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Age is just a number for veteran free agents

Experienced pitchers, hitters have much to offer right clubs in 2018
MLB.com @mattkellyMLB

The 2017 World Series champion Astros were nothing if not a testament to building around a core of supremely talented young players and letting them develop into stars. But as just about everyone in the Houston organization acknowledged, the veteran presence of players like Carlos Beltran, Josh Reddick and Brian McCann were just as necessary.

Veterans can bring a lot to a clubhouse in terms of leadership and culture, but with every spot on a 25-man roster so critical, they still need to bring some skills to the table, too. With that in mind -- and some help from Statcast™ -- here's a look at some older players in this offseason's free-agent pool and what they could provide their potential clubs in 2018. (Note: Ages listed are as of Opening Day 2018.)

The 2017 World Series champion Astros were nothing if not a testament to building around a core of supremely talented young players and letting them develop into stars. But as just about everyone in the Houston organization acknowledged, the veteran presence of players like Carlos Beltran, Josh Reddick and Brian McCann were just as necessary.

Veterans can bring a lot to a clubhouse in terms of leadership and culture, but with every spot on a 25-man roster so critical, they still need to bring some skills to the table, too. With that in mind -- and some help from Statcast™ -- here's a look at some older players in this offseason's free-agent pool and what they could provide their potential clubs in 2018. (Note: Ages listed are as of Opening Day 2018.)

Pitchers
CC Sabathia, LHP, age 37
Where he still excels: A decade ago, Sabathia's four-seam fastball averaged 95 mph. At age 36, it averaged 90 mph. Time waits for no man.

But Sabathia ranked among the Yankees' most pleasant surprises in 2017, thanks to his reinvention as a guy who's now adept at pitching to contact. One hundred and thirty-nine pitchers induced at least 300 batted balls this year, per Statcast™, and only one (Mets youngster Rafael Montero) averaged a lower exit velocity allowed than Sabathia's 83.9 mph. Only 12 pitchers in that same group allowed a lower rate of hard-hit balls, or those hit with exit velocities of at least 95 mph.

What teams will have to navigate: Sabathia climbed up to third on MLB's all-time strikeout list among left-handed pitchers in September, but his 9.8 percent swinging-strike rate in '17 ranked as his lowest in any season since pitch tracking began in 2008.

R.A. Dickey, RHP, age 43
Where he still excels: Even at age 42, Dickey and his knuckleball forced opponents into one of three "poor contact" Statcast™ categories on 65.6 percent of their batted balls in 2017. That rate ranked among the top 35 of those 139 aforementioned starting pitchers, and tied with American League Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber and rising Phillies star Aaron Nola. Teams could always use an innings eater like Dickey, whose low-stress knucklers helped him throw 190 innings while submitting a 4.26 ERA that was exactly league average according to park-adjusted ERA+.

Video: MLB.com takes a look at R.A. Dickey's career

What teams will have to navigate: Dickey was as consistent as Atlanta could have hoped … until September. The Statcast™ expected batting average (xBA) metric looks at how a pitcher should have fared based on the factors he could control: Strikeouts, walks and quality of contact. By this measure, Dickey's .297 xBA in September ranked third highest of 98 starters who navigated at least 100 at-bats.

Pat Neshek, RHP, age 37
Where he still excels: Expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) takes xBA a step further by assigning probabilities based on whether a hitter's contact typically goes for a single, double, triple or home run. It's the all-encompassing measure of how well a pitcher controlled the things he could control. As one might guess, Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen featured the lowest xwOBA (.198) of any pitcher who navigated through at least 150 at-bats this year. No. 2 on that list? Neshek, at .216, just ahead of All-Stars like Sean Doolittle, Craig Kimbrel and Andrew Miller. The side-arming righty allowed a top-15 average exit velocity of 84.2 mph and struck out 69 batters while walking six in 62 1/3 innings.

Video: Pat Neshek is headed to the 2017 All-Star Game

What teams will have to navigate: It's hard to pinpoint any area in which Neshek performed poorly in 2017, as one might expect for a guy with a 1.59 ERA. The big question with Neshek is how long can he keep up this level. Neshek has never been one to rely on velocity. So if he can maintain health, he's certainly shown the guile and intelligence to survive and thrive against big league hitters.

Hitters
Rajai Davis, age 37
Where he still excels: Davis led the AL with 43 steals a year ago at age 35. He chipped in 29 more this season, and was successful on more than 80 percent of his attempts. How is Davis doing this? With an elite sprint speed of 29.3 feet per second that tied 23-year-old Padres outfielder Manuel Margot for the 10th-fastest average speed of any qualified player in MLB. That made Davis MLB's fastest player older than age 30, all the more impressive considering how speed typically declines with age.

Video: BOS@TOR: Davis hit with throw while stealing second

What teams will have to navigate: We know Davis' speed is still a weapon, but the question is whether he can get on base enough to use it. With a career slugging percentage below .400, Davis needs to rack up walks and singles to be effective. Unfortunately, he hasn't recorded an OBP of even .320 in a season since 2014.

Matt Holliday, age 38
Where he still excels: The Yankees signed Holliday a year ago as a veteran power bat, and he brought the pop in some big moments for New York. Holliday's 93.3-mph average exit velocity in the seventh inning or later led nearly 350 Major Leaguers who put at least 50 balls in play during those late-game situations. Holliday also made hard contact (95-mph exit velocity or harder) on more than 44 percent of his batted balls with runners in scoring position, a top-25 rate on par with Robinson Cano and Gary Sanchez.

Video: BOS@NYY: Holliday belts a three-run shot to left

What teams will have to navigate: There's no getting around the fact that much of Holliday's production came in the first half of 2017. His severe drop-off (.377 wOBA in the first half, .231 in the second) could scare off teams already concerned about his age and injury history.

Curtis Granderson, age 37
Where he still excels: The Dodgers, already ascending to the status of baseball's best team, seemed to get richer when they traded for Granderson, a certified masher of right-handed pitchers. Granderson sported an .853 OPS against righties when he joined the Dodgers, and a 12 percent barrel rate that ranked just outside the Statcast™ top 10 of lefty batters vs. righty pitchers. Granderson's career .854 OPS against righties ranks 12th among active left-handed hitters (minimum 2,500 plate appearances).

Video: LAD@PIT: Granderson homers into Allegheny River

What teams will need to navigate: Unfortunately for Granderson and the Dodgers, he didn't showcase that ability down the stretch, posting just a .654 OPS against righties with Los Angeles, and wound up being left off the World Series roster. Granderson could make for an interesting platoon option, but there's no getting around his low batting average, high strikeout rate and one of the highest popup rates of any big leaguer.

Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.