Free Agency: Moves You May Have Missed

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As you have probably noticed, hot stove season is in full swing. While the headlines have been preoccupied with the movement in the National League East, and by the Seattle Mariners, many may have glossed over some of these moves.

About one hour after the Washington Nationals announced their signing of Patrick Corbin, another starter went off the market, although it wasn’t one you would expect. The Arizona Diamondbacks announced that they had signed right-handed pitcher Merrill Kelly to a two-year contract worth $5.5 million with a pair of club options. Kelly will earn $2 million in 2019 and $3 million in 2020 with club options for 2021 and 2022.

The first option year is worth $4.25 million with a $500,ooo buyout, and the second is worth $5.25 million. Now, many people have been asking themselves, “Just who is Merrill Kelly?” Well, the 30-year-old right-handed pitcher was an eighth-round pick by the Rays in 2009. He made it to Triple-A with the Rays in 2014 before signing a contract to take his talents to Korea. Over his three-year stint in Korea, he posted a 3.82 ERA in 593.1 innings pitched.

Focusing on the risks, we are looking at a guy who has never pitched in the major leagues before, and, according to Baseball-Reference, didn’t pitch anywhere in 2018. Looking at the success of guys like Eric Thames and Miles Mikolas, you need to take into account that those guys had some major league experience before heading overseas. Furthermore, Kelly has always been more of a finesse, groundball pitcher and has never been the type of guy who has been able to log many strikeouts.

With Paul Goldschmidt and Patrick Corbin dominating the news, you may have missed these other offseason transactions. @OrsattiJoe has you covered.Click To Tweet

Based on his lack of “stuff,” major league pitchers could tee off on him. That being said, Kelly was very solid during his stint in the Korean Baseball Organization, which is a hitter-friendly league. Furthermore, his new teammate Yoshihisa Hirano found very legitimate success in his first season in the major leagues.

I believe the potential upside outweighs the risk. The contract is inexpensive and very team friendly in terms of control. If it works out, they can keep him locked up through his age-34 season, and if not, they can cut him loose with minimal loss. This move could be especially important as the Snakes head into a potential rebuild in the near future. There is nothing more valuable than a cost-controlled starting pitcher.

The Houston Astros added catcher Robinson Chirinos on a one-year contract worth $5.75 million. While it was certainly a shock to see the Rangers decline his club option, it was Chirinos who got the last laugh. The veteran catcher would have made $4.75 million with his club option, but actually blew past that sum with the bottom line value on his new deal plus the $1 million that he received from the Rangers as a buyout.

The 34-year-old should see the majority of time behind the plate with Max Stassi backing him up. While he has never been known for his ability to make contact, he’s a guy who walks more than 10 percent of the time while bringing with him 20-homer potential. While he’s nothing special defensively, he could spend some time as the designated hitter from time to time, while Stassi handles catching duties.

While the bat is an obvious benefit here, many outlets will ignore two elements that makes this an exceptional signing: Clubhouse leadership and knowledge of the division. Chirinos has always been considered to be an excellent locker room guy, which is something the Astros lost when Brian McCann departed in free agency.

When you have a team in contention for a championship, leadership is essential. What makes the knowledge of the division more important is the fact that he’s a catcher. Chirinos has stood behind these players while they were batting for years. Over time, you begin to notice little kinks in the armor of players, such as where should you throw it to get them to chase. Furthermore, with this knowledge, he can help his teammates adjust their stances accordingly.

Kansas City signed utility player Chris Owings to a one-year contract worth $3 million that includes $500,000 in potential incentives. Owings, who was non-tendered by the Diamondbacks last week, struggled mightily in 2018, slashing .206/.272/.302. I fully expect him to rebound from 2018, seeing as how his BABIP was a rather low .265 and he dealt with injuries all year. My projections have him slashing .241/.286/.370 with six home runs and 14 stolen bases over 392 plate appearances. Defensively, he’s versatile and can play at second base, shortstop, and the outfield. I would expect him to serve as a super utility option for the rebuilding Royals. He also could be insurance if the Royals wind up trading Whit Merrifield. Owings will become a free agent after the 2019 season.

There have also been a rather considerable number of minor league signings. The most active team has been the Marlins. While many of the moves had already been announced, including the Harold Ramirez and Gabriel Guerrero signings, there were a few moves that were made public recently. The most notable are the signings of Pedro AlvarezDixon Machado, and Deven Marrero.

Machado and Marrero are the same type of player: glove-first utility infielders. The 26-year-old Machado had spent his entire career in the Tigers organization, carrying a career .227/.285/.295 batting line while offering little in terms of power or speed. That being said, his defensive numbers have been excellent, with a 4.74 RF/9 at second and a 4.42 RF/9 at shortstop. Meanwhile, Marrero, 28, has slashed .197/.250/.283 over four seasons in the majors. After spending the majority of his career with the Red Sox, he was traded to the Diamondbacks before the 2018 season. The Marlins also signed Jon Berti to serve as additional Triple-A infield depth.

Also joining the Marlins is the former No. 2 overall selection in the draft, Pedro Alvarez. Alvarez is the third player who I rated among my top 25 minor league free agents to sign in Miami. I fully expect the third baseman to make a serious run at the Opening Day roster. While many have questioned his defense, those concerns aren’t quite as valid as many would expect. Alvarez has posted a career 2.85 range factor/9 at third base, which is about 10 percent above average. Factor that in with his well-known bat, and you have a very legitimate major leaguer. My projections have the 32-year-old slashing .256/.329/.470 with a 162-game home run rate of 29. Over the past few seasons, he was mishandled by the Orioles, which limited his production. Personally, I have been a fan of what Derek Jeter has done with the Marlins thus far, and I believe he can get the best of the former All-Star.

In other news, the Rangers brought in former Mets top prospect Rafael Montero while watching their own former top prospect, Chi Chi Gonzalez, head to Colorado. Both pitchers missed the entirety of the 2018 season due to Tommy John surgery. While it may take a while for Gonzalez to shake the rust off, as he hasn’t seen significant innings since the 2016 season, Colorado is an excellent fit for him. While he has never been known as a “stuff” guy, his groundball rates have always been very high, which could help him in Colorado. I’m not certain how the Rockies intend on using him, but if he can find success at Triple-A Colorado Springs, he could see some time in Denver this season.

As for Montero, a move to relief would be prudent. While the top prospect has always been a guy with excellent stuff, his control has really suffered over the past few seasons. Now, more than ever, using him in shorter stints would certainly give him a better chance at finding success. I wouldn’t expect him to be ready to go until around May or June, but he could be a rather solid post deadline replacement. If he can find his control again, we could be looking at a setup type.

Finally, the Tigers brought in a quartet of players who have spent time in the Tigers organization before, as catcher Bobby Wilson, infielder Kody Eaves, catcher Kade Scivicqueand right-handed pitcher Louis Coleman will join the Tigers for spring training. I consider Eaves and Scivicque to be depth who could shuffle between Double-A and Triple-A, but the other two could see significant time for the Tigers in 2018. Wilson will compete with Grayson Greiner for John Hicks‘ back-up.

While I would imagine Greiner makes it initially, injuries are common for catchers and we should see the 36-year-old Wilson at some point. As for Coleman, the veteran reliever was ranked 21st on my top minor league free agents list. My projections have Coleman posting a 3.72 ERA over 40.2 innings pitched. He will have a legitimate shot to break camp with the Tigers, and even if he doesn’t make the initial roster, he should see some significant time.

Bonus: International Signings

  • Right-handed pitcher Justin Hancock signed a one-year contract worth $700,000 with the Nippon Ham Fighters.
  • Right-handed pitcher Jay Jackson will return to Hiroshima for the 2018 season on a one-year contract worth $1.5 million.
  • Recently released Angels outfielder Jabari Blash will join the Rakuten Golden Eagles on a one-year contract. There have been no reports indicating how much he will make.
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