When glancing at the free agent market in recent years, one may notice a high concentration of players above the age of 30. One of the reasons for this trend stems from teams routinely locking up their young stars from reaching the free-agent market. This year’s class, before the non-tender period, featured just 17 players below age 30, including the interesting case of Conor Gillaspie, who at 28, qualifies as a free agent despite accumulating just three years of service time.
According to the current Basic Agreement, any player who completes their sixth season in the major leagues is eligible for free agency. Gillaspie’s case is one of the most unorthodox in recent memory since he only collected at least 400 at-bats twice in his career and his only complete seasons in the majors were his last three with the Chicago White Sox and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
A technicality from Gillaspie playing eight games for the San Francisco Giants in 2008 prematurely jump started his arbitration clock and allowed him to become a free agent while still in the prime of his career. For most teams, finding a developing player on the open market with a decent track record is highly desired, but Gillaspie comes with the baggage of being discarded by three different teams before fully establishing himself as an everyday player.
After receiving a big-league call up the same year the Giants selected him as a supplemental draft pick out of Wichita State, Gillaspie admittedly felt a sense of entitlement and rubbed veteran teammates the wrong way due to an overall lack of maturity. Without much of a future in San Francisco and blocked by Pablo Sandoval at third base, the Giants traded Gillaspie to the White Sox shortly after Spring Training in 2013 for a minor league pitcher.
A new team and new start allowed Gillaspie a chance to mature and become a well-rounded professional. Handed the starting third base job shortly after his arrival, Gillaspie appeared to have broken out in 2014 with career-highs in average, RBIs, and OPS. His .282/.336/.416 slash line suggested continued progression but Gillaspie slipped rapidly this past season as his batting average plummeted by 50 points and his .269 on-base percentage ranked among the lowest in baseball. A late season trade to the Angels did little to improve things and in less than a year, Gillaspie went from a steady contributor to a player fighting for his future.
With David Freese the only obvious third base option on the free agent market after Gordon Beckham recently signed with the Atlanta Braves, Gillaspie will certainly receive a chance from a club seeking a third baseman either in a platoon role or as an insurance policy off the bench. Setting aside his massive regression in 2015, Gillaspie provides line drive power to the gaps with modest plate selectivity and run production. A possible landing spot for him might be the Milwaukee Brewers, since the club is in the midst of a rebuilding effort and Gillaspie’s younger brother Casey was born in Milwaukee. The Brewers currently have the unproven Yadiel Rivera, a natural middle infielder listed as a placeholder at the roster at third base and may look for an upgrade at the position.
Just two years removed from a potential breakout season as in his mid-20’s with the White Sox, Gillaspie is a low-risk high-reward gamble likely to improve on a rough 2015 campaign. A different perspective and attitude towards the game can lead to better results and promise realized in the right situation free from unrealistic expectations and burdens. The fortune of reaching free agency far earlier time than most players in his situation make Gillaspie a compelling case and a possible bargain on the market at a position without the traditional talent seen in most years.