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8 free agents everyone is underrating

@RichardJustice
November 25, 2019

Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon are generational stars. Stephen Strasburg is right there as well. Likewise, Josh Donaldson and Zack Wheeler breathe the same rarified free-agent air. This offseason will largely revolve around them. Here’s the thing: We’re so focused on the top of the free-agent market that it’s easy

Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon are generational stars. Stephen Strasburg is right there as well. Likewise, Josh Donaldson and Zack Wheeler breathe the same rarified free-agent air. This offseason will largely revolve around them.

Here’s the thing: We’re so focused on the top of the free-agent market that it’s easy to overlook how many really good players get overlooked by a lot of us. We’re here to help.

Check out eight free agents who might be better than you think in 2020:

1) Howie Kendrick, UTIL, Nationals
Overlooked? He hit the biggest home run in the 2019 World Series and was one of the Nationals' best offensive players. He’s also 36 years old and profiles best as a designated hitter at this point in his career. But he’s an elite offensive player. Do you realize he hit .344/.395/.572 in 370 plate appearances this year? And his .400 wOBA was higher than teammate Juan Soto’s! Sign this man.

2) Marcell Ozuna, OF, Cardinals
He’s one of the more interesting free agents, because the market may not be kind to a 29-year-old with the 77th-best wOBA (.337) out of 135 batting title-qualified Major Leaguers, via Fangraphs. But he’s also one of the 10 best position players in this free-agent class after a nice bounce-back season for a division champion. He finished seventh in MLB in hard-hit rate among the 225 players who had at least 250 balls in play.

3) Rich Hill, LHP, Dodgers
At 39, Hill is still effective when he’s healthy enough to take the mound, posting a 2.45 ERA in 58 2/3 innings last year. But durability has always been his big issue: After a season in which he made just 13 starts and was on the mound for 6 2/3 innings after June 14, Hill will not be ready to pitch until a few years into the season after undergoing elbow surgery in October, according to a report from WEEI's Rob Bradford. This does open the door for a contender to acquire a potential impact player during the summer without having to trade for him, making him an intriguing player to keep in the back of your mind.

4) Ryan Zimmerman, 1B, Nationals
He has to re-sign with the Nationals, right? After all the miles and all the rough October landings in those first 13 seasons, he pretty much has to be on the field next season when getting his World Series ring. At 35, he has played just 137 games the last two seasons. But his home run in Game 1 of the World Series got the Nationals untracked, and his hard-hit rate of 49.9 percent ranked 13th among players with at least 100 batted balls, higher than the likes of Christian Yelich and Yordan Alvarez.

5) Hunter Pence, OF, Rangers
He believed in himself last offseason when a lot of others didn’t, and in the 83 games he did play, he was productive (.910 OPS and .377 wOBA). A back issue ended his season on Aug. 22, and at 36, he may have to sign another Minor League contract. If his back is healthy, he’ll have no trouble finding work, probably back with the Rangers.

6) Eric Thames, 1B, Brewers
The Brewers declined his $7 million option, in part because 33-year-old power hitters have not found a brisk free-agent market in recent seasons. It’ll be interesting to see if he lands a better deal, because his numbers say he’s good enough to play somewhere. Since coming back from a stint playing in Korea, he has a .848 OPS (118 OPS+) in three seasons.

7) Alex Avila, C, D-backs
He played only 63 games as Carson Kelly took over starting duties, but there’s still lots to like about his game. Avila, who turns 33 in January, may profile better as a platoon player against right-handed pitching, but his framing numbers are solid and his .353 OBP is impressive for a catcher.

8) Tyler Clippard, RHP, Indians
We’d be remiss without crediting the Indians' analytics department and manager Terry Francona for his ability to get the best out of players. Clippard was excellent, appearing in 53 games and crafting a 2.90 ERA and 0.86 WHIP. His .264 xwOBA was the 37th lowest among 523 Major League pitchers with at least 100 batters faced.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.