1st Base/DH: Under The Radar FA’s

Everyone is aware of the elite tier of free agents this year like Bauer, LeMahieu, or Springer. Or the top trade targets of Lindor, Bryant, and Arenado. You can see our proposed package for Arenado right here.

But rarely do the biggest signings make the most impact. 1 man can not win for 24 others. Mookie may have been the final piece for a finally satisfied Dodger’s organization, but he had 39 guys behind him who were just as crucial.

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The true winning happens with the under the radar signings. Last year it was Blake Treinen for the Dodgers. Marcell Ozuna and d’Arnaud for the Braves. Gausman for the Giants. DJ LeMahieu was under the radar a couple years ago. The list of lower tier/upside talent that produces at an elite level after a signing grows every year.

So we made a full roster, (40 guys) of under the radar Free agents to watch this winter. Join us as we break it down position by position starting today with a couple of catchers. We are calling our shots on next year’s under the radar producers and who they’ll sign with.

The Top Guys

Right now the names grabbing most of the attention from the 1st base/DH options are LeMahieu, Carlos Santana, Nelson Cruz, and Marcell Ozuna. Even JT Realmuto plays first if you need it.

All of these guys are in their 30s, either early or late, and all are expected to sign for some of the most money per year this offseason. But we think the second tier of options may be the true value this offseason.

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1st Base or Designated Hitter (2)

Edwin Encarnacion

Edwin is probably more of a DH than a 1st baseman, but with his bat, we doubt teams will care if they have the room. Plus, he has a career fielding percentage of .993 at 1st. (1st base, 2020 Gold Glove winners Anthony Rizzo and Matt Olson have a career % of .995)

Encarnacion brings with him 16 seasons of experience and a career line of .260/.350/.496. In his last full season he slashed .244/.344/.531 for Seattle and New York. But he just had his worst year slashing career lows in average at .157, .250 in OBP, and (2nd lowest in his career) .377 in SLG.

Still, 2020 seems to be a small-sample outlier considering he hasn’t OPS’d less than .800 since 2011. So we have to assume he will still hit closer to his career OPS of .846 rather than last year’s career worst .627. Especially with his barrel % still ranking in the 86th percentile of the league in a weird 2020.

His status has been steadily declining since 2016 from his once elite ranking. And because of that, he’s seen 4 different teams in his last 3 years. And at 38 Encarnacion is likely looking to sign his last contract.

And considering he’s already made more than $100 million throughout his career, we think his priority lies with playing time and/or a ring. He’s trying to put the finishing touches on a HOF hopeful career.

He’s only been an all star 3 times, and would probably love to be on a team that can get him back there once or twice. He’s 52nd all time in home runs with only 2 active players above him (Puljos and Cabrera) and Nelson Cruz nipping at his heels.

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He can easily be top 500 all time in WAR with a couple more years. He’s 125th all time in career slugging percentage. Edwin is also 198th all time in career OPS, 175th in career total bases, 132nd in RBI, 176th in walks, 182nd in runs created, 117th in extra base hits, 105th in HBP, 178th in sac flies, and 229th in win probability added.

Basically, wherever Edwin goes, he’ll be passing a lot of HOFers along the way. And more importantly to teams, he’ll put a lot of butts in seats. And his value is at an all time low.

We think Edwin will bounce back next year and hit around 30 homers and in the realm of .240/.350/.500. Especially if it’s as a DH. That’ll probably be good for somewhere in the range of 2 to 3 WAR as well. Screw that he’s 38, we all know what Nelson Cruz has been doing as a DH in his 40s.

Someone will sign Edwin for less than he’s worth (which is probably about $15 million a year still) because of the down year. And we have our money on a reunion with the Blue Jays. Edwin would slot in nicely as their DH/ 1st baseman when needed.

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He could probably help Vlad Jr. reach his potential and maybe even hit cleanup in this loaded and young lineup. Bo Bichette, Teoscar, Guerreo, Encarnacion, Biggio, Gurriel Jr, Shaw, Grichuk, Jansen. That is a lineup that can probably rival even the best in baseball.

And for Edwin, it would mean ample opportunities to add to his career records, inflate his production stats, maybe make the all star team, and even play in the postseason for the team he gave the best years of his career.

Prediction: Blue Jays, 2 years, $15 million

  • Latest rumors have the Rangers looking to take probably a higher salary, 1 year flyer on the right handed masher.
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Howie Kendrick

Howie has also been in the league for what is many a full career with 15 seasons to his name. And consistency has been the key to his game. He has a career line of .294/.337/.430 and has only once finished a season more than 100 points off from that .767 OPS once in his entire career.

It was actually recent in 2019, when he OPS’d a jaw dropping .966 for the World Series Nationals. He was probably the most underrated producer of that team.

And the 2 full seasons before that, he exceeded his career numbers with an OPS of .844 and .805. He seems to benefit at the plate from the lack of wear and tear on his body in the field these past few years. It’s fair to assume a transition to only 1st and DHing may actually inflate Kendrick to a .800+ OPS consistently.

Even if it doesn’t, his career low is a .692 OPS (a year where he played 146 games in the field), and his regression last year was only dramatic because of the breakout 2019 was.

He still hit a respectable .275/.320/.385 in 100 plate appearances last season. And statcast says he was mildly unlucky and he should’ve been closer to .284/.320/.452 if he kept it up over a full season. His BABIP was a career low which also bodes well for a rebound. And his career numbers back that up for sure.

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He’s not a top of the lineup hitter like he was when he was younger. Kendrick will still give you a typical contact hitter line, but he doesn’t have the speed to be anywhere higher than 3rd in a lineup. And if you’re signing Kendrick to be 3rd in your lineup, you’re desperate for someone steady.

But Kendrick is a great 5 to 7 hitter if you have guys getting on base in front of him. He’ll only hit about 10 bombs and maybe steal a couple bags if you’re lucky, but if you give Howie some runners on he will knock in runs for you.

He still brings defensive versatility even if he can’t do it everyday. But a manager can slide Kendrick anywhere in the infield outside of Short at this point in his career.

Whoever takes a chance on him will probably be rewarded with an .800 OPS season with 60+ runs, 70+ RBI, and 10+ homers coming out of the bottom half of their lineup.

Personally, we would love to see Kendrick on the Rockies to replace Daniel Murphy. They have a clear opening at 1st base, and Coors is a contact hitter’s dream park.

Prediction: Rockies: 1 year, $4 million

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  • As of right now we only know that Howie wants to keep playing and that he’s drawing interest from unknown teams

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