The best MLB free-agent fits for very specific needs

  • Sports reporter, Kansas City Star, 2002-09
  • Writer, Baseball, Baseball Prospectus
  • Co-author, Pro Basketball Prospectus
  • Member, Baseball Writers Association of America
  • Member, Professional Basketball Writers Association

If you remember the old Statis Pro Baseball tabletop simulation game from the 1970s and 1980s, you are probably of a certain age. The game hasn’t been officially produced for more than a quarter of a century, though there is a fantastic, modernized version of the game made by a smart person out there somewhere and distributed online.

Anyway, one of the great things about Statis Pro Baseball for a youth nursing a growing interest in baseball statistics was that the methods for making player cards were included in the game’s instruction manual. With a little observational acuity and a copy of The Sporting News, you could rate players yourself. Baserunning ability (labeled as “OBR” by the game makers) was determined by a grading of players with a letter, ranging from A to E, with the latter being the worst score.

To my dying day, I will always remember the description of a baserunner with an OBR rating of E: “Very slow. Painfully slow. Almost never gets there.” The copywriter responsible for that instructional manual had a wry sense of humor.

At present, that description can be turned into an apropos observation about the lagging hot stove season. Very slow. Painfully slow. The transactional version of a baserunner with an OBR of E, like a current-day Albert Pujols trying to leg out a triple.

The top-ranked free agents from colleague Kiley McDaniel’s rankings to resolve their respective limbos didn’t actually reach free agency. No. 7 Marcus Stroman and No. 8 Kevin Gausman both accepted the qualifying offers issued by their teams, the Mets and Giants, respectively. The top free agent to actually venture out into the marketplace and return with a contract is No. 18 Charlie Morton, who signed with the Braves. And No. 31 Mike Minor (6,889) joined the Royals on a two-year deal Sunday night. We’ve also seen the No. 38 free agent, Drew Smyly, reach an accord with the Braves and No. 43 Robbie Ray re-up with the Blue Jays.

And that is it. From Kiley’s top 100, five starting pitchers have signed new contracts, three of whom returned to the same team with the other two going to Atlanta. All five signed one-year deals. The other 95 ranked free agents remain in limbo and will soon be joined by a new flood of marketplace competitors once teams non-tender players this week ahead of the looming deadline for offering arbitration.

To try to help fill the news void, I’m going to repeat an exercise I began last season, which is to look at the free-agent market not through the prism of rankings, but through the prism of unique skill sets.

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