4 bargain free agents to Stu over

Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

1. Hanser Alberto RHB UTIL, 5’11/215, 10/17/1992

Known for his contact oriented bat, Alberto was released by the Orioles in the offseason to open up salary space and playing time for younger prospects. Alberto is one of the true anomalies of the game in terms of elite strikeout rates and elite whiff percentage paired with one of the lowest walk rates in the game. He is a true contact hitter, does not hit for power, and has average pull rates that in recent years have faced a minimal infield shift.

What makes him interesting to the Rays (beyond the expected price!) is he is an extreme platoon hitter with a 0.350 career BAA against left hand pitching (and 0.237 against RHP). He also owns a positive career UZR and DRS at all infield positions with his best numbers at 2B. Defensively, he is the enantiomer to Mike Brosseau whose defensive play reflects well on the right side of the infield. By all accounts he is a clubhouse guy, with a reputation for being a talker with an unflappable sunny disposition, ever present style, and community involvement back in his home country of the DR.

Alberto’s MLBTR 2021 salary projections for arbitration fell in the $2.3-4.1M range, which puts him near the upper limit of what the Rays would likely be willing to pay for a pure platoon position player (see Joey Wendle’s $1.6-2.7M projected arbitration salary).

He might also come at the expense of potential playing time for Kevin Padlo who is an older prospect (7/15/1996) competing for a RHB platoon position on the left side of the diamond, albeit as an average defender with a low contact power bat and some injury history (i.e. fracture hamate, debilitating migraines).

2. Carl Edwards Jr, RH RP, 6-3/183, 9/3/1991

Edwards Jr is most famous for Game 7 of the 2016 World Series where he was put in by ex-Ray Joe Maddon with an 8-6 lead in the 10th inning, got two clean outs and then got pulled for letting ex-Ray Brandon Guyer score on a walk (advanced to 2nd on defensive indifference) and RBI single by Rajai Davis. The Cubs went on to break their 71 year curse one out later when Mike Montgomery recorded the save.

Walks have been a troubling part of the "Stringbean Slinger’s" career, despite a 2016-2018 statcast scoreboard that otherwise looks like an MLB the Show cheat code. His prime offering is a fastball that is consistently in the top 5% of MLB for spin rate and generates elite levels of poor contact. It has dropped in average velo ~1mph per year since 2016 and now sits at 94mph. Evenso, it’s one of the most elite fastballs in the game…when not thrown for a taken ball. Edwards Jr. historically paired his fastball with an average curve, but due to a progressive drop in curve ball spin rate began tinkering with a changeup as another average offering in 2019.

At the end of the 2020 season, he was placed on the 45 day IL with concerns for a suspected injury to his elbow that might require Tommy John surgery (ie. UCL tear), but was later downgraded to a "flexor mass strain." When Seattle chose to DFA him in the offseason, Edwards Jr. refused his assignment to the minors and elected free agency. His 2020 MLB full season contract was reported to be worth $950k.

As a one inning reliever and elite weak contact specialist, Edwards Jr’s ideal usage is in a situation where you need to keep the ball in the yard and maybe get a K from a high K:BB hitter. A quick look at the right-hand bat rosters of AL East rivals shows how that could be particularly useful, and as a former Cubs and Mariner’s bullpen piece, he would present a new look to most of these batters.

The Rays pitcher Edwards Jr most resembles on statcast is 2019 bulk reliever Andrew Kittredge, who is also looking to come back from a similar elbow injury with a 94 mph fastball, and is currently signed to an MiLB deal. Kittredge’s fastball is more pedestrian but when last seen, he could pitch for bulk and had much better secondary pitches. Kittredge’s track record as a ground ball pitcher is much more consistent, with a career 50.0% ground ball rate, which makes him more useful in situations where limiting contact is not enough and a double play is needed.

Edwards Jr. has all the warning flags of a bust reliever except for the lack of a definitively career ending injury. That makes him potentially a cheap, high risk project with a truly elite fastball, and no solid secondary pitch. Tampa Bay’s task would be to nurse his elbow through another season while trying to get him to throw strikes. While Tampa’s success with the former has been decent, the latter shows why this elite arm has yet to find a permanent home.

If I were the Rays, I’d target Edwards for a similar deal to Andrew Kittredge. They pitch to similar outcomes, with similar health risk, so why not double down?

3. Delino DeShields RHB CF, 5’9/200, 8/16/1992

An elite speedster and defender, DeShields was non-tendered in the 2020 offseason by a Cleveland team that didn’t want to pay a projected ~$2M in arbitration for his unflinchingly league average career bat (lower if you consider he is an outfielder). DeShields’ doesn’t boast any important platoon splits, so his major league career may be cut short unless he can find a team that values his defense more than his bat. With Renfroe being non-tendered, DeShields sets up the opportunity for a significantly cheaper RHB platoon in the OF alongside Margot and Arozarena with modest upgrades in defense and contact over Renfroe, but a significant decrease in power.

DeShields reminds me of clubhouse sensation and ex-Ray CF Guillermo Heredia, who the Rays non-tendered over a projected $1.1M in arbitration eligible salary in December 2019. As a potential fourth or fifth outfielder (depending on Rays offseason moves), I can’t see the Rays offering much more than $1.2M/yr to a defense first player they may already struggle to find a roster spot for. That being said, with DeShields’ elite speed and defense and roughly average RHB, he’s worth a low cost look. I could see the Rays offering him a 1 year MiLB contract with NRI and $1.2M/yr MLB salary if he makes the roster.

4. Ken Giles RH RP, 6’3/210, 9/20/1990

One of the top closers in the recent history of baseball, Giles was released by the Blue Jays, unsuccessfully tried to rehab an elbow injury and underwent Tommy John surgery on Oct 22, 2020. Given the late date of his Tommy John surgery, he is expected to miss the 2021 season with a possible return at the very end of 2021.

I debated strongly not including Ken Giles on this list, given the suggestions that the Rays might non-tender (MLBTR) or trade (DRaysBay) starter Yonny Chirinos as he is not expected back in the roster until 2022 either. Chirinos is a slightly different situation though, as he is entering his first year of arbitration after receiving Super 2 status, so his salary from arbitration could be substantial by Rays’ standards. At the end of the day, it is a question of cheapness and intent. If the Rays are too cheap to pay Chirinos, whom they could try to bring back as a reliever late in 2021 to begin the process of stretching him out again to a starting role, then why would they pay Giles? If the Rays are truly serious about a World Series return though, why wouldn’t you want to try and sign an elite arm like Giles?

While the safe analysis would suggest Giles won’t be back until the 2022 season, I would bet he will be back sooner. Yes he is older and has a lot of mileage on his arm, but anyone that has watched him take the mound knows the intensity he shows at work. A year off gives him time to dive into the mental game and experiment with pitches without having to worry about game day results. He’s also a player that can come back a significantly diminished version of his past self and still be good.

To recap what this pitcher who throws a fastball and slider combo at the extremes of 2 plane movement and velocity has accomplished, he owns a career 9.5 Fangraphs WAR, 12.3 K/9, 4.35 SO/W, 2.45 FIP, and 1 WS win over 7 MLB seasons.

This is a buy low moment for Ken Giles and if the Rays could sign him to a 2-year deal they might have a bargain on their hands in the 2021 postseason (if they are serious in repeating) and generally in 2022. The Rays can offer Giles a MiLB spot in their Tommy John rehab program, which has a decent history of success. Should he make the MLB post-rehab on a team friendly contract, he could be an important contributor or a potent 2021 trade chip.

This post was written by a member of the DRaysBay community and does not necessarily express the views or opinions of DRaysBay staff.