The free agency of Joc Pederson is a tester for this MLB offseason. Pederson is a limited, but ultimately effective, player. He’s coming off a down year in 2020.
Pederson has a track record of success against right-handed pitching that stands him in good stead this winter despite poor outcomes last season. A lot of teams can do with outfield help. The St Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Angles, Houston Astros and Chicago White Sox are all going to be linked to Pederson over these winter months.
There was a failed trade to the Angels in the wake of Mookie Betts arriving in the blue half of Los Angeles. Outfield congestion might rule them out of a Pederson pursuit this offseason, though it shouldn’t do. Teams like the Indians and Pirates would be improved by Pederson, but they are unlikely to be in the market for such a player.
Pederson is a brilliant power hitter. Don’t be fooled by the .681 OPS in 2020. His underlying numbers were still impressive – 96th percentile in exit velocity, 79th percentile in hard hit rate, 68th percentile in barrel rate. It’s probably safe to write 2020 off as some small sample size funkiness.
Four times in his career he’s surpassed 25 dingers in a campaign. One of those was 2019, when he crushed 36 long balls in just over 500 plate appearances. Only 20 hitters in the game were better against righties than Pederson from 2015 to 2019. He’s a strict platoon bat (career .576 OPS against southpaws), but he’s well worth his roster spot and has experience playing all three outfield spots.
A case can be made for Pederson on pretty much every team in the league. He’s that good a hitter against righties. Some are in more need than others – the Dodgers aren’t exactly desperate to keep him, and the Yankees have plenty of pop on the corners when Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge are healthy.
Other teams eyeing up contention in 2021 could be significantly improved by Pederson. The Cardinals outfielders had a wRC+ of 84 against righties last season. Dexter Fowler has another year on that albatross contract, Tyler O’Neill has fallen far short of the high standards set in his rookie year. St Louis need an offensive boost, particularly in the outfield. Pederson would be just that.
The White Sox, much like the last two offseasons, will be floated as a landing spot for most free agents. The presence of Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert means the outfield should be settled long-term, but a terrible 2020 from Nomar Mazara leaves a corner spot open. Pederson is the perfect candidate to fill that berth. The ChiSox were league average in outfield production against righties last season – they could be one of the best teams in the league in that category if they add Pederson.
After getting so close to bringing in Pederson last offseason, the Angels could come back into the mix. Jo Adell had a torrid time in his rookie year – the Angels could give him more time to develop by bringing Pederson in to play on the corner against righties. Justin Upton is owed $51 million over the next two seasons, though, which might put the Angels off another multi-year corner outfield commitment.
With an outfield wRC+ of 137 against right-handers, the Houston Astros don’t spring to mind as an immediate candidate for Pederson. George Springer, Michael Brantley and Josh Reddick are all free agents, though. Houston needs to be active in the outfield market. Pederson is a great option for the Astros if they are unable to retain Springer and Brantley.
MLB Trade Rumors tab Pederson for a two-year, $18 million contract. Predicting deals this offseason is a trickier task than ever before. Pederson, entering his age-29 season, is a good fit for a one or two-year deal, enabling him to re-enter the market while still at his peak.
A one-year contract will open up more possibilities for Pederson. With many front offices expected to be cautious with spending amid the uncertainty of the pandemic, a one-year deal around the $8 to $10 million range could be a good chance for Pederson to reset for next offseason and hope he can pick up a three or four-year pact.
Pederson could be hit harder by this winter’s circumstances than most. A down year before free agency can prove problematic, particularly for a player who’s potential contracts are already restricted by his limitations.
Everything points towards Pederson being an absolute bargain this offseason.