Remaining free agents who can fill a role

January 27th, 2023

While a team’s success largely depends on its best players, the stars can’t do it all. Over the course of a 162-game season, even the most dominant clubs need contributions from the players on the margins of the roster.

Although the free-agent market is no longer brimming with studs, there are still a number of useful players available who can fill a specific role in 2023. We’ve pinpointed seven of them below, along with some teams that could benefit from their services.

Defense-oriented backup catcher --

A two-time Gold Glove Award winner with the Guardians, Pérez has missed considerable time due to injuries in each of the past two years. The 34-year-old played just 21 games with the Pirates in 2022 before undergoing season-ending left hamstring surgery, but he managed to make an impact behind the plate nonetheless, recording 3 defensive runs saved and 3.2 defensive WAR, per FanGraphs. Still an excellent pitch-framer, Pérez recorded a 49.4% strike rate on borderline pitches in 2022, which would have ranked 11th highest in MLB if he had enough opportunities to qualify. Pérez doesn’t provide much in the way of offense, but his glovework and veteran savvy give him value in a backup role, either as a tutor for a young catcher or as a complement to a bat-first starter.

Best fits: Cardinals, Giants, Rockies, Nationals, Royals, White Sox

Outfield defense --

Bradley continued to struggle at the plate in 2022, posting a .566 OPS over 131 games for the Red Sox and Blue Jays, but his defense remained elite. Though he isn’t particularly speedy, Bradley’s instincts are top-notch, allowing him to get great jumps on the ball. He tied for fourth in MLB with four five-star catches and recorded 7 outs above average -- 4 OAA in right field and 3 in center. Bradley also has a strong arm, ranking in the 92nd percentile in arm strength last season. So long as you limit his exposure on offense, Bradley can be a serviceable fourth outfielder and late-game defensive replacement.

Best fits: Phillies, Rockies, Royals, Giants, Orioles, Angels, Pirates

Righty-mashing bat --

After beginning his professional career as a pitcher in the Cardinals system and reinventing himself as an outfielder during a brief sojourn in independent ball, Peralta has put together a solid .281/.339/.457 slash (111 OPS+) over nine MLB seasons. Much of his success has come against right-handed pitching, against which he’s slashed .294/.350/.486 vs. righties in his career. He had a .778 OPS vs. right-handers last season, 20% better than the big league average in those matchups, making him a good fit for clubs in need of some added punch from the left side of the plate.

Best fits: Rangers, Angels, Orioles, Rays, Rockies, Dodgers, Marlins

Contact hitter --

Iglesias hit three homers a year ago while playing home games in the thin air of Colorado, and he’s reached double digits only once in his career, with 11 dingers for the Reds in 2019. So, yeah, power’s not really his thing. But he also posted a .292 average in 2022, the same mark he’s recorded for five teams over 440 games dating back to the start of 2019. He’s not the type of guy who’s going to carry an offense, but there’s value in having someone on your roster who puts the ball in play, hits to all fields and is a capable defender at shortstop or second base.

Best fits: Angels, Braves, D-backs, White Sox, Pirates

Defensive versatility –

Chad Pinder is also an option here, but he’s not a strong defender at any spot on the diamond and is coming off an 86 OPS+ last season. Harrison, on the other hand, had a positive OAA number at both second base (3) and third (1) and was closer to league average with the bat (94 OPS+) in 2022. The 35-year-old also has experience in the outfield and can play shortstop in a pinch.

Best fits: White Sox, Nationals, Phillies, Pirates

Power bat --

After producing 161 homers and an .819 OPS in 674 games for the Twins across 2015-21, Sanó played just 20 games last year and went 5-for-60 (.083), missing much of the year with a left knee issue. Injuries have been a problem for Sanó throughout his career, as have strikeouts. But with a powerful swing and a patient eye, he’s proven to be a productive regular who can slug against both lefties and righties, when healthy. Plus, he’s still just 29 years old. A reunion with Minnesota might make sense after the team traded Luis Arraez, who was projected to be its starting first baseman in 2023.

Best fits: Twins, Rays, Rangers, Orioles

Veteran reliever with closing experience --

There are some other attractive relief options on the free-agent market, including Andrew Chafin, Michael Fulmer and Matt Moore, but clubs in search of a pitcher with extensive closing experience would be hard-pressed to find a better option than Smith at this point. The veteran left-hander has 91 career saves, and he’s shown he can succeed in the biggest moments, throwing 11 scoreless innings with six saves during the Braves’ run to a World Series title in 2021. Smith finished with a lackluster 3.97 ERA last season, but he was much better after joining the Astros at the Trade Deadline. He’d fit with a wide range of teams, from contenders to rebuilding clubs that could look to flip him at the Trade Deadline.

Best fits: Rangers, Angels, Yankees, Tigers, Marlins, Orioles, Nationals, Dodgers