MLB free agents: Who are the decent gambles in an odd year?

KANSAS CITY, MO - AUGUST 7: Relief pitcher Trevor Rosenthal #40 of the Kansas City Royals celebrates a win against the Minnesota Twins at Kauffman Stadium on August 7, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MO - AUGUST 7: Relief pitcher Trevor Rosenthal #40 of the Kansas City Royals celebrates a win against the Minnesota Twins at Kauffman Stadium on August 7, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

Marcus Semien

Could Marcus Semien be the Didi Gregorius of 2021? Wait, what does that mean, exactly?

This past season Gregorius’ stint with the Phillies really had only one purpose for Gregorius, from the point of view of the player – re-establishing his worth after an unfortunate year.

This is not to say Gregorius isn’t a team player or a selfish person – he doesn’t seem to be either – but he did, in fact, recover his value. He led the Phillies in RBI (40) and played a far more than passable shortstop. The Phillies let him go, at least temporarily – maybe a mistake.

Semien is in a similar situation to Gregorius’ last year. He has to re-build his value after a bad season with the A’s. Although he played most of the games scheduled, he slashed only .223/.305/.374.

However, this is a guy who came in third in the AL MVP voting in 2019, a year in which he appeared in every game and had a slash line of .285/.369/.522. His overall fielding percentage is a couple of ticks below the league average at shortstop (over eight years), but his RF/9 is well above the league average, and doesn’t seem to be noticeably declining as he approaches the age of 30.

He has had seasons with 27 and 33 home runs.

His contract with Oakland for this past season was for $13 million. He might well be available for less than that per year for the right-length contract. If so, he may be an early signee among MLB free agents.

Brad Miller

Like Paxton, Brad Miller is put on tier four of MLB free agents, but he may well be the best utility man available. He is 31, and has played for the Mariners, Rays, Brewers, Indians, Phillies, and Cardinals. St. Louis used him largely as a DH in ’20, but he has also played seven of the nine positions on the field, never having pitched or caught.

His career fielding average is below the league averages, but keep in mind that’s a comparison between guys who usually play a given position most of the time (plus a few other utility men) and him.

His lifetime batting average is .240, including a .737 OPS figure, well above the Bill James minimum for being classified as “average.” The MLB average OPS in the last full season of baseball was .758. Miller once hit 30 home runs in a season, and in 2019 he hit 13. His OPS that year was .894.

Some observers feel Miller was valuable enough to St. Louis in 2020 that they should bring him back and give him a raise over his scheduled $2 million for this past season, which of course he did not entirely collect. The infielder-outfielder’s top salary was $4.5 million with Milwaukee in ‘18.

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Miller’s probably smart enough not to be too greedy, and it says here he will be signed before a lot of other MLB free agents.