Would the Braves have won the NL East last season without right-hander Anibal Sanchez's 24 starts and 2.83 ERA? He was signed in mid-March after the Twins released him.Lefty Wade Miley helped the Brewers achieve a 96-win season after coming to Spring Training on a Minor League contract -- and
Would the Braves have won the NL East last season without right-hander Anibal Sanchez's 24 starts and 2.83 ERA? He was signed in mid-March after the Twins released him.
Lefty Wade Miley helped the Brewers achieve a 96-win season after coming to Spring Training on a Minor League contract -- and the same thing happened with the Red Sox and reliever Ryan Brasier. Trevor Cahill joined the A's just before Opening Day, and he went on to have a career renaissance with 20 starts across 110 innings and a 1.191 WHIP.
These under-the-radar signings shouldn't surprise anyone, because every season, some of the least heralded free agents have significant impacts. They're a reminder that free agency doesn't only reward the teams that spend the most money.
Which players in on the market are in this low-risk, high-reward category? Let's take a look at seven possibilities for the upcoming season. (Ages listed are as of Opening Day 2019.)
1. Giovany Gonzalez, LHP, age 33
Gonzalez was outstanding down the stretch in five starts for the Brewers last season, and he is two years removed from a 2.96 ERA in 32 starts for the Nationals. Over the past nine seasons, he has been one of baseball's most durable starters, averaging 31 starts. At 33, he may not be signed for longer than one season, but he showed again last season that he's still capable of pitching at a high level.
2. Brad Boxberger, RHP, age 30
Boxberger began last season as Arizona's closer -- and for about the first five months, he was almost as good as any. A few tough outings in the second half made his overall season look worse than it was. He doesn't have the classic 98-mph fastball, relying instead on a fastball-changeup combination, but he has proven he can contribute quality innings at a time when the game has never valued relief work more.
3. Evan Gattis, DH/catcher, age 32
When Gattis is locked in, there are few better. His 27 home runs helped the Astros make their first postseason appearance in a decade in 2015, and he followed that up with 32 in 2016. He clubbed 22 in a 73-game stretch for the '18 Astros. Along the way, there are some cold stretches, too. But he's the kind of player that could be a major contributor in the right setting.
4. Nick Markakis, OF, age 35
Some doubted whether the Braves should have signed Markakis to a four-year contract at age 31. But in those four seasons, he averaged 159 games, 40 doubles and a .759 OPS. Now 35, he's coming off his best season with the Braves, and he could be a nice pickup for a contender.
5. Shawn Kelley, RHP, age 34
Kelley pitched in 54 games for the Nationals and A's in 2018, and he allowed fewer than one baserunner per inning with 9.2 strikeouts per nine. Yes, he's 34 years old and has twice undergone Tommy John surgery, but in three of the past four seasons, he has been on the short list of most effective relievers in the sport.
6. Jose Iglesias, SS, age 30
You say a terrific defensive shortstop might stabilize your entire team? It happens sometimes. In that case, Iglesias is your man. Andrelton Simmons and Francisco Lindor are in a class by themselves, but Iglesias is in the middle of that next group. He has a .301 OBP the past three seasons, but his value is in making every defensive play, including many spectacular ones.
7. Clay Buchholz, RHP, age 34
Buchholz's changeup was his most effective pitch last season, proving that he successfully made the middle-age adjustment every pitcher faces. He had a 2.01 ERA in 16 starts for the D-backs before a sore arm ended his season in September. If he's healthy, though, he's still capable of being a solid starter.
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.