Going into this offseason all anyone could seemingly talk about was how thin this free agent class is, and how after Ohtani and Yamamoto signed, nothing of interest could happen. Au contraire. There are so many great bargain deals to be made throughout the market to improve any team, but the segment I wish to focus on is the vastly underrated left-handed hitting market.
How's that Joc Pederson guy Doing?
Before we get into Pederson's profile, let me start by saying this: rostering an everyday DH is something that many teams try to avoid, as the position likes to be used for giving players a day off their feet and wasting a roster spot on someone who contributes nothing defensively seems counter-productive.
With that said, Pederson is one of the more under-the-radar steals that many teams could use. His days of roaming the outfield are likely behind him, as he only racked up a little over 200 innings of playing time in right and left field and was below average in both spots.
But his offensive prowess has remained remarkably steady, with a peak years of close to .370 xwOBA over the past two seasons, and his process stats in regards to quality of contact are all stellar. Most projections have him making around $15 million a year over a two-year commitment, and for a player not reliant at all on athletic ability entering his age 32 season, that's a pretty darn good value for a left-handed power bat for the middle of any team's lineup.
The issue, as mentioned previously, is that you're paying a one-dimensional player on the wrong side of 30. Drop-offs happen, and this is as good a time as any for Pederson to experience some dip in offensive production. Unfortunately for Pederson, if his offensive production isn't there, his value is worse than nothing; he actively hurts your team by eating up a spot in your lineup while not giving you any defensive return on investment (sort of like Giancarlo Stanton). Plus, his splits against lefties aren't getting any better.
But I don't foresee such a sharp decline taking place, and frankly, with any free-agent deal, you're taking that gamble. Pitching is also always going to be mostly right-handed so that erases most concerns about having to bench him against lefties. If you're a GM looking to add some lefty thump to your lineup, Pederson might be the first name you call.
Wouldn't Brandon Belt Fill the Same Need?
Yes, they're both very similar profiles in that their value is almost entirely dependent on their ability to mash right-handed pitching.
Belt sacrifices contact for power, and he took that to an extreme last season with Toronto, submitting a quality campaign where he managed a 136 wRC+ by doing two things well: walking a lot, and hitting the ball hard. His defensive value is a bit higher than Pederson, in that he can at least be an average first baseman even entering his age 36 season, making his flaws more centered around his age.
His market value is exclusively one-year contracts, hovering around the $2-3 million range, and that seems about right. There's a bit of doubt as to whether he can duplicate his solid 2023 season, and the first base position is only slightly more valuable than being a DH-only.
Why Take a Chance on Joey Gallo?
You're not wrong; the three-true-outcome machine is seemingly past his prime defensively. At his peak, he was a quality corner outfielder with a cannon and got you a ton of homers, walks, and strikeouts at the plate.
He still hits the ball remarkably hard when healthy, draws his fair share of walks, and does his thing when it comes to striking out, but, as mentioned above, defensively is where he's regressed. He was at best an average outfielder last year and was hampered a bit with injuries, playing in 111 games and spending some time at the end of the season on the IL with a left foot contusion.
If Gallo is healthy, the hope is that he can bounce back a bit defensively (although entering his 30s might suggest otherwise) and retain that value as a big-time power bat, maybe even taking a page out of Kyle Schwarber's playbook and becoming a fun, weird leadoff hitter.
Gallo's constantly been an advanced analytics darling, and for good reason. His value is immense because of his high-quality contact numbers and plate discipline. The big question is if a team is willing to shell out a bit of money for someone whose value is as limited as Gallo's if his defensive regression is the norm and not just an aberration.
Who Would Sign Any of These Guys?
Fortunately for all of these guys, there are plenty of suitors out there: the Cubs are a perfect fit for needing a first baseman and lefty bats in their lineup. The Padres could easily be interested in both Belt and Pederson to shore up their DH position, and the Rays have been rumored to be shopping their current DH Harold Ramirez, and their lineup is as right-handed heavy as they come.
Gallo's going to cost a bit more, given his slightly less advanced age and more attractive defensive profile (he's at least hopefully not going to be relegated to a DH role this year, and he can play some first base), which might scare the more cost-concerned teams like the Rays, so look for Gallo to end up in either an Astros, Cubs, Mets, Twins or (hey, why not) Dodgers uniform for 2023.
Main Image via