Most of the big names are off the table, but there’s still value to be had for MLB teams sifting through the remaining free agents.
The demise of MLB free agency may have been greatly exaggerated — at least for the time being. Despite worry over collusion, tanking teams and limited market for veterans, spending and risk taking have been robust so far this offseason. Nearly every premier free agent has come off the board, including Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon, who signed for a combined $814 million.
The top three in this winter’s MLB free-agent class were always going to get paid, but it is surprising to see them all signed before Christmas, with several other high-profile veterans also coming off the board without much difficulty. It’s a good sign for the MLBPA that Yasmani Grandal, Mike Moustakas, Madison Bumgarner, Dallas Keuchel and Hyun-jin Ryu all found deals for more than $50 million, with Bumgarner and Ryu topping $80 million.
Teams are opening up the checkbook again for free agents and showing a willingness to take risks. That’s good for the players as a whole. Several things are working in their favor. For starters, several rebuilding teams believe they are ready to enter their next phase, like the Chicago White Sox. Two of the biggest spenders, the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers maneuvered their way below the luxury-tax threshold, creating increased demand for the biggest stars, unlike last season when Manny Machado and Bryce Harper had a hard time finding offers from more than one team.
Free agency should hit a brief post-Christmas/New Year’s lull before ramping up again heading into the month before Spring Training. There are still at least three big-name free agents left to be signed in Josh Donaldson, Nicholas Castellanos and Marcell Ozuna, but plenty of under-the-radar value is left on the market. These are the best of the remaining free agents in this year’s class.
17. Robinson Chirinos
As far as backup catchers go, there aren’t many better than 35-year-old Robinson Chirinos. He was nearly a surprising hero of the World Series for the Houston Astros last season, hitting two big home runs in the Fall Classic. Chirinos has had the best sustained production of his career over the last three seasons, hitting .237/.347/.451 in 315 games with 52 home runs and 161 RBI. He has an OPS+ of 102 for his eight-year MLB career.
Chirinos is also a stalwart defensively, registering 1.7 dWAR last season and 5.8 for his career. At 35, the veteran backstop is likely entering the year-to-year phase of his career, but will be extremely valuable to whichever team signs him. With teams no longer electing to play their primary catcher much more than 120 games, Chirinos could become a luxury in a part-time role.