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5 forgotten free agents during MLB’s stalled offseason

You’d be forgiven if you believed that baseball’s only remaining free agents were Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Every rumor, nugget of news, is seemingly swirling around one, the other, or both.

And yet, there is a wealth of riches remaining at a tier or two below those superstars, and none of them will cost 10 years or north of $300 million.

Here are five free agents who should be hotter commodities thus far, and who should be landing lucrative deals sometime in the near future despite being currently lost in the shuffle.

Yasmani Grandal, C

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You know who was worth more wins above replacement in 2018 than Harper? Yasmani Grandal. It was narrow (3.6 to 3.5), but he also made almost 200 fewer plate appearances. Grandal’s defense unraveled a bit in the postseason, but he was otherwise one of the more reliable backstops in the game.

The problem he faces is two-fold. The catching market is thin, and several teams that had him on their radar have gone in different directions. The Los Angeles Angels signed Jonathan Lucroy and the New York Mets landed Wilson Ramos after Grandal reportedly rejected a four-year, $60-million contract. The Washington Nationals, who may have been a good fit, filled their hole behind the plate by signing Kurt Suzuki and trading for Yan Gomes. That leaves the Houston Astros, who are eyeing J.T. Realmuto, or a return to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The other problem is the draft-pick compensation attached to signing him. Since the Dodgers extended Grandal a $17.9-million qualifying offer, whoever signs the 30-year-old will have to relinquish a draft pick in this summer’s draft. It could be a similar situation that befell third baseman Mike Moustakas a year ago. Moustakas rejected a qualifying offer from the Royals and stared a stagnant market in the face before signing a much less impressive one-year, $5.5-million deal in Kansas City.

Grandal could miss out on a massive payday for the same reason, which will look especially painful after turning down the Mets’ overtures.

Mike Moustakas, 3B

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Speaking of Moustakas …

It all looked so simple. With no qualifying offer, and thus no compensation pick attached to him, it seemed like a no-brainer Moustakas would easily out-pace his one-year pittance from last year. So far, though, that hasn’t proven true. The two-time All-Star had early interest from the St. Louis Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers this offseason, and was later connected to the Mets, but it’s otherwise been incredibly quiet.

It’s not hard to feel for the guy. After betting on himself last offseason, he largely came up empty, and it’s looking bleak yet again. He declined a $15-million mutual option to return to the Brewers to instead hit the open market.

And while Moustakas’ skill set is somewhat limited – he doesn’t draw a lot of walks, and his power stroke was inconsistent before his offensive breakout in 2017 – he’s a serviceable defender at the hot corner and makes consistent contact (career K% of only 15.6). Teams praying Machado would consider a move to third base would be wise to check in.

Marwin Gonzalez, Utility

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Marwin Gonzalez struggled to find consistency at the plate in 2018, making it look like his incredible season a year prior was the exception. In 2017, Gonzalez slashed .303/.377/.530 with 23 home runs in 134 games while appearing at every position on the diamond other than catcher, pitcher, and center field.

That flexibility should be enough to pique interest league-wide even if he doesn’t play any one spot with an elite glove. He’s serviceable, and that’s good enough for a guy who can play six positions.

If teams are reluctant, it’s likely because they see his 2017 as an anomaly. In that case, he’s probably best-suited to a team that is already competitive and is looking to add some insurance at multiple positions. A return to Houston could make sense, or signing with a team like the Dodgers who suffered a ton of injuries last season before coming up short in the World Series for the second consecutive campaign.

DJ LeMahieu, 2B

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Can DJ LeMahieu hit away from Coors Field? That’s the question any time a batter leaves the friendly confines of the Mile High stadium.

The 30-year-old won the NL batting title in 2016 when he slashed .348/.416/.495, but has seen his results dwindle over the two seasons since. LeMahieu hit .276 in 2018, and while he posted a career-high 15 home runs, he also only appeared in 128 games.

The Coors Field concerns might be legitimate. He hit .317 at home last season compared to .229 on the road (though he did hit 11 of his 15 home runs away from Coors). However, over three seasons from 2015 through 2017, LeMahieu slashed .293/.347/.385 on the road. Also over that time, his cumulative OBP of .383 was 11th highest in the majors among qualified hitters.

The market is pretty saturated at second base. Veterans Ian Kinsler and Daniel Murphy already signed multi-year deals, and Jonathan Schoop landed in Minnesota, blocking another potential landing spot for LeMahieu. With Jed Lowrie, Brian Dozier, Josh Harrison, Neil Walker, and others still on the open market, LeMahieu has competition.

A.J. Pollock, OF

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It’s all about the injuries. The Mets and Cincinnati Reds were kicking the tires on A.J. Pollock in early December, but those teams are likely hesitating because he’s seeking a contract for around five years and worth $80 million. Also, the Reds later landed Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp from the Dodgers, so they’re out.

If he’s holding steadfast to those demands, Pollock might be waiting a while. He’s shown considerable upside, especially during his All-Star 2015 campaign when he slashed .315/.367/.498 with 20 home runs and 39 stolen bases in 157 games. But he’s played 115-plus games only twice in parts of seven seasons, and the 31-year-old is still seeking the same deal Lorenzo Cain received from the Brewers last offseason.

The difference between the two is that Cain has been healthier. All credit to Pollock if he can convince a suitor to splurge, and his talent could reward the risk. But history isn’t on his side.

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