Major League Baseball free agency is pretty much over. All the big names have signed, and few bang-for-the-buck players remain available. Given how quickly the offseason shaped up, a handful of MLB signings flew under the radar. Here are five of them:
– One-year, $6.1 million deal with the Detroit Tigers
The Tigers are looking for an identity and players to build around. Taking a one-year flier on Cron is a potential low risk, high reward signing.
Cron is one of the most underrated first basemen in baseball. Sure, he’s not renowned for his defensive heroics, but he’s a dangerous power hitter. In each of the last two seasons Cron has ranked in the top 10 percent in MLB in barrel percentage and is just one year removed from totaling 30 home runs and posting an .816 OPS with the Tampa Bay Rays.
He can hit in the middle of Detroit’s order and serve as a veteran on a raw depth chart. With little pressure on his shoulders given the low expectations placed on the Tigers, Cron could be poised for a big season. Plus, he can get some offensive tidbits from one of the best hitters in MLB history: Miguel Cabrera.
– Two-year, $16 million deal with the Atlanta Braves
There were few holes on Atlanta’s roster going into the offseason, but they filled one of the ones that existed in the utmost way: signing d’Arnaud to reside behind the plate.
The soon-to-be 31-year-old is coming off the most complete season of his big-league career. Hitting .263 and posting a .782 OPS while totaling 16 home runs and 67 RBIs across 92 games with the Rays, he was a vital source of offense for manager Kevin Cash‘s lineup. One of the best hitting catchers in baseball, d’Arnaud will round out a relentless offense, spearheaded by Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuna Jr., and Ozzie Albies.
Taking into account who he’ll be hitting behind, there will be opportunity for d’Arnaud to move baserunners into scoring position and drive such players in; he should be able to build off his 2019 success at the plate. Plus, the Braves will benefit from a seasoned catcher behind the plate with young starters Mike Soroka, Mike Foltynewicz, and Max Fried.
– One-year, $3 million deal with the Kansas City Royals
When you’re a rebuilding team looking for players to build around, you can take chances on individuals looking to right their careers. This is precisely what the Royals are doing with Franco.
Last season the third baseman fell off the map a bit. He was sent down to Triple A in August, hit just .234, and was non-tendered by the Philadelphia Phillies this offseason. Before 2019 Franco was one of the best young infielders in the sport. He was making diving plays on his backside, hitting for power, and was an integral source of offense for the Phillies; he totaled 71 home runs and 232 RBIs from 2016-18.
Franco projects to be Kansas City’s starting third baseman. In Franco, Ryan O’Hearn, Adalberto Mondesi, and Nick Lopez, they have an infield with four starters under 30. Franco can remake his himself on a team with few expectations and hit in the heart of a young, energetic offense. It’s a one-year steal.
– One-year, $6.3 million deal with the Cleveland Indians
The Indians continue to find crafty ways to stay competitive, and signing Hernandez is the latest example.
The second baseman was non-tendered by the Phillies this offseason and quickly found a home in Downtown Cleveland; the Indians are getting him at an ideal time. Over the last two seasons Hernandez has hit for more power and appeared in 161 games in both seasons; last season he totaled a career-high 71 RBIs.
Hernandez brings defensive versatility to the table, as he has experience starting at second and third base, shortstop, and center field. While Jason Kipnis was a fixture at second base, Hernandez is three years younger and has more upside. Accompanied by Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Carlos Santana, and Franmil Reyes, among others, Hernandez further weaponizes a well-versed offense.
– One-year, $5 million deal with the Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers have replaced roughly half their roster this offseason, and a lot of the players they brought in are proven commodities. One of them, Smoak, has become a lost art.
The switch-hitting first baseman is touted for his power; over the last three seasons Smoak has totaled 85 home runs and 228 RBIs. Yes, he’s prone to strikeout often, but that’s the risk you run with a power hitter. Meanwhile, he’s a respectable fielder who stretches out to corral bad throws with ease.
Smoak isn’t ensured a starting job next season. With that said, Brewers manager Craig Counsell frequently double switches players into games and makes a great deal of pitching changes. If Smoak answers the call when called upon, he’ll get more at-bats and enhance his 2020 free agent value.