After a brutal 82-80 season in 2023, the New York Yankees will certainly look to the free agent market to bolster their roster. While the top name on the market, Shohei Ohtani, is clearly at the top of nearly every fan's wish list, shoring up the depth of the roster could avoid a repeat of last season. Bullpen depth and outfielders not named Cody Bellinger may not be sexy, but those types of moves are necessary to build a winning roster.
Here are 3 underrated free agent targets for the New York Yankees
Tim Hill, RP
Tim Hill is an odd-angled lefty reliever who is coming off a career-worst season with San Diego in 2023. Still, Hill would provide value as a second lefty in a contending bullpen. Hill throws mostly fastballs (90 percent), but the sinker suffered in 2023. Batters hammered Hill's sinker to the tune of a .366 batting average and .476 slugging percentage. Hill's upshot release makes the fastball effective against both lefties and righties, and a seldom used cutter could play against right-handers.
Hill has always been fastball-heavy, and this is the first season that Hill's four-seam allowed a batting average of over .250, and the average velocity dipped a bit. According to Eno Sarris' Stuff+ model, Hill's fastball grades as above-average, and his cutter checks in with a grade of 97, roughly league average. Hill's angle should allow his stuff to play up, and his strong command (Location+ of 103), makes him a reliable option out of the 'pen.
A prove it deal of one or two seasons at roughly $2.5-$4 million AAV seems reasonable.
Joc Pederson, OF/DH
A few years ago, Joc Pederson's name would excite a fan base. In 2023, Pederson is still a reliable option, albeit a non-flashy one.
For the underwhelming San Fransisco Giants, Pederson put up a 111 wRC+ in 121 games, hitting 15 home runs with a 13.2 percent walk rate. Pederson's home run numbers suffered a bit due to the spaciousness of Oracle Park, but the underlying metrics are good enough to project a bit of a step forward. Pederson ranked in the 90th percentile or above of xwOBA, average exit velocity, hard hit percentage, and walk percentage.
Now, where to play Pederson? To put it nicely, Pederson has been...underwhelming in left field. To put it more honestly, Pederson has been "worth" -37 Outs Above Average since 2016. Pederson could serve as a part-time DH option, as he crushes righties, allowing some time for Giancarlo Stanton to rest or face mostly lefties. Given Stanton's salary, it may be unrealistic to make him a part-time player with so much time left on that albatross contract. In that case, Pederson could be dispatched in a left field platoon with Everson Pereira, who struggled to begin his big league career.
Playing the majority of the season at 32-years-old, Pederson's would be a short-term contract, at somewhere between $12-$18 million AAV.
Nick Martinez, RP/SP
Another former Padre makes the list, with Nick Martinez hitting the open market after both he and the team declined a two-year option.
Martinez has been good since returning from Japan, where he spent 2018-2021. Originally debuting with the Texas Rangers in 2014, Martinez was inconsistent, leaving for Japan with a 4.77 career ERA. Since returning, Martinez has appeared in 110 games (19 starts) with San Diego, pitching to a 3.45 ERA. Martinez's stuff is not going to wow anyone, but he does an excellent job at limiting hard contact (98th percentile in average exit velocity), and throws a borderline elite changeup. Batters hit just .158 against the cambio in 2023, and the expected stats back up that performance. Combine the changeup with an uncanny ability to generate ground balls (90th percentile), and Martinez comfortably slots in as a long relief option in a contending bullpen.
The upside to signing Martinez is his ability to start games as well, and to throw multiple innings per appearance. In the 110 games with San Diego, Martinez has racked up 216.2 innings, which could provide value in bullpen games or when starters exit too early. While age will be a factor (Martinez will turn 34 in August), Martinez's skillset seems to be one that could age gracefully.
Would he be willing to give up longer job security for an AAV between $10-$12 million? If so, Cashman should reach out quickly.