The Remaining Free Agents vs. the Padres

Look, over the horizon. You can just barely make it out with the naked eye. Can you see? It’s baseball, just coming ’round the bend. Sunday marks the end of football, and then we’ll have pitchers and catchers reporting to Florida and Arizona. We even get a treat in the form of the World Baseball Classic this year. Real, competitive baseball, and then Opening Day. It’s so close that you can taste the sunflower seeds and Big League Chew.

That doesn’t mean that everyone has a job yet, though. There are still some fairly notable players on the free-agent market. Not all of them are that great, but there are always a few February stragglers. So, like any self-respecting baseball fans, we’re going to arbitrarily put the best of them (based on MLB Trade Rumors’ list of remaining free agents) into a lineup, and then we’re going to see how they stack up against the Padres, using our Depth Chart projections. Why the Padres? Because we’ve currently got them projected for 66 wins, fewest in the league as of today. I’m not going to put together a whole 25-man roster out of these guys, because I value my sanity and, to a slightly lesser degree, yours as well. At least, though, we’re going to find out how a lineup of misfit toys looks against that of the San Diego Dads. Why the hell not? Buckle up.

First, I’ve identified the top free agent at each position. Below that, I’ve included a table featuring a head-to-head comparison between the top free agent and Padres likely starter at each position.

Catcher: Matt Wieters

Wieters is the clear option here, which isn’t saying much. The former future “Mauer with power” has seen his career degrade and his bat erode. Baseball Prospectus’ framing metric wasn’t fond of his work last year, or the year before that either, so his 1.9 WAR projection is probably a bit generous. That being said, it’s him and a bunch of aging career backups, so Matt Wieters it is. He’s projected for an 89 wRC+, though, so let’s not get too excited just yet.

First Base: Mike Napoli

If nothing else, the team’s Beards Above Replacement just got a heck of a boost. Napoli still has pop in his bat, if nothing else, and goodness knows this team is probably going to need all the power it can get. He’s almost certainly going to continue his trend of posting a double-digit walk rate and his famous clubhouse presence is going to help during the dark days of this clunker of a team. I guess this is where I work in the obligatory Party at Napoli’s reference, if you want to party over a projected 1 WAR.

Second Base: Chase Utley

This team would kick ass if it was, oh, 2010. Unfortunately, it’s 2017 and the relentless march of time stops for nobody, unless your name is Ortiz or Bonds. Utley was surprisingly useful for the Dodgers last year. He didn’t hurt the team as the everyday second baseman, and perhaps he can cut it for one more year. We’ve got him at 0.8 WAR for this coming season, but perhaps he can squeeze one last bit of magic out of that soul patch.

Shortstop: Erick Aybar

We had two choices here. It was either Alexei Ramirez or Aybar. There is a negative sign in front of Ramirez’s projection, and there isn’t one in front of Aybar’s. Their projections are only half a win apart, so it really doesn’t mean a ton. Much like life. Enjoy Arby’s.

Third Base: Aaron Hill

This was another two-choice slot, between Hill and Gordon Beckham. Hill doesn’t have a Depth Charts projection on his page, and Steamer projects him for one plate appearance. Hill was actually Not Awful before his midseason trade to the Red Sox, though, and Beckham is probably as close to replacement level as one can get. Hill gets the job, then. It should be noted that Hill was pretty darn bad once he arrived in Boston. ZiPS pegs him for 0.3 WAR, so we’ll go with that.

Outfield: Angel Pagan, Michael Bourn, Franklin Gutierrez

I say once again: this team would be awesome if it were 2010. Pagan’s projected 0.4 WAR isn’t pretty, but he’s coming off a relatively healthy two-win season and that counts for something, I guess. Be my guest if you want to slot Jeff Francoeur in here for the novelty factor. Bourn is another man without a Depth Charts projection, but I’m fairly confident in saying that he’ll be more useful than Drew Stubbs or Sam Fuld. ZiPS does have him at -0.2 WAR, so there’s that. And Guti still has enough pop to run into some bombs, so this outfield shouldn’t be a total wash.

Starting Pitcher: Jason Hammel

I’ve already written about Hammel’s appeal this offseason. I’m genuinely surprised that the Angels haven’t signed him yet. He’s a fine mid-rotation guy, and he’s usually even better at the start of the season. Let’s pretend we’re getting early-season Hammel here, and not late-season-up-in-flames Hammel.

So, that’s our starting nine. Let’s sum it up:

Head-to-Head Comparison, FAs vs. Padres
FA Team Lineup Projected WAR Padres Lineup Projected WAR Winner
Matt Wieters 1.9 Austin Hedges 1.4 Free Agents
Mike Napoli 1.0 Wil Myers 2.5 Padres
Chase Utley 0.8 Ryan Schimpf 1.2 Padres
Erick Aybar 0.3 Luis Sardinas -0.2 Free Agents
Aaron Hill 0.3 Yangervis Solarte 1.6 Padres
Angel Pagan 0.4 Travis Jankowski 0.8 Padres
Michael Bourn -0.2 Manuel Margot 0.9 Padres
Franklin Gutierrez 0.3 Hunter Renfroe 0.4 Padres
Jason Hammel 1.7 Luis Perdomo 1.9 Padres

We’re not going to add up the WAR here, since projections at this range are largely inconsequential, and the numbers for some of the Padres’ blue-chip guys like Margot and Renfroe may be underselling their potential. But, yeah, head to head, the Padres look like a better team than the best remaining free agents. This doesn’t count in relievers like Joe Blanton or Sergio Romo, but the Padres can counter that pretty effectively with Brandon Maurer and Brad Hand.

February free agency is, as always, a wasteland. Thankfully, you won’t ever have to actually watch this game be played. You’ll get to watch a bunch of spring-training games with Quad-A and lower players, but you’ll get the WBC, too. We’re almost there, folks. Keep it together.





Nick is a columnist at FanGraphs, and has written previously for Baseball Prospectus and Beyond the Box Score. Yes, he hates your favorite team, just like Joe Buck. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets, and can contact him at stellinin1 at gmail.

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Barney Coolio
5 years ago

Phew! As a Padres fan, I cringed when I saw this. But then I remembered that our lineup is fairly respectable, and only the dregs are remaining in free agency. I was worried that a five man rotation would be used here, but it wasn’t. Frankly, even if it was, the Padres’ rotation could conceivably hold their own against whichever starters remain unsigned.

Jason Bmember
5 years ago
Reply to  Barney Coolio

That lineup is fairly…something. I’ll give you that. 🙂

White Jar
5 years ago
Reply to  Barney Coolio

“As a Padres fan, I cringed when I saw this. But then I remembered that our lineup is fairly respectable”

I’ll bite. No it isn’t.