Blue Jays: Top 3 Most Underrated Free Agents In The 2021 Class

CHICAGO - AUGUST 26: Edwin Encarnacion #23 of the Chicago White Sox reacts while running the bases after hitting a home run against the Pittsburgh Pirates on August 26, 2020 at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images)
CHICAGO - AUGUST 26: Edwin Encarnacion #23 of the Chicago White Sox reacts while running the bases after hitting a home run against the Pittsburgh Pirates on August 26, 2020 at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images) /

A look at three of the most underrated free agents of the 2021 class.

In one of my previous articles, I spent some time delving into some of the free agents with high upside that Blue Jays GM, Ross Atkins has signed over the last few years. In a nutshell, my verdict was that many of these types of free agents signed by Atkins did not pan out. This article will highlight the one and done routes in this offseason that could work in the favour of the Blue Jays.

Although the Blue Jays have eyes on the marquee free agents this offseason, there is always room for a couple of one and done deals with the forgotten free agents of the 2021 class.  Though not all of these players are a direct fit with the Jays presently, there are still a lot of moving pieces in this offseason and in my view, nothing seems to be off the table.

There are three free agents that come to mind that haven’t been getting a lot of love. These players will be the biggest sleepers of the offseason.

3. Edwin Encarnacion – 1B/DH

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The 38 year old slugger, Edwin Encarnacion had rough production numbers this past season (.627 OPS). Edwin may have had a down year, but there are about a thousand externalities that I think contributed to such a performance. The most significant factor is the shortened season.

Edwin is notoriously known for having some pretty dreadful starts to the season. In his career, he has by far the lowest production value in March/April. In those months, his OPS is .752 while the minimum between the rest of the months in a season is .827. In fact, if you look at his monthly splits, his production numbers go up dramatically as the season goes on.

Moreover, it isn’t fair to put too much emphasis on a season in which he played only 44 games. In a normal season, that would equate to the amount of games played through mid May and its simply not a big enough sample size to suggest he’s on a major decline.

Between 2012 and 2019, Edwin hit at least 32 home runs and in the 2020 shortened season, he was pacing for 37 home runs over a 162 game stretch. Being the one dimensional player he is, the home run has always been Edwin’s signature.

Furthermore, as long as those numbers were on par with his career in the 2020 season, then the rest of his batting line will fix itself over a full MLB marathon of a season. It certainly appears that his peripherals didn’t decline. As per Statcast, in 2020, Edwin still ranked in the 65th and 75th percentile in barrel rate and hard hit rate, respectively.

Whoever signs Edwin will likely get a steal if he can stay healthy as his market has been virtually inexistent. If the comparable Nelson Cruz could only command a 1 year, $12m deal from the Twins last year, then I don’t see Edwin getting more than half of that.

Although the Jays probably won’t land Edwin, there has been talk among the Jays fan base of using 1B/DH Rowdy Tellez as a trade chip for impactful talent. If something like that ensued, Edwin would slide in nicely as a placeholder DH for the season.

2. Carlos Santana – 1B (Signed 2 year, $17.5m deal with the Royals)

Carlos Santana was mentioned minimally among the biggest bidders of the 2021 offseason. He ended up signing a meager contract with the KC Royals valued at just $17.5m over a 2 year span. I think the Royals got themselves a steal who may be very attractive trade bait at the trade deadline.

I’ve always thought Santana is wildly underrated. He is a perennial 100 walk threat with elite plate discipline which is a talent that typically doesn’t deteriorate much as one gets older (Santana is 34). Whether Santana slugs or not in 2021, the Royals know they have a guy who will get on base.

In 2020, Santana led his league with 47 walks which went along with just 43 K’s. His OBP was pretty elite at a clip of .349,  however, Santana’s OPS was an underwhelming .699. Just like Edwin Encarnacion, it seems like Santana was a victim of a shortened season.

The fact that Santana led the league in walks says a lot about his patience at the plate and his consistent approach. Although his OPS wasn’t where you’d like it to be, his power numbers tend to go up deeper into the season as he gets into midseason form. I have no doubt that Santana just needed more at bats to get his power numbers up.

In Santana’s last full season in 2019, he had a career year that ended with 34 home runs, 108 BB, a .397 OBP and a .911 OPS. Those are some pretty elite numbers that don’t happen by accident. It’s beyond bizarre that he went from having a career year with MVP votes to producing at a below average clip. In a full 2020 season, I think the true Santana numbers would’ve shown, ergo the Royals got themselves a bargain purchase.

1. Corey Kluber – SP

Out of the three players I’ve named, Corey Kluber is easily the best fit for the Blue Jays. They have a massive need for starting pitching and he could be bought at a very cheap price for ace-upside.  Although there have been injury issues over the last few years, the Blue Jays love to buy low on players/pitchers who have tons of upside and who better than a guy who has won 2 Cy Young awards since 2014.

I don’t think teams would be smart to hand Kluber a multi-year deal, but I am pretty surprised that Kluber hasn’t garnered a ton of interest for a one year, rebuild-your-value deal, although that could change after he works out in front of a few teams on January 13th (only the Red Sox have been reported as one of the teams in attendance).

Over the past two seasons, Kluber has tossed just 8 starts with about a 5 and a half ERA but that small of a sample size from an injured pitcher is a very blinding indicator of what he could do in future seasons. In his last full season in 2018, Kluber led the league in IP and was 3rd in Cy Young voting. When he’s healthy, he is a top 10 pitcher in baseball.

Whoever signs Kluber is simply betting on one thing: health. The worst case scenario is the Jays lose out on a small AAV bet on a pitcher with Cy Young potential. Kluber will be going into his age 35 season, so he should come extra cheap.

dark. Next. Way-Too-Early 2021 AL East Standings Predictions

After the Yu Darvish salary dump by the Cubs only netted 4 prospects who have never debuted professionally, it appears that the market for starting pitching will be cheap this year. Now could be a great time to get a 2-time Cy Young winner for pennies on the dollar.