrected himself in 2017, hitting .301/.393/.421 over 214 plate appearances.

Angels: Yusmeiro Petit Petit has been one of the more underrated pitchers in baseball dating back to 2013, but he’s outperformed all expectations in 2017, posting a 2.09 ERA and 0.88 WHIP with 92 strikeouts and 16 walks over 86 innings after joining the Angels on a minor-league deal in February. According to Baseball Reference’s WAR, Petit has been the Angels’ third-most valuable player this season, trailing only Andrelton Simmons and Mike Trout.

Astros: Josh Reddick — With all the other Astros players having great seasons, Reddick has flown under the radar a bit, but he’s been a stellar addition to their lineup, posting a .315/.363/.482 slash line with 13 homers in 522 plate appearances.

Athletics: Matt Joyce Joyce, who signed a two-year deal with Oakland last November, has enjoyed a solid season with the A’s, hitting .239/.338/.476 with 24 home runs in 493 plate appearances.

Mariners: Marc Rzepczynski — Since GM Jerry Dipoto has decided to reshape his team almost exclusively via trade, there aren’t too many choices here. Rzepczynski, who’s been solid out of Seattle’s bullpen, posting a 3.86 ERA and 1.55 WHIP over 30.1 innings, gets the edge.

Rangers: Andrew Cashner After signing a one-year contract with Texas last November, the 31-year-old Cashner has finally begun to live up to his sky-high potential. Over 25 starts, he has a 3.40 ERA and 1.30 WHIP and is averaging over six innings per outing. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him get a few AL Cy Young votes, and he’ll likely earn a big contract this coming offseason.

Indians: Edwin Encarnacion — Though he got off to a sluggish start in April, Encarnacion quickly bounced back and returned to being one of the most fearsome sluggers in the game. In 613 plate appearances this season, Encarnacion is hitting .253/.377/.500 with a team-best 36 home runs.

Royals: Jason Hammel Hammel’s 5.05 ERA doesn’t look great, but in a season where Kansas City has struggled to get innings from the rotation and has used 14 different starting pitchers, the 35-year-old has been a welcome presence, throwing a team-best 171 innings. Peter Moylan, who spent the entire offseason on the free agent market before rejoining the Royals on a minor-league deal during spring training, also deserves a mention, as he’s held opponents to a .190 average over 72 appearances this season.

Tigers: Alex Avila — The Tigers weren’t very active in free agency this offseason as they attempted to slash payroll, and their most impactful free agent addition was Avila, who was dealt during their recent fire sale. The 30-year-old catcher hit .274/.394/.475 with 11 homers while splitting time with James McCann, and he was part of a trade package that brought back Detroit’s current starting third baseman, Jeimer Candelario, as well as highly-touted shortstop prospect Isaac Paredes. If you’re looking for a guy who’s still actually with the Tigers, consider Alex Presley, who’s hitting .312/.351/.392 in 215 plate appearances after joining Detroit on a minor-league deal in January.

Twins: Jason Castro The Twins probably hoped Castro would bounce back offensively more than he has this season, but he’s been solid at the plate, hitting .234/.327/.380 with nine homers in 377 plate appearances. More importantly, he’s been very steady as a catcher, as his nine defensive runs saved rank second in the majors among qualifying catchers.

White Sox: Anthony Swarzak — Swarzak, who joined the White Sox on a minor-league deal in January, posted a 2.23 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in 41 games out of Chicago’s bullpen, then netted them center field prospect Ryan Cordell when he was traded to the Brewers on July 26. Gregory Infante, who came up with Chicago but hadn’t pitched in the majors since 2010, has also been a nice find, posting a 3.42 ERA in 46 relief appearances after rejoining the White Sox organization over the winter.

Blue Jays: Kendrys Morales None of the players Toronto spent big money on during the offseason—Morales, Steve Pearce, and Jose Bautista—have really panned out, but Morales has at least hit for power, hitting 27 home runs while posting a .249/.305/.450 slash line.

Orioles: Welington Castillo While Castillo’s defense has been questionable, he’s been a very strong offensive presence for the Orioles, hitting .288/.325/.503 with 20 homers in 345 plate appearances.

Rays: Logan Morrison After Tampa waited until February to bring him back into the fold, Morrison has responded by having the best season of his eight-year major-league career, hitting .243/.348/.517 with 36 home runs in 555 plate appearances. Tommy Hunter, who joined the Rays on a minor-league deal in March, has also been spectacular, posting a 2.29 ERA and 0.91 WHIP over 57 relief appearances.

Red Sox: Mitch Moreland Moreland has been a streaky hitter, but for the most part he’s been a solid addition to Boston’s lineup, hitting .250/.332/.439 with 19 homers in 536 plate appearances. His seven defensive runs saved also rank third among qualified AL first basemen this season.

Yankees: Aroldis Chapman — Both of the Yankees’ high-profile free agent additions, Chapman and Matt Holliday, have struggled at certain points this season, but Chapman has been the more consistent of the two. The flame-throwing lefty posted a 0.96 ERA and 1.07 WHIP over 13 appearances in April, and it looks like he’s going to finish strong, as he’s unscored upon with a 0.75 WHIP over five September outings.