Top-tier free agents remaining unsigned into the regular season has been a topic of conversation in recent years. Just this season Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel remained unsigned until after the amateur draft based on their status as players who rejected qualifying offers. What went under the radar, however, was the fact that there were multiple players who became available as XX-B free agents after reasonably productive 2017 and/or 2018 seasons. An article XX-B free agent is a player who declares free agency from a team’s 40-man roster. Some of the more notable names that were nowhere to be seen during the 2019 season were Evan Gattis, Denard Span, and AJ Ramos.
Ramos missed a significant portion of the 2018 season with a shoulder strain and struggled when healthy, resulting in a lack of interest in his services during the offseason. Teams were probably hesitant to guarantee him any money with the uncertainty of his health and recent struggles and were unwilling to meet his price tag. Assuming he’s healthy, he would be an interesting player to add to a spring training roster on an incentive-laden minor-league deal based on his results from 2012-2017.
My projections have the right-hander at a 4.11 ERA with an 11.12 K/9, a 5.56 BB/9, and a 0.89 HR/9, but relievers are very volatile. I would consider Ramos more likely to find regained success than the average reliever fighting for a job in spring training based on his four-season long run of mastery in the Miami Marlins bullpen. He represents a high-ceiling relief option who comes with little to no risk.
Span went unsigned after hitting a rather strong .261/.341/.419 with 11 home runs, nine stolen bases and a 51:79 walk to strikeout ratio in 2018. Unfortunately, Span hasn’t fared quite as well defensively in recent years. While he will probably have to settle for a minor-league contract, there should be no shortage of interest, as long as he’s aiming to continue his career.
He’s a good enough hitter to serve as a fourth outfielder/pinch hitter/designated hitter on a competitor, or he could take a similar route that Curtis Granderson took, as the veteran outfielder signed with the Marlins to serve as a veteran stopgap who can positively influence the young players around him. If he’s able to make it back to the major leagues for the 2020 season, my projections have Span at a .270/.333/.405 batting line (.738 OPS) along with nine home runs and 12 stolen bases over a 127-game sample size.
Evan Gattis spent four seasons in Houston before hitting the open market. Like Span, Gattis went unsigned due to his lack of a defensive position. After spending 2018 almost exclusively in the designated hitter spot, there weren’t many teams who looked at him as an option to catch. While defensive metrics don’t always paint the most accurate picture, his range factor behind the plate was well above average in both 2016 (9.74 RF9 vs. 8.57 lgRF9) and 2017 (10.60 RF9 vs. 8.85 lgRF9).
While I’m not suggesting that Gattis is going to win a Gold Glove or should even start behind the plate, I don’t see why American League teams don’t at least value his ability to catch. While there’s a lot of versatility in baseball, there aren’t a lot of position players or designated hitters who can go behind the plate, if need be. Gattis can serve as the everyday designated hitter for a number of rebuilding AL clubs such as the Baltimore Orioles or Kansas City Royals, while suiting up behind the plate when in a pinch. My projections have him at a .237/.289/.467 batting line and 23 home runs over 116 games.
Span, Gattis, and Ramos should remain on your radar as we prepare to head into the offseason.