Spring training games for the 2020 MLB season begin this weekend! The sound of catchers' mitts popping and bats cracking is my favorite symphony. Baseball is the foundation for my love of sports but is also so hard to keep track of on a year-to-year basis thanks to how large the rosters are.
Throw in trades, free-agent signings, retirements, and you don't know who's wearing what uniform anymore. This week I wanted to focus on this year's free-agent signings that were an absolute bargain! We all know Gerrit Cole signed with the Yankees or that Anthony Rendon signed with the Angels, but I bet you my top three deals for 2020 are players you had no idea were on the market.
These athletes should far exceed the value of their contracts this season. Now, without further ado, here are my top three 2020 underrated MLB free-agent signings.
3. Gio González (Chicago White Sox / 1 yr. - $5 million / SP)
From the Brew Crew to the South Side goes veteran starting pitcher Gio González. Yes, he's 34 years old, but getting a veteran presence for a young pitching staff that may also contribute 150 innings (if he stays healthy) for $5 million, wow! González's career ERA is 3.68 and he's had nearly 30 innings of playoff experience to his name.
He's a southpaw who eats up innings and always gives a ball club a chance to win each night he takes the mound. Although his ERA in 2020 might hover around 4.00, I could see him winning 12 games, which is well worth it for Chicago. He will easily make all other 29 MLB ball clubs regret not signing him this offseason to be their number three or four starter.
2. César Hernández (Cleveland Indians / 1 yr. - $6.25 million / 2B)
César Hernández is very comparable in my eyes to St. Louis Cardinals' second baseman, Kolten Wong. Wong made $6.5 million last year and is making $10.25 million in 2020, making this a great value signing by the Indians.
The era of Jason Kipnis was coming to an end in Cleveland as he struggled with nagging injuries towards the end of his Indians' tenure. Enter Hernández, the former Philadelphia Phillies' infielder who had a career high 71 RBIs in 2019. Between 2016-2018 he averaged 17 SB and a .367 OBP per season.
The one-year deal is probably a trial period to see how he fits into their lineup, but one thing is for sure, Indians' coach, Terry Francona, should let Hernández run wild on the base paths. I could easily see Hernández steal 20 bases this season if he finds himself near the top of the Indians' order early on.
1. Kevin Pillar (Boston Red Sox / 1 yr. - $4.25 million / CF)
Sometimes you just need to tip your cap, even at your most hated of rivals. The Red Sox organization made an A+ offseason move by signing Kevin Pillar to a one year contract for less than $5 million. First and foremost, Pillar should now have an everyday role to begin the year after the Sox released that Alex Verdugo had a stress fracture in his back and probably won't be ready by Opening Day.
It was a shock to many that the San Francisco Giants let Pillar enter free agency, after posting 21 HR, 87 RBIs, 14 SB, and holding down center field for 129 of his 152 games in a Giants' uniform in 2019. He's still only 31 years old and between 2015-2017, Pillar had an average defensive runs saved (DRS) of 16.7 while playing center field for the Toronto Blue Jays, so we know he has the ability to be a plus defender. The AL East outfields were Pillar's old stomping grounds, making this a great signing from a comfort standpoint.
Although his defense hasn't been as elite the past two years, Pillar's sprint speed actually went up by 0.2 ft/s from 2018 to 2019. His power at the plate has also been nice to see, with 20+ HR the past two seasons. For a team struggling with an identity after the loss of their manager, Alex Cora, and their best player, Mookie Betts, Pillar provides stability they desperately need. He allows the Red Sox to DH any of their starting outfielders on a day-to-day basis, because he isn't a defensive liability.
Don't forget that longtime Red Sox centerfielder, Jackie Bradley Jr., is a free agent at the end of 2020, as is Pillar. Pillar's ability to play centerfield gives the ballclub options if one of these guys decides to leave after this season. Considering Bradley Jr. is making $11 million this season, Pillar's contract will be worth every penny.