Much like with the holiday season, Major League Baseball teams looking to surprise their loved ones with one more big purchase are mostly too late.
The items still on the shelf at the free agent toy store aren’t exactly the flashy ones that were on the top of everybody’s wish list. The superstars that can single handedly transform a franchise are gone, and all that remains are depth pieces. While useful players abound, none of them are going to receive even a fraction of the riches that Aaron Judge and Trea Turner did.
But with spring training less than two months away, now is the time for general managers to put the finishing touches on their roster, and while these players aren’t going to move the needle that much, they absolutely have a place on good teams looking to get a little bit better on the edges.
Fresh off a career year and still only 29 years old, Profar is the best player still searching for a job.
The switch hitter declined his $8.33 million option with the Padres and should have no problem finding a multi-year deal. While there are definitely holes in his game, Profar is a dream for many modern front offices because of his eye. In each of the last two seasons, Profar has walked in at least 11% of his plate appearances, ranking in the 85th percentile of the league.
For years, Profar’s calling card was his immense defensive versatility. He’s not bouncing around the diamond nearly as much as he used to, but after settling into San Diego’s starting left field role, he posted a 110 wRC+ while making 600 plate appearances for the first time in his decade-long career.
Profar is still more than a capable fielder at first or second base if need be, but left field seems to be his best home as he enters his thirties. Several teams would become much more difficult to deal with if they inserted Profar in the bottom of their order and stuck him in a corner outfield spot for 140 games or so. His elite knowledge of the strike zone and aversion to swing and missing makes him an intriguing candidate for a certain team in the Bronx if they can’t swindle Bryan Reynolds away from the Pirates.
There are 25 left-handed relievers who have churned out 100 or more innings over the last two years. Mets’ legend Aaron Loup has the lowest ERA at 1.36, but next up on the list is Chafin’s 2.07. Despite looking like an employee at a Midwestern bowling alley, Chafin’s strikeout rate, whiff percentage, opponent’s batting average and batted ball numbers are all well above average.
The southpaw struck out 27.6% of his assignments last year while pitching for the Detroit Tigers, who curiously did not move him at the deadline. The strikeouts bump up a bit when he’s facing lefties, but Chafin actually held righties to a lower batting average and had a better WHIP against them too. Chafin is a logical fit for either New York team, though the Mets already brought in one lefty reliever this offseason in Brooks Raley. The Yankees could use another left-hander in their bullpen, especially after the somewhat strange Lucas Luetge trade.
Yes, that Johnny Cueto, the one who debuted when George W. Bush was still in office and recently made his 350th career start. Cueto tossed 158.1 innings for the White Sox last summer and came out of them with a tidy 3.35 ERA. Because he’s never relied on strikeouts or velocity, the 36-year-old is a better option than fellow veterans on the free agent circuit like Michael Pineda or Chris Archer.
Cueto has also been durable over the last three years and put on a masterclass in limiting walks and home runs during the 2022 campaign. At this point, he’s a fourth or fifth starter on a contending team or an innings muncher for a club that just needs to put somebody out there. But the old head who ranks seventh among active pitchers in innings pitched can still induce a ground ball with the best of them and went six innings or more in 19 of his 24 most recent starts. For any organization that feels like they’re an arm away — particularly one with strong infield defense that can turn those grounders into outs — Cueto on a one-year deal makes a lot of sense.
Five years younger than Cueto and strapped with an ERA that was a few points lower, Wacha was a surprise bright spot for the 2022 Red Sox. He’s also fired at least 120 innings in each of the last three full seasons, a welcome sign for a pitcher whose early years were slightly derailed by a wonky shoulder.
Getting out of the American League East should help Wacha correct his home run issues too. So long as his changeup continues missing bats, Wacha can be an effective option in the back end of a rotation. A fastball that once averaged 95 miles per hour is now more of a 92 or 93, but Wacha has learned how to deal with that and still be a serviceable pitcher. If 43-year-old Rich Hill can get an eight-million dollar contract, Wacha should realistically be able to land a one-year deal for at least ten.
His most recent showing was terrible — Mancini went 1-for-21 in his first postseason — but there’s still a very good hitter here.
Someone will take a flier on a guy with a 114 wRC+ over his last three seasons, which is exactly what Mancini has produced over a stretch that was interrupted by cancer treatment in 2020. Mancini’s solid defense at first base and experience in the outfield makes him a more well-rounded option than Luke Voit, who is also a free agent. Mancini is also younger than David Peralta and Brandon Belt, who he may be competing against for a designated hitter job.
The Rangers and Mariners could both use a boost at DH, as could Mancini’s old mates in Baltimore, who are on the verge of respectability again.
Honorable mentions: Michael Fulmer, Elvis Andrus, Gary Sanchez