One of the best parts of free agency is watching the different strategies teams utilize. Some will pounce early, while others are willing to wait out the market.Last offseason, no team used the waiting approach better than the Rockies. A few weeks before Spring Training, general manager Jeff Bridich signed
One of the best parts of free agency is watching the different strategies teams utilize. Some will pounce early, while others are willing to wait out the market.
Last offseason, no team used the waiting approach better than the Rockies. A few weeks before Spring Training, general manager Jeff Bridich signed closer Greg Holland and re-signed infielder Mark Reynolds to one-year deals totaling $7.5 million guaranteed, both in a seven-day span.
Colorado may not have made the playoffs in 2017 without Holland anchoring the bullpen and Reynolds' 30 homers.
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There are plenty of stories like that. Just before the Astros went to Spring Training in 2015, general manager Jeff Luhnow signed outfielder Colby Rasmus to a modest one-year deal. Rasmus hit 25 home runs and had a .789 OPS, while playing all three outfield spots and helping Houston make the postseason for the first time in a decade.
In 2016, Chris Carter hit 41 home runs for the Brewers after signing a one-year, $2.5 million deal in January. Days later, right-hander Matt Belisle inked a one-year, $1.25 million deal with the Nationals. He then pitched to a 1.76 ERA over 40 appearances for Washington that season.
In each case, the key was combining patience and sound baseball judgment. That could be true this offseason as well. At some point next season, we may marvel at some of the under-the-radar free agents making significant contributions.
Here are 10 to watch:
1. Anthony Swarzak, RHP, age 32
2017: 70 appearances, 2.33 ERA, 1.034 WHIP, 10.6 K/9 with White Sox and Brewers
Swarzak may end up with several options, but he could sign after more celebrated relievers, such as Holland, Wade Davis and, possibly, Brandon Morrow and Mike Minor are off the market. That opens opportunities for teams that identify him and try to close a deal. Regardless, Swarzak has a big arm -- 95-mph fastball and 87-mph slider -- capable of dominating late in games.
2. Tommy Hunter, RHP, 31
2017: 61 appearances, 2.61 ERA, 0.972 WHIP, 9.8 K/9 with Rays
Hunter resurrected his career, and then some, in 2017. And because he's still only 31, he is hitting free agency at the right time. Some teams may not see Hunter as a closer, which could make him a perfect fit with the Twins.
3. Chris Tillman, RHP, 29
2017: 1-7, 7.84 ERA, 19 starts, 93 innings with Orioles
Tillman missed six weeks at the beginning of 2017 with a cranky right shoulder, and he almost certainly will sign a one-year contract to prove that he's healthy. Over the four seasons prior to '17, he averaged 190 innings with a 1.276 WHIP. If Tillman can come close to that, he'll be a nice alternative for teams hesitant to bid on Yu Darvish and Jacob Arrieta.
4. Mark Reynolds, 1B, 34
2017: 30 home runs, 69 walks, .839 OPS with Rockies
Yes, him again. Reynolds' 2017 numbers -- .978 OPS at home, .703 on the road -- skewed heavily toward Coors Field. But last season was the fourth time he'd hit 30 home runs, and his career .784 OPS and ability to play either first or third will get him another opportunity somewhere. Eric Hosmer and Carlos Santana are getting more attention, but Reynolds' elite power makes him a useful piece.
5. Jose Bautista, RF/DH, 37
2017: 23 home runs, 27 doubles, 84 walks, .674 OPS with Blue Jays
This one is a belief that Bautista's work ethic and intellect will triumph over his age. He hit .216 in 273 games over the past two seasons, and at times he looked overmatched. However, Bautista hit 40 home runs in 2015, and he believes that with his work ethic and some good health, he can still be productive. He has a .348 OBP over the past three seasons and can still make an impact for an American League club as a designated hitter.
6. Miguel Gonzalez, RHP, 28
2017: 8-13, 4.62 ERA, 156 innings, 1.423 WHIP with White Sox and Rangers
At the least, Gonzalez should be a good back-of-the-rotation starter, and perhaps more. He threw more curveballs and fewer split-finger fastballs last season, and he needs to get with a pitching coach who can refine his repertoire once more. Gonzalez's stuff was not overpowering even when he pitched 171 innings for the Orioles in 2013, but there's still enough to succeed.
7. Curtis Granderson, OF, 36
2017: 26 home runs, 71 walks, .775 OPS with Mets and Dodgers
Granderson could likely end up helping some team make the postseason, and he'll probably sign a one-year contract. He can still play all three outfield spots and mash righties (.806 OPS against in 2017), and he is a viable option for teams looking for an alternative to free agents like Jay Bruce and Carlos Gonzalez.
8. Howie Kendrick. utility, 34
2017: .844 OPS with Phillies and Nationals
Kendrick can play almost any position and is still productive offensively. He's the perfect addition to a postseason team looking for a bench guy and spot starter. Kendrick is also an ideal role model for younger players.
9. Brandon Phillips, 2B, 36
2017: .735 OPS with Braves and Angels
This past season was one of transition for Phillips, first with the Braves and then finishing the year with the Angels. He still plays second base well enough, and his offensive numbers remain solid. It may not be a great market for second basemen, so Phillips may have to be patient to see what opportunities arise.
10. Miles Mikolas, RHP, 29
2017: 2.25 ERA, 0.984 WHIP, 9.0 K/9 with Yomiuri Giants
Here's a deep cut for you: Mikolas jump-started his career during three seasons in Japan and will be back in MLB for the first time since starting 10 games for the Rangers in 2014.
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.