MLB Free Agency: Five Recovery Candidates in New Teams

By the time the holidays are over, there aren’t many free agent giveaways left to put in followers’ socks.

The top picks this season signed their contracts quickly. As of Thursday, 30 of the top 33 free agents (based on last season’s FanGraphs WAR totals) have signed.

Additionally, 27 of the top 30 signed free agents are earning at least $10 million in average annual value for their new contracts. Teams are taking advantage of favorable opportunities, often hoping a change of context will extract the best from a number of bounced candidates.

Here are five free agents who could return to new teams next season.

Note: Only players with an fWAR below 3.0 from last season will be considered for this list.

first. Josh’s bell1B

Team change: Padres San Diego arrive Cleveland Guardians

Contract: Two years, 33 million USD

WAR 2022: 2.0

fWAR’s career: 8.3

Best fWAR season: 2.9 (2019)

Bell won the Silver Slugger Award during the 2022 season, so at first glance it seems strange to include him on such a list; but it seems fair to see how his year ended with the Padres. Bell looked like a different player before and after his move to San Diego.

At 29 years old, showing a slash of .301/.384/.493 with 153 OPS+ over 103 games in Washington D.CBell seems to be more than just a throw-in for Juan Soto deal with a group of Padres suddenly ready to make noise. It didn’t turn out the way Bell or his new club envisioned.

Although he had a few memorable moments after the season – he scored in both the wild card series and the championship – Bell posted a 0.587 OPS with three hosts in 53 games regular season for San Diego while his hit rate and barrel rate dropped a bit and his average exit velocity dropped significantly.

The Guardians desperately need to add some highlights to their roster and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the 2019 All-Star return to his first-half 2022 form. Bell may be betting on that, too, getting a two-year, $33 million deal with an opt-out option. Switchers, who are converted 55.8% of the time as left-handed, will at least benefit slightly from the new conversion rules.

2. Noah SyndergaardRHP

Team change: Philadelphia arrive Dodgers Los Angeles

Contract: One year, 13 million dollars

WAR 2022: 2.2

fWAR’s career: 21.0

Best fWAR season: 6.0 (2016)

Syndergaard will be this year Tyler Anderson? The Dodgers have a knack for getting the best out of their pitchers, and they have a successful track record of teaming up with the former All-Star right-hander.

Syndergaard is a more useful worm between Angel and Phillies in 2022 compared to the front-line star he’s just over 20 years old with meet. He won 10-10 with an ERA of 3.94 and said after the season that he feels like he’s fighting with himself. After hitting a hitch in Tommy John’s recovery in May 2021, he was unable to regain his typical pace for the entirety of his first full season back and saw confidence in serve as well. his mechanism oscillates.

He’s confident that 2023 will yield other results and that he can get back to triple-tapping – he threw 97-98 mph in his bulls before failed – the toughest attempt possible at 30 after averaging 94.1 mph on his quads last season. He signed a one-year contract in Los Angeles hoping to rebuild his worth, like Anderson and Andrew Heaney did with their breakthroughs in Los Angeles this past season. Even if Syndergaard doesn’t return to the 97.8 mph he averaged on his fast ball prior to Tommy John surgery, it only takes a slight nudge and a co-ordinated pitch. fit could make him look more like himself to the Dodgers.

3. Cody BellingerCF

Team change: Los Angeles Dodgers arrive Chicago Cubs

Contract: One year, $17.5 million (general option for 2024)

WAR 2022: 1.7

fWAR career: 17.3

Best fWAR season: 7.7 (2019)

Is Bellinger’s version of MVP still there?

This could be the biggest question mark for any bouncer. No doubt about the ceiling. An MVP at the age of 23 just four seasons ago, Bellinger proved his ability. He crushed 47 homers and knocked down 0.305/.406/0.629 in 156 games that year.

He also hasn’t played near that level since.

The downturn kicks off in 2020, but he could still strike more in that short season. The fall became apparent after he injured his shoulder during a celebration running home from the season later that year. As injuries piled up, including a hairline fracture shortly after returning from shoulder surgery, he never regained his offensive stance. Among the players with at least 300 appearances in 2021, Bellinger only finished first Austin fence and Jackie Bradley Jr. in wRC+. Despite nearly doubling in performance in 2022, last season was still a significantly below-average offensive year (78 OPS+, 83 wRC+).

At the very least, Bellinger still provides the Cubs with an above-average defender in many positions. But they are hoping for more with a one-year contract that guarantees him $17.5 million. It’s a contract not far from what the Dodgers will have to pay Bellinger to the referee before they decide to move on by not bidding the 27-year-old – a move that seemed incomprehensible just a few years ago.

4. Mitch HanigerRF

Team change: Seattle Marines arrive San Francisco Giants

Contract: Three years, $43.5 million

WAR 2022: 0.8

fWAR career: 11.8

Best fWAR season: 4.8 (2018)

The addition of Haniger probably won’t ease the pain of Giants fans who watched Judge Aaron re-signed in New York and Carlos Correa arrive a few minutes to officially join their club before everything fell apart. But if he can stay fit, Haniger will be a worthwhile addition to San Francisco for the next three years.

It’s hard to overestimate Haniger’s lesser numbers in 2022, as he only played 57 games due to an ankle injury. The local product, who was born in Mountain View, California, attended high school in San Jose and played football at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, looks forward to returning to the Bay Area after a productive stint in Seattle.

Haniger was an above-average scorer in all five seasons with the Mariners. Even in a relatively low year last season (.246/.308/.429), he still hit the highest average hit rate of his career (47.2) when 31 years old. Last season, Haniger made 39 home runs in 157 games.

When Haniger plays all season, he tends to be productive. He became an All-Star in 2018, when he hit a career-best 139 OPS+ with 26 home runs in 157 games. His problem is staying on the pitch. He has appeared in over 100 matches just twice since his debut in 2016.

5. Michael ConfortoBELONG TO

Team change: New York Mets to the San Francisco Giants

Contract: Two years, 36 million USD

WAR 2022: DNP (1.4 in 2021)

fWAR career: 19.3

Best fWAR season: 4.8 (2017)

Another Giants off-field signing and the first major addition after Correa’s defeat, Conforto will partner with Haniger to help strengthen San Francisco’s playing field. Both players have production histories — as well as missed times.

Considered the best header midfielder left on the market when acquired at the end of December, Conforto hasn’t played a game since October 2021. He was a free agent before the 2022 season but ended up missing a whole year after shoulder surgery. While there’s no guarantee he’ll return to pre-injury form (see: Bellinger), he could offer the same value as Haniger.

Conforto’s performance has fluctuated in recent years. He finished with 0.856 OPS in 2019, 0.927 OPS in the 2020 shortened season and 0.729 OPS in 2021 while missing a month because of a hamstring strain. It can be difficult to predict after sitting out all year, but Conforto has never produced less than one WAR season in his career. He has averaged 0.837 OPS over the past five seasons.

Honorable Mention: Mike ClevingerRHP

Team change: San Diego Padres arrives Chicago White Sox

Contract: One year, $12 million (general option for 2024)

WAR 2022: 0.4

fWAR career: 12.1

Best fWAR season: 4.5 (2019)

It’s hard to fully appreciate a player in his first season back from Tommy John surgery. However, like Syndergaard, Clevinger solved the problem of reducing velocity and strike rate when returning.

Clevinger enjoyed a solid first half of 2022 (3.50 ERA, 1.14 WHIP) and found it effective to add a sinker to his mix, but his productivity dropped post-holiday All-Star while battling some physical problems. He didn’t need surgery after a year, but Clevinger said he received a PRP injection for his right MCL.

Before Tommy John, Clevinger was 41-20 years old with 2.96 ERAs and 10.2 strikes per nine innings from 2017 to 2020. FanGraphs predicts Clevinger will have a 1.3 WAR season ahead and have maybe another year could help him resemble the pitcher he’s involved in over his 20s. That should help solidify the end of the White Sox spin.

Top stories from FOX Sports:

Rowan Kavner covers the Dodgers and NL West for FOX Sports. Previously he was the editor of digital and print publications of the Dodgers. Follow him on Twitter at @Rowan Kavner.

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