The 2017-18 free agent class pales in comparison to the historically deep class that’s coming next winter. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t good players available or difference-making deals to be found on the open market.
We wouldn’t necessarily say this winter’s class is filled with hidden gems. Just about every one of the 184 players on Jeff Passan’s Ultimate Free Agent Tracker has established himself in MLB. But the truth is, once you get past the first dozen or so the list goes from marquee names to journeymen. That means most of this winter’s signings will fall under the category of unheralded, rather than headline news.
Those are the guys we’ll be focused on here. Good but often overlooked players with good upside, be it short-term or long-term, who we think will immediately boost whichever team signs them. Today, we’ll look at three pitchers who fit that bill. On Sunday, we’ll look at three unheralded hitters in the same mold.
You won’t find any predictions or rumors about where these players might go. We’ll just explain why we think the signing team could end up very happy they made the deal.
Mike Minor, relief pitcher
One of the best stories in MLB is about to get even better. Minor, a 29-year-old left-hander, enjoyed a career resurrection with the Kansas City Royals after wondering if his career might be over. Shoulder issues wiped out his 2015 and 2016 seasons entirely, and the truth is before that he’d yet to really establish himself as anything special while spending four-plus seasons in the Atlanta Braves organization.
When the Royals signed Minor before the 2016 season, they allowed him to focus on getting healthy before offering an opportunity that has changed his career. A reliever in 2017, Minor became a reliable and versatile arm for Ned Yost, appearing in 65 games. Better yet, Minor was very effective, posting a 2.55 ERA and a career best 10.2 strikeouts per nine.
According to Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan, who described Minor’s season as a poor man’s version of Andrew Miller, some teams are looking at him as a starter. The reality is Minor will have enough healthy offers to make bank and decide what the best path for him is moving forward. And whichever team gets him will likely be glad they did.
Jeff Passan’s Free Agent Ranking: 25
Steve Cishek, relief pitcher
Though rarely mentioned among the game’s best relievers, Cishek has proven to be a reliable option for every team that’s employed him. Cishek hit his stride as the Marlins closer from 2012-14, earning 88 saves that stretch. He’s since changed uniforms three times, but mainly because he’s been in demand for contenders down the stretch.
In 2015, the 31-year-old right-hander was traded to St. Louis, where he posted a 2.31 ERA over 27 appearances. In a year-plus with the Seattle Mariners, earned another 25 saves before Edwin Diaz took over the closer’s role. Cishek may have been at his best though at the end of the 2017 season, when he allowed three runs in 24 and two-thirds inning after being traded to the Rays.
His velocity was down last season, but Cishek still offers a filthy sinker-slider combination. He also gets a ton of ground balls. He’ll be a good fit in anyone’s bullpen come 2018.
Jeff Passan’s Free Agent Ranking: 34
Seung-Hwan Oh, relief pitcher
Equipped with undeniably good stuff and an epic nickname, “The Final Boss,” Oh enters free agency coming off a disappointing season. Everything seemingly went wrong for the South Korean right-hander as he was rotated in and out of the Cardinals closer role.
Oh went 1-6 with a 4.10 ERA and 20 saves in 62 appearances. Along the way he contributed to some crushing losses. He was far from alone in his struggles, but given his role his bad moments stood out more than most. But that only figures to motivate him moving forward.
We’ve seen how good Oh can be. In his rookie season in 2016, he dominated the league by posting 19 saves and a 1.92 ERA. He was a go-to man for manager Mike Matheny. With a few adjustments and some patience from his next team, we see no reason why he can’t be that guy again.
Jeff Passan’s Free Agent Ranking: 57
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