You know what one of the slowest-moving free-agent markets in memory didn't need? More free agents!
But as is the case every year, the non-tender deadline that passed on Friday night prompted teams to punt on some arbitration-eligible players who didn't fit into their finances. About 20 guys were added to the free-agent pool, and, while all of the non-tender decisions were defensible, different organizations value players differently and now the opportunity exists to pick up some of these guys at a discount.
Here are five guys who might be worth a second look.
Matt Adams, 1B (non-tendered by Braves)
The open market has recalculated the price of power in this homer-prone era, but that recalculation does not yet apply in arbitration. Adams made $2.8 million last year and, on the heels of a season in which he had an .841 OPS, 117 OPS+ and 20 homers, MLB Trade Rumors projected him to make $4.6 million in arbitration for 2018. Even though they had briefly moved their star Freddie Freeman to third base to accommodate Adams at first in 2017, the Braves didn't want to pay that price.
Now Adams, who is only 28, enters a market absolutely loaded with first-base bats. That glut will probably drive down the price of his services, so here's a chance for clubs to get platoon power (Adams had a .295/.342/.554 slash against right-handed pitching this year) for a good value.
Mike Fiers, RHP (Astros)
This guy threw a no-hitter back in that 2015 season when there was a no-hitter seemingly every other game. Alas, Fiers gave up 372 hits over his next 358 1/3 innings with the Astros, leading to a 4.75 ERA and a pink slip with two arbitration years remaining. Fiers made $3.45 million in 2017 and was projected to make $5.7 million in 2018. The Astros, who had acquired Fiers along with Carlos Gomez in the 2015 trade that sent Domingo Santana, Josh Hader, Brett Phillips and Adrian Houser to Milwaukee, didn't roster him at all during the postseason.
The 32-year-old Fiers' big issue has been the long ball, as he's given up an average of 1.6 per nine innings over the last two seasons. But he's got a four-seamer than can generate swing and miss, and he's got a curveball with good bite to it. With probably 27 or 28 teams looking for starting pitching in this market, Fiers could be one ballpark change and pitching coach away from untapping league-average innings-eating, which itself has value.
Hector Rondon, RHP (Cubs)
The former Cubs closer was limited late in 2017 with bone chips in his elbow. And for the season, he had a 4.24 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in 57 1/3 innings. He also saw his walk rate escalate to 3.1 per nine, which is sub-optimal. Pair that with a $5.8 million salary that was going to rise in arbitration and Joe Maddon's lost confidence in Rondon, and you can see why the Cubs cut him loose when they couldn't find a trade taker.
But as you might have noticed, bullpens are a big deal in this day and age. The average price of setup help is on the rise, both in years and dollars (we appear to be on the cusp of movement in that market this week). So here's a guy with closing experience who throws 96 mph and gets whiffs with his slider and grounders with his sinker. A big predictor of future elbow injury is past elbow injury, so buyer beware. But on a low-risk, possibly one-year deal, Rondon presents the possibility of a budget-friendly bounceback.
Bruce Rondon, RHP (Tigers)
It's admittedly hard to make an impassioned defense of this Rondon. He's only 27, but 111 2/3 big league innings have produced only sporadic success, and between the injuries (he had Tommy John surgery in 2014), the effort level that prompted the Tigers to simply send him home before the 2015 season ended and the command troubles (5.7 walks per nine last year), he's more rough than "diamond in the rough." The Tigers once viewed him as their "closer of the future," and that thought is very much in the past. The Tigers had one of the worst bullpens in baseball last year, and Rondon still couldn't carve out a regular role.
But look, Rondon throws his fastball 97 mph, on average, and has struck out 10.7 batters per nine in his career. Can't somebody smarter than me figure out what to do with that?
Ryan Goins, UTL (Blue Jays)
Goins is gone, and that's a bit of a surprise in Toronto, where he was only projected to make a little north of $1 million in his first round of arbitration. But over the weekend, the Blue Jays acquired Aledmys Diaz from the Cardinals to fill a similar infield utility role in 2018.
Goins is the kind of guy who can fit in on pretty much any contender. He can play both middle-infield positions well (he didn't fare as well in defensive runs saved at shortstop this past season, but sometimes those metrics fluctuate from year to year). And to get a sense of how teammates feel about him, look no further than Marcus Stroman's dual tweets of frustration with the move. Of course, Goins doesn't offer a whole heck of a lot at the plate (his on-base percentage over the past two seasons is .269, and his 62 RBIs were a product of a likely unrepeatable 10-for-14 showing with the bases loaded), but if he could recapture an output similar to 2015, when he slashed .250/.318/.354, he'd be a valuable plug-and-play option for teams in need of depth up the middle.
* * *
Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor, MLB.com columnist and MLB Network contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.