Charlie Morton had just finished explaining to a room full of reporters at the World Series how he had persevered through injuries and mechanical tweaks and career uncertainty to wind up signing a two-year contract with the Astros last November. It was a long, thoughtful and honest evaluation of an unlikely path to the postseason, and it was capped by the interview moderator adding, "And now you're pitching in the World Series."
"It's absurd," Morton replied.
A year ago, it would have seemed absurd to think Morton -- who admitted he wasn't even certain he'd get a guaranteed contract, let alone two years -- would be the guy getting the last 12 outs of Game 7 of the World Series. But baseball's funny like that.
With the Hot Stove season upon us, every team is looking for a deal akin to what the Astros got with that two-year, $14 million deal with Morton. It's out there somewhere. So here's a guess at where some of the best values might lie at each particular position. This is the All-Under-The-Radar Team.
C: Welington Castillo
The catching market is mostly made up of part-time types, and there aren't many teams looking for a full-timer behind the plate. But Castillo is a nice alternative to Jonathan Lucroy, who is likely at the top of the catching list this winter. Teams putting undue value on pitch-framing metrics might shy away from Castillo, but his 49-percent caught stealing rate pairs nicely with a career adjusted OPS+ that is exactly league average. Like so many others, Castillo saw a power surge in '17, but, even if that's unrepeatable (especially outside of Camden Yards), he's a solid option here, assuming he can stay healthy.
1B: Logan Morrison
Market demand (or lack thereof) could drive down price tags and create value in this offseason's first-base market, where Eric Hosmer is the top option and Carlos Santana slots in second. Beyond those two, teams will have to decide what to make of surprisingly productive years from Morrison, Yonder Alonso and Mark Reynolds, all of whom will make a relative pittance by comparison. Morrison and Alonso both had second-half regression from their surprise All-Star first halves, and Reynolds had major Coors Field inflation. So they're all a risk. I'll side with the 30-year-old LoMo here, because his .272/.392/.628 slash and 27 homers away from Tropicana Field could be an indication that he would flourish with the right fit.
2B: Neil Walker
This is a trick question, because the free-agent market at this spot this winter for a legitimate everyday player basically revolves around Walker, unless you can talk yourself into Brandon Phillips posting something other than a sub-average wRC+ for the first time since 2012 or somebody like Zack Cozart shifting over from his natural position. But the point here is that in a market short on contenders looking for help at this spot (and with multiple trade candidates like Ian Kinsler and Dee Gordon available), Walker's average annual value will come down -- perhaps substantially -- from the $17.2 million he made via the qualifying offer in 2017. Walker has an iffy injury history, but he gives you disciplined at-bats, and spending money on him might be more attractive than giving up prospect pieces in a trade.
SS: Zack Cozart
Similar situation here. Not much supply at short and not much demand at short. You might think a shortstop coming off a .933 OPS season would be a hot commodity, but it was telling when the Reds didn't even extend Cozart the qualifying offer. With most contenders set at short, it will be interesting to see how much Cozart, who is entering his age-32 year, will command in a market in which Alcides Escobar is the only other everyday player available. But it likely won't be what his 4.9-WAR season in 2017 would lead you to expect.
3B: Trevor Plouffe
If you have questions, as some teams do, about Mike Moustakas' body and OBP and Todd Frazier's at-bats pretty much any time he doesn't hit a home run, well, the third-base free-agent market doesn't give you much else to work with (I suppose you can throw a 37-year-old Jose Bautista over there). So here's Plouffe. He had a .198/.272/.318 slash in 313 plate appearances last season. It has to get better than that, right? Right?! Plouffe will play 2018 at age 32, and, prior to 2017, he had a five-year stretch of league-average production with a .736 OPS and 86 homers. If he bounces back to that level of production on an affordable one-year or perhaps even non-guaranteed deal, that's good value.
LF: Jon Jay
What's not to like about a guy who can play anywhere in the outfield, gets on base at a high enough career .355 clip (.374 with the Cubs last year) to lead off for you and has improved his line-drive rate? On a one-year deal, that would be plenty to like.
CF: Austin Jackson
Jackson is going to do a lot better than a year ago, when he got a non-guaranteed deal from the Indians that wound up paying him $1.5 million to put up an .869 OPS in 280 at-bats and make one of the greatest defensive plays of the season. But he's not going to get Lorenzo Cain money, and, fully recovered from his 2016 meniscus tear, Jackson feels like a safer bet to give you quality ABs and a good glove than Carlos Gomez. Jackson's best-suited to starts against lefties (.352/.440/.574 slash in '17), but he's no slouch against righties, either.
RF: Carlos Gonzalez
CarGo was probably never truly as good as we thought after 2010 (5.9 wins above replacement), but he's almost certainly still better than he showed in 2017 (-0.2 WAR). He could be a candidate for a one-year deal that allows him to put together a stronger free-agent case for 2019, and that means he could prove to be a useful and more financially savvy alternative to Jay Bruce, who fronts the corner outfield market this winter and will get a multiyear commitment. CarGo said a change in sleeping patterns helped him put together a strong September this season (1.250 OPS), and some team will literally buy into that notion and, hopefully, be rewarded for it.
DH: Matt Holliday
The DH role continues to evolve toward utility as opposed to everyday presences, and it is generally evolving away from guys north of 35. But the 37-year-old Holliday was having a pretty solid '17 (he had a .280/.384/.530 slash in 200 at-bats as of June 12) before a midseason bout with the Epstein-Barr virus. So if you've got the at-bats to give, he's worth a shot. At worst, you get a good clubhouse commodity, in the vein of the Astros' addition of Carlos Beltran a year ago.
Bench/Utility: Howie Kendrick
In case you couldn't tell, we've reached the old dudes portion of the program. It's not 2014 anymore. You don't want Kendrick playing every day for you. But he has turned himself into a valuable and viable utilityman in his advanced age. His ability to play around the infield and in the corner outfield spots while giving you good at-bats will make him a fine pickup on a one-year deal -- possibly a nice alternative to what is likely to be an overpay on the injury prone Eduardo Nunez.
Starting pitcher: Tyler Chatwood
There's been a lot of Chatwood chatter already this offseason, including this excellent piece by my colleague Mike Petriello. It almost makes me hesitant to include Chatwood here, because, in these market conditions, I'm almost certain that Chatwood will get a multiyear deal that greatly exceeds what Morton got a year ago, even though he has a career ERA+ (105) just slightly better than league average. Still, a guy potentially leaving Coors Field with elite spin and groundball tendencies is worth betting on, and there's a pretty darn decent chance Chatwood provides more surplus value moving forward than Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta.
Reliever: Tommy Hunter
Hunter had core muscle surgery in 2016, then fractured his back in a freak home accident. But he rebounded to return to his old, durable self in 2017 (58 2/3 innings), and he was quietly terrific out of the Rays' bullpen. Hunter greatly increased his strikeout percentage (from 16.6 in 2016 to 28.1) while maintaining a walk rate of 2.1 per nine. It's going to be hard to find value, in general, in a winter in which a bunch of setup types are bound to get two- or three- or even four-year deals, but Hunter could be a sneaky good get.
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Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor, MLB.com columnist and MLB Network contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince