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Looking for an OF? Don't sleep on this FA

Well-rounded García an appealing alternative to Castellanos, Ozuna
@mattkellyMLB
December 5, 2019

When it comes to Hot Stove outfielders, Nicholas Castellanos and Marcell Ozuna have dominated the free-agent conversation. Mookie Betts and Starling Marte are the two most discussed trade candidates. But maybe it’s time Avisaíl García got a closer look. First, a simple comparison. Here are the offensive lines for Castellanos,

When it comes to Hot Stove outfielders, Nicholas Castellanos and Marcell Ozuna have dominated the free-agent conversation. Mookie Betts and Starling Marte are the two most discussed trade candidates. But maybe it’s time Avisaíl García got a closer look.

First, a simple comparison. Here are the offensive lines for Castellanos, Ozuna and García over the last three seasons:

Castellanos: .287/.337/.505, .354 wOBA, 121 wRC+
Ozuna: .281/.345/.487, .352 wOBA, 121 wRC+
García: .288/.337/.473, .342 wOBA, 117 wRC+

… and here are their WAR totals, per FanGraphs, over those three years, with their 2019 total in parentheses:

Castellanos: 10.4 fWAR (2.8)
Ozuna: 7.2 fWAR (2.6)
García: 6.1 fWAR (1.8)

Three players of similar age (Castellanos is entering his age-28 season, Ozuna and García their age-29 campaigns) and slash lines, and three players separated by a handful of wins. But market value is where the disparity lies: FanGraphs’ Top 50 Free Agents list projects a four-year, $56 million contract for Castellanos, and a four-year, $64 million deal for Ozuna.

García’s projection? A one-year, $10 million deal.

Castellanos and Ozuna bring more star power and, seemingly, more homers (89 for Ozuna since 2017, 76 for Castellanos and 57 for García), but that second part isn’t necessarily true. García, who logged time on the injured list in each of the past three seasons, was slightly more potent on an at-bat basis when he was in the lineup:

AB per HR, since 2017

Castellanos: 24.3
Ozuna: 25.7
García: 23.9

Those injuries (a collection of thumb, hamstring and oblique ailments) and some roller-coaster variance (from 4.2 fWAR in 2017, when he finished runner-up in the American League batting race, to 0.1 fWAR and a 93 wRC+ in ’18) are what could limit García to a one- or two-year deal. He’s probably not the difference-maker for a team’s title hopes, but neither were Castellanos and Ozuna as 2-3 WAR players last year.

What separates García from that pair -- and what could make him a smarter, shorter-term signing -- is the value he brings on both sides of the diamond. It’s no secret that Castellanos and Ozuna are largely one-sided players, with major question marks about how often teams could start them in the outfield. But if you were making García a video-game player, he profiles as more of an “all-around” type. Check out the sliders from his Baseball Savant page:

“Five tools” is an overused term in player evaluations, but García did just about everything well in 2019. Let’s run through those tools quickly:

He hit for power: Remember García’s 115.2 mph homer in the AL Wild Card Game? That’s the Rays’ hardest-hit homer tracked by Statcast since 2015. He also finished in the 58th percentile among qualified players in hard-hit rate.

He hit for average: García’s .275 expected batting average (xBA) -- calculated using batted-ball quality and strikeouts -- backed up his actual .282 average, and ranked in the 71st percentile.

He was surprisingly fast: At 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, the bulky García still averaged a 28.8 feet per second sprint speed on the basepaths. That’s 90th percentile speed.

He was a quality outfielder: García ranked well in Statcast’s Outs Above Average defensive metric, rating as a net positive at 3 OAA after recording 4 OAA in 2018.

He has a cannon: Only 16 outfielders finished with a higher average arm strength on max-effort throws (the top 10% of a player’s sample) than Garcia at 93.6 mph. That tracks with his 13 outfield assists for the White Sox in 2017, and six more for the Rays in ’19.

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The pool of outfielders with that many tools might be smaller than you think. Start with hitting and fielding; only 12 outfielders, including García, placed in the 50th percentile or higher in hard-hit rate and xBA (min. 250 PA), while also finishing with a positive OAA rating. As you'll see below, just about all of them are big names. Tack on an average sprint speed in the 75th percentile or higher, and the group winnows down to six (marked in silver), including García. And Harper was the only member of that sextet with a higher average arm strength.

Teams are too smart not to know this already, and the Tampa Bay Times reported last week that García was already fielding lots of calls. The same suitors chasing Castellanos and Ozuna figure to apply here, with the White Sox, Rangers or a return to the Rays making a ton of sense. And NL teams wouldn’t have to worry about making García an everyday outfielder, unlike Castellanos (-7 OAA, 78th of 92 qualified outfielders) and Ozuna (-8 OAA, 83rd), so that pulls teams like the D-backs, Cubs, Marlins and Reds into the mix, too. García isn't attached to a qualifying offer, while Ozuna is.

There’s a more than decent chance that García signs before the other two, but he could be the smartest signing of the group. He’s a lower-risk name, and he might not move the needle. But with age and a host of physical skills on his side, we might look back at García as one of the smartest offseason signings.

Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.