Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

MLB News

The best free agent no one is talking about

Dickerson a great Plan B for Castellanos, Ozuna suitors
@RichardJustice
December 19, 2019

Corey Dickerson is going to be that guy, and remember you heard it here first. Every season, free agency delivers one or two like him -- players that get virtually no attention, and then sometime next summer, we look back and wonder why so many clubs missed on them. •

Corey Dickerson is going to be that guy, and remember you heard it here first. Every season, free agency delivers one or two like him -- players that get virtually no attention, and then sometime next summer, we look back and wonder why so many clubs missed on them.

Hot Stove Tracker

At this point, Dickerson is the best player that no one is talking about, and if that’s not a little extra motivation for those offseason workouts, nothing is. His time will come as teams sort through their options.

Here’s what they’ll find in the left-handed-hitting outfielder who played 78 games for the Pirates and Phillies in 2019:

• He’s one of 23 hitters to be an above-average hitter by OPS+ for six straight seasons (min. 200 PAs per season).

• His 121 OPS+ since 2014 is tied with Justin Upton for 29th out of 130 hitters with at least 2,500 plate appearances in that span.

• His .870 OPS against right-handed pitchers since 2014 is tied with Giancarlo Stanton for 17th out of 108 hitters with at least 2,000 plate appearances.

• Of hitters with at least 200 batted balls last season, Dickerson had the third-highest sweet-spot rate (frequency of contact in the optimal launch angle range). He’s close to Mike Trout in this area.

His numbers are solid against all types of pitching: fastballs (.293 batting average, .512 slugging percentage), breaking balls (.286/.506), offspeed (.270/.486).

• Defensively, Dickerson was worth plus-10 Outs Above Average in 2018 (tied for 12th among 174 outfielders). He won a Gold Glove Award for the Pirates that season and was an All-Star for the Rays in '17.

His 2019 season is hard to evaluate. Dickerson was hitting third for the Pirates when he suffered a right shoulder strain that hindered him for two months. He had a .942 OPS in June and July, then was traded to the Phillies at the Trade Deadline. He had eight homers and an .886 OPS in 34 games before he fouled a ball off his left foot on Sept. 11, breaking a bone and sidelining him the final 17 games.

Dickerson will be 30 on Opening Day, which means he’s a little older than Nicholas Castellanos (who will be 28) and Marcell Ozuna (29), the top two outfielders on the market. But Dickerson has a higher career OPS+ than both of them, and neither of them is considered even an average defender. It sounds like Castellanos and Ozuna could get deals for four (or more) years, whereas Dickerson is likely looking at a two-year deal, which offers a lot more roster flexibility.

It is with that in mind that we consider some fits for Dickerson, who is arguably a better player than the two free-agent outfielders getting most of the hype.

THE FAVORITES

Reds: If the Reds can pull off a trade for Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor, that probably would take them out of the market for Dickerson. Still, they’re shopping for a corner outfielder after two signings upgraded the infield (Mike Moustakas) and rotation (Wade Miley).

Marlins: There’s interest here, preferably on a short-term contract that would not block the path of top prospects to the big leagues. Dickerson would also be on a big upgrade for a club working its way through a rebuilding process. The Marlins are also thought to be in on Yasiel Puig.

Cardinals: Here’s another nice fit, and the Cardinals are focused on offense after the signing of Korean left-hander Kwang Hyun Kim ended their search for pitching help. Ozuna has said that he’d like to return to St. Louis, but the Cardinals' interest is unclear. Dickerson offers a defensive upgrade in left field.

THE DARK HORSES

D-backs: Dickerson fits nicely as the corner outfielder that the D-backs are seeking. However, their top priority is an everyday center fielder that would allow Ketel Marte to be a full-time second basemen. They appear to have both the financial flexibility and mindset to do both.

Padres: Dickerson could be ideal in San Diego’s search for more offense. They’ve been connected to Starling Marte and Whit Merrifield this offseason, but don’t be surprised if general manager A.J. Preller circles back to Dickerson.

Athletics: The A’s are hoping to add a left-handed bat via trade, but Dickerson is precisely the kind of overlooked free agent that has become an Oakland specialty.

THE FIELD

Pirates: Dickerson becomes a fit for a return to Pittsburgh if Starling Marte and/or Adam Frazier is traded, which appears to be a possibility. Dickerson had an .829 OPS in 179 games for the Pirates from 2018-19 before being dealt to the Phillies.

Giants: Dickerson’s production would help the Giants, but with so many young left-handed-hitting outfielders, they would prefer a right-handed hitter. That makes Castellanos and Ozuna potentially better fits.

Cubs: Dickerson would be an upgrade both offensively and defensively, but the Cubs’ strategy is unclear. While they’re listening to trade offers on left fielder Kyle Schwarber and others to trim payroll, it’s not clear what their strategy would be after that.

Indians: This one is a long shot. The infield is the first priority, but in the wake of Corey Kluber’s trade to Texas, the Indians may also have the financial flexibility to add an outfielder. With three youngsters -- Franmil Reyes, Oscar Mercado and Jordan Luplow -- the Indians are more likely to go for a platoon-type player, and Reyes profiles better as a DH anyway.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.