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.
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.
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
DJ LeMahieu may be the top bat in the entire Free Agent market, and he’s primarily a second baseman. He is no doubt going to be a game changer for whatever team he signs with, but it will be quite pricy. After him, teams will look towards Kolten Wong, Jonathan Villar, and Tommy La Stella. But we have 2 guys who can also be game changers at second, and at a much more reasonable value.
2nd Base (2)
First off is the 6th ranked free agent second baseman by value, Schoop. At 6’1″ 225, Schoop won’t turn 30 until next October. And a career mostly in a forever struggling Baltimore has lead to him flying under the radar his entire career.
He’s been mostly average at the plate with a career line of .259/.297/.450, but he has always returned positive value, averaging a little over 1 WAR per season.
His best season came in 2017 when he slashed .293/.338/.503 with a career high 32 homers, 92 runs, and 105 RBI. He was valued at 3.7 WAR that year by fan graphs. (For comparison DJ Leamhieu’s best season produced 5.9 WAR)
His worst season was his rookie year where he slashed a pitiful .209/.244/.354 for a wRC+ of 64, or 36% below average. Still he produced 0.4 WAR that season by having his best defensive season of his career. It seems that Schoop is the type of player who always finds a way to help his team win more.
2020 with the Tigers was a resurgence at the plate and thee field for Schoop. He slashed .278/.324/.475, hit 8 homers, had a wRC+ 14% better than average, and produced 1.4 WAR in 44 games. Over a full season, with the same proportion of playing time, that would’ve been his best season yet with 3.8 WAR.
However, we will note that statcast had him as a very lucky hitter last year. According to his batted ball profile he should’ve hit closer to .244/.334/.383. But they also have his expected career numbers below his actual career numbers. Some guys just always seem to outperform their expected stats (i.e. Javier Baez)
Defensively he went from a rating of 3.3 in 2018, hit a career low of -2.5 in 2019, and back to 3.0 in 2020. He ranked in the 82nd percentile last year in outs above average for 2nd basemen. He still ranked in the 60th percentile in sprint speed.
But Schoop is the youngest second baseman left in the market. He just had a record setting pace season. The second basemen market is saturated. He’s one of the few that can hit 30 homers in his best years.
His biggest weakness comes from his awful career on base percentage. You can pretty much assume Schoop will hit somewhere in the realm of .250/.325/.450 for you while giving you above average defense.
But if a team can teach Schoop even just a little more patience, he goes from a relatively average bat, to a top 10 second baseman in the league. MLB average last year for wOBA was .335. Schoop was at .334 in 2020 and had his best season ever proportionally. The only time his wOBA was above that .335 mark, was in 2017 with a .355. Reminder that he OPS’d .841 that year.
If a hitting coach can unlock Schoop’s patience, they may get the biggest scoop (pun intended) of the offseason. But even if they don’t, Schoop is still a plus option for half of the league at 2nd.
At his best, a team may get an all-star who slashes around .275/.350/.500 with 30 bombs next year. At his worst, a team will get a platoon/bench player that will hit around .230/.300/.400. To us, this relatively average floor, with high upside, for almost no money, screams Oakland A’s to us. They have a hole at second and La Stella is likely to sign elsewhere for more money.
Prediction: Oakland A’s, 3 year, $12 million with classic opt-outs and tinkering
Adeiny has 9 seasons and 8 different clubhouses on his resume. He turns only 32 around the beginning of next season. He’s a career .253/.291/.351 hitter, but his splits stand out to us.
Against lefties, his career line is .272/.320/.385. Versus the same handed righties Hechavvaria only slashes .248/.282/.340. An OPS of .705 against .622. This translates to Adeiny being almost an average hitter with a wRC+ of 93 against lefties, and awful against righties at 68 wRC+. It’s a 25% increase in his production.
Since he only had 63 ABs in 2020, we’ll mostly ignore his first negative value season since 2013. And even then he still slashed .254/.302/.305. His ISO was almost half of what his career average is, and 48 of those 63 at bats were against Righties.
So we’ll look more to his 2019 season for a baseline of where he’s at. He played 2nd, 3rd, and Short. And again his production against lefties shine. He produced a wRC+ of 124 against LHP vs 85 against RHP.
His lefty line was an mouth-watering .261/.306/.565 for an OPS of .871. (all of the following stats are against lefties) His second best line of his career. He had a career high hard hit rate of 47.5% to back it up. His strikeout rate was a career low of 12.2%.
But because he played more against righties he actually hit .241/.299/.443 on the year. Almost a .150 point drop from his lefty stats.
So we argue that Hechavvaria, isn’t a starter anymore. He’s best used as a lefty specialist with defensive versatility. His split performances are true across the board, and throughout his career so far. He has the defensive versatility to fill in across the infield (minus 1st), and is the perfect fill in for any team looking to up their stats against lefties.
And much like Schoop, Hechavvaria could take his game to the next level with more patience. His career OBP jumps 40 points when it’s just lefties. But if he can add 20 more points to that in a platoon role, all of a sudden, he becomes a lefty killer for any team’s lower half of the lineup.
He won’t carry a team to any championships, but he’s exactly the kind of role player a lot of teams need. And with the likely departure of Kike Hernandez, and possibly Justin Turner from the Dodgers, they lost some of their righty versatility.
Right now the projected starters are like lefty Edwin Rios and lefty Gavin Lux who struggled in his rookie campaign to the point of being left out of the playoffs. As for Short and 1st, they’re also currently occupied by lefties. (Seager and Muncy)
So we see Hechavvaria as a perfect fit for a Friedman Darling signing. He will be much cheaper than resigning Kiké and helps bridge the gap for the next wave of Dodger infielders like Lux and Hoese.
As a lefty platoon specialist, you can expect anywhere from a .700 to .900 OPS. At worst, he’ll be about league average, but the upside is far greater than the downside. Classic low risk high reward. His best comparison would probably be Kike Hernandez.
Prediction: We see Adeiny signing for 1 to 2 years with LA for $1 to $3 million.