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Pros, cons of 6 lower-profile free-agent hitters

January 12, 2016

Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Upton and Chris Davis will grab all the headlines over the next few weeks, but it doesn't take a megadeal to bolster an offense -- even at this stage, late in free agency.There are plenty of second-tier free-agent hitters who could end up playing important roles this

Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Upton and Chris Davis will grab all the headlines over the next few weeks, but it doesn't take a megadeal to bolster an offense -- even at this stage, late in free agency.
There are plenty of second-tier free-agent hitters who could end up playing important roles this season. Sure, there are question marks surrounding those hitters, but in many cases the upsides outweigh those questions.
Hot Stove Tracker
With that in mind, here's a breakdown of the pros and cons that go along with six top free-agent hitters who aren't tied to Draft-pick compensation (Cespedes isn't tied to Draft-pick compensation, either, but the focus here is on more affordable options).
Gerardo Parra
Upside: Parra is probably the best remaining free agent who isn't tied to losing a Draft pick (again, not including Cespedes). There's a lot to like -- starting with his defense. The metrics indicate that Parra had a sub-par season, but before that, he was one of the best outfielders in baseball. Plus, he posted an OPS+ of 139 before the Trade Deadline and was one of the best hitters in baseball during July.
Downside: As good as Parra was with Milwaukee last season, he was dreadful after being dealt to Baltimore. He's a notoriously streaky hitter, and his tendency to go ice cold could scare off a few clubs. And while Parra's defense has been brilliant, the metrics indicate he's probably not going to be a capable center fielder for much longer.

Austin Jackson
Upside: At this point we know exactly what we're getting from the 28-year-old Jackson. He's not a great on-base threat, but his power numbers are usually solid and his speed and defense are above average. Jackson also has youth going for him, along with the ability to play all three outfield positions.
Downside: Whoever signs Jackson needs to be prepared for the strikeouts. Jackson has whiffed at a rate of 23.5 percent throughout his career. Players who fan that often typical walk a lot, too -- but not Jackson, who swings a lot but doesn't make much contact. Jackson never quite developed into the star some thought he would be, and at this point his upside isn't especially high.

David Freese
Upside: Freese is the only everyday third baseman available on the market. He's slightly more attractive as a free agent, simply because of the options behind him (namely Casey McGehee and Juan Uribe). Freese's 110 wRC+ suggests he's an above-average offensive third baseman, and his defense -- especially for a 32-year-old -- is perfectly adequate.
Downside: Freese will most likely command more money than one might expect because of the thin market of third basemen. By no means is he a middle-of-the-lineup threat, but he holds all the cards in negotiating with any team looking fill a void. On the other hand, Freese's on-base numbers have dipped over the past couple of seasons, as he averaged an OBP of just .322 with the Angels the past two seasons, compared with a .356 mark during his time with St. Louis.

Alexei Ramirez
Upside: Ramirez picked a bad time for a career-worst year, as he's on the market coming off a season in which he posted a .642 OPS. But it wasn't all that long ago that he was one of the game's better offensive shortstops. He batted .273/.305/.408 in 2014, earning him a Silver Slugger and an All-Star berth. Plus, Ramirez has proven to be one of the game's most durable infielders, having averaged 153 games per season over his eight-year career.
Downside: There simply aren't many shortstops who have succeeded in their age-34 seasons. Ramirez was an All-Star in 2014 but it's a good bet that his woeful '15 was more an indicator of career decline than a chance down year. The biggest proof rests with the soft contact he's been making. According to Statcast™, Ramirez's average exit velocity of 85.6 mph ranked 417th among 453 hitters with at least 50 batted balls.

Justin Morneau
Upside: The upside is obvious with Morneau. He won a batting title a mere two seasons ago and hit .316/.363/.487 in two years with the Rockies. He's a four-time All-Star, a one-time MVP and one of the better hitters of the past 10 years. And despite his age -- he turns 35 in May -- Morneau plays a solid first base. He may not be the middle-of-the-order RBI-guy he once was, but he's still an incredibly useful left-handed bat.
Downside: The age shouldn't be much of an issue, considering Morneau's position. But the health concerns are. He has played more than 135 games just once since 2009 and he has a history of concussions, having missed significant time in 2010, '11 and '15. There's no question Morneau offers a potent bat when healthy (although exactly how potent remains up for debate, given he spent the past two seasons playing his home games at Coors Field). But his injury history makes him a considerable risk, especially if there's multiyear deal involved.

Steve Pearce
Upside: There is plenty. Pearce's 2014 slash line was .293/.373/.556 and he's versatile, having spent time at first base, second base, right field and left field in 2015. He has generally been very good against lefties (career .824 OPS) and could be a nice platoon player for a club in need of a right-handed bat.
Downside: Is it really worth looking at Pearce's 2014 season to gauge his value? In parts of nine years in the big leagues, he has never has posted numbers remotely close to those in '14. He is coming off a season in which he hit .218 -- including just .196 against lefties. Take '14 out of the equation and Pearce has been little more than a middle-of-the-road utility option.

AJ Cassavell is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.