Everybody knows the big fish on the open market this winter, but what about the underrated MLB free agents for 2021-22?
There are countless under-the-radar players in free agency this offseason that might not get massive contracts but who are more than capable of contributing to a winning ball club next season. It’s just that with so many marquee free agents, a lot of players are bound to get lost in the shuffle.
Underrated MLB free agents in 2021-22
Keep in mind that most MLB offseason predictions only account for the 10 or 20 best free agents available. But it’s just as important for teams to look at the second and third tiers of available players to fit their biggest needs and fill out their rosters.
There might even be a few overlooked players who surpass expectations and become a major influence in next year’s postseason. Let’s try to identify those players by sharing our list of the most underrated MLB free agents for the 2021-22 offseason.
The Pirates cut ties with Gregory Polanco late in the season after another rough year, although that could be a blessing in disguise for him.
It had to have been tough for the veteran playing for a team going nowhere. He ended up finishing the season with Toronto’s triple-A affiliate and crushed it over the last month of the season, posting a 1.183 OPS.
Polanco only turned 30 last September, so he could have some good years left and will be a good candidate to resurrect his career in 2022 if he can find the right setting.
Kole Calhoun’s two years in Arizona didn’t work out that well, especially this past season. But he did hit 33 home runs with the Angels in 2019, so it’s not out of the question that he’ll be able to get his career back on track.
He’s probably not going to hit for a high average, although he’s a left-handed hitter with some pop, making him a good candidate for a platoon job. There should be plenty of teams in the market for a player like that.
While he’s well into his 30s, Josh Harrison can still play. He posted an OPS of .800 while with the Nationals this past season, making him a trade chip that Washington sent to Oakland for the stretch run.
The catch is that he’s not going to be an everyday player anymore. But Harrison spent time at six different positions this past season, even seeing a little time in the outfield. If nothing else, he’ll be a useful utility player who brings a lot of experience and leadership to the table.
The Mets signed Jonathan Villar last offseason to be a super-utility player but he ended up being one of their best players and was New York’s primary third baseman for large stretches of the season.
The problem is that Villar posted a .593 OPS during the shortened 2020 season, but he proved in 2021 that he can still play.
He has an intriguing mix of power and speed, as well as a surprising amount of savvy. Last season, Villar proved that he can make a big difference in a super-utility role, although he also proved that he’s still good enough to be an everyday player, perhaps at multiple positions.
Obviously, Freddy Galvis is going to get lost in the shuffle in a loaded shortstop market this winter. But for teams on a tight budget that need a shortstop or a backup infielder, Galvis would be a great addition.
He’s never going to be a huge bat in the middle of the lineup, but he’s still holding his own at the plate. Galvis is also as smooth and reliable defensively as they get. He might only be a complementary player on a winning team, but he’s still someone who can play an important role for a contender and make a positive impact.
The Padres are no doubt disappointed with what they got out of Tommy Pham over the past two seasons. But rewind the clock a couple of years and he absolutely crushed it during his time with the Rays, hitting 56 extra-base hits with an OPS of .818 in Tampa during the 2019 season.
Even as he moves into his mid-30s, one has to think that Pham could have one or two more good seasons like the one he had in 2019. He’s also a strong defensive player in left field who can also handle center field if necessary. Coming off a rough season, Pham isn’t going to get a lucrative, long-term deal, but he could become a valuable player for a team that’s willing to give him a chance to play on a one-year deal.
Nobody will claim that Tyler Anderson is an ace on par with some of the other starting pitchers on the market. But he’s always been a steady and reliable back-end starter.
He put together a good enough season with the Pirates to be traded at the deadline and helped keep the Mariners in contention down the stretch. The lefty owns a career ERA of 4.62, and that’s while spending his first four seasons at Coors Field. Teams that want to fill out the back-end of their rotation will want to take a good look at Anderson, who made 31 starts this past season.
On the relief market, Hector Neris is one of the most overlooked pitchers who could come relatively cheap.
He has 84 career saves under his belt, although he’s probably better suited to being a setup man who pitches in the 7th or 8th inning.
To be fair, Neris had plenty of ups and downs during his time with the Phillies these past few years. But a change of scenery should be good for him, especially since Citizens Bank Park isn’t exactly a pitcher-friendly location. In the right situation, Neris can be a huge addition to a good bullpen.
Kevin Pillar is just one of those guys that you tend to see on winning teams. Granted, he’s approaching his mid-30s and had an OPS below .700 this past season.
That likely rules him out from being an everyday player, which is why he’s one of the more underrated free agents on the market. But Pillar is a gamer and a grinder who is still a well-above-average defensive outfielder. He provides effort and energy, which sets a great example for younger players, and is the type of player that contending clubs want to have in their clubhouse.
Even in 2021, hitters are STILL testing Juan Lagares' arm 🤦🏽♂️ pic.twitter.com/FAfg76fElo
— Shea Station (@shea_station) November 25, 2021
As a hitter, Lagares isn’t anything special, although he swings a good bat against lefties, making him a good candidate in a platoon situation.
Keep in mind that he’s a former Gold Glove winner and still has as much range as just about any center fielder in the game. If a team signs him to be a part-time center fielder who plays primarily against lefties and comes in for his defense late in games, Lagares will provide a lot of unexpected value.