Analysis

The Best Free Agent Steals this Offseason

Heading into the 2021 offseason, not every team will be able to shell out the Scrooge McDuck swimming pools of cash necessary to sign top free agents such as Carlos Correa, Max Scherzer or Freddie Freeman. Expect the
savvy penny-pinching teams to make an offer to these cheap yet valuable free agents.


Andrew McCutchen


Andrew McCutchen hit 27 home runs in 2021. That should be enough to at least give a look into
the former MVP. A glance into his statistics reveals he wasn’t exactly all-star caliber. He had a
respectable .778 OPS, but he certainly wasn’t worth the $15 million the Philadelphia Phillies
paid him.


That’s why the team has granted Cutch his free agency. He’ll still have a market for his services, but not as an everyday player.

McCutchen should be used as a platoon hitter.

Against right-handed pitchers, McCutchen failed to perform. In 379 plate appearances, he struck
out more than a quarter of the time while slashing .186/.298/.352 for a .650 OPS and 76 wRC+.
In his 195 plate appearances against lefties, however, Cutch transformed into a mythical god with a
baseball bat.

His strikeout-rate plummeted to 18.5% and he slashed .293/.405/.622 for a 1.027 OPS and 168
wRC+. McCutchen placed FIRST among right-handed hitters against lefties with at least 190
plate appearances in wRC+ by a wide margin. He wasn’t just getting lucky either; his BABIP
ranks 25th in that same category.

If you need any more convincing, McCutchen also placed in the 97th percentile in BB% and 94th
percentile in chase-rate against both sides.

Who should pick him up? The Dodgers could sign McCutchen as a replacement for Albert
Pujols. Cutch has more value because he can play in the outfield (although he probably shouldn’t
with a -4 OAA). Therefore, he might be better suited for an AL team so he could DH (assuming
the DH isn’t in the NL next year).

Expect a team in need of outfielders who struggled against lefties like Cleveland or Oakland to shed about $5 million
dollars for McCutchen.

Corey Knebel

No one can deny that Corey Knebel dominates batters when he’s on the mound. The problem is
that he hasn’t been on the mound much in the last couple of seasons.

Knebel has spent time on the injured reserve every year since 2018. He even missed the entirety
of the 2019 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. His brief stint back in Milwaukee in
2020 couldn’t have gone much worse. In 13.1 innings pitched, he surrendered a 6.08 ERA and
6.64 FIP.

His trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers last off-season provided a new opportunity for the hard throwing right hander. Unfortunately, another injury forced Knebel to the bench for most of the season.

But when he was on the mound, Knebel lined up batters and mowed them down. After returning
from the IR in August, he threw to the tune of a 1.83 ERA. In 25.2 innings in 2021, he struck out
29.7% of the batters he faced while posting a 2.45 ERA and 2.90 FIP.

Knebel also has room to improve. His two main pitches, his blistering fastball and devasting
curve, have elite spin rates, being in the 85th and 87th percentile, respectively. If Knebel stays
healthy, he will be one of the most effective relievers in baseball.

Injuries might plague Knebel but opposing teams can use that as an advantage to grab him for
cheap. The Dodgers paid him only $5,250,000 in 2021. He can likely be picked up for a similar
amount for next year.

The Dodgers will likely try to retain him, but teams wishing to compete who have terrible
bullpens will see him as a low-risk high-reward option. The Philadelphia Phillies or Los Angeles
Angels could use him.

Jon Gray

Jon Gray has been inconsistent as a starter throughout his career in Colorado. One year he’ll post
a sub-four ERA in the Mile High City, but the next year he’ll have an ERA north of six.

In 2021, Gray pitched well, with a 4.59 ERA for a 104 ERA+ for the Rockies. Picking him up as
a starter seems like an attractive, low-cost option for a few teams.

However, Gray’s potential can be maximized by shifting his role. For his career, Gray always
performed better against right-handed hitters. In 2021, his fastball and slider combo caused
righties to flail helplessly.

Among pitchers with a minimum of 60 innings pitched against right-handed hitters, Gray placed
12th in strikeouts per nine innings with 10.97. He was better than Kevin Gausman, Gerrit Cole
and Zack Wheeler in this category (all players who are currently or will soon be making over
$100 million).

Against lefties, Gray returns to a below average pitcher. His K/9 falls to 8.36, and he surrenders
many more walks. Overall, he has a 3.89 FIP against righties compared to a 4.48 FIP against
lefties.

Moving Gray to the bullpen creates a devasting right-handed reliever. His filthy slider, which
yielded a miniscule .156 batting average against, is perfectly designed to make hitters look like t-ball players in short relief stints.

The three-batter minimum rule prevents Gray from becoming a true righty-specialist. However,
teams can still place him in the right situations, so he can get some of the biggest outs of the
ballgame.

Gray made only $6 million dollars in 2021. He can be signed for even cheaper while becoming
even more valuable. Teams excelling in pitching development such as the Cleveland Guardians,
San Francisco Giants or Los Angeles Dodgers could get a steal on the market with Gray.

Featured photo: @mlbtraderumors

Edward Orzech

Writer at Miami University following the Atlanta Braves most prominently. Follow on Twitter: @edward_orzech

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