Three Underrated Free Agent Signings (So Far)
Under the radar offseason moves according to Will Hailey
On December 13th the Chicago White Sox signed the former first-rounder to a two-year $15 million deal. Fedde was a highly touted right-hander out of UNLV when the Nationals selected him 18th overall in the 2014 MLB Draft. He started 88 games for Washington between 2017-2022 and was, in a word, crap. His 5.41 ERA ranked 8th worst in the league for qualified pitchers over that six-year span and worst among pitchers throwing over 450 innings. After being non-tendered by the Nats, Fedde signed a one-year deal with the KBO’s NC Dinos where he was, in a word, dope.
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In 2023 for the Dinos, Fedde pitched to a 2.00 ERA in 180.1 innings while striking out 29.5% of batters and walking only 4.9% en route to winning the KBO pitching triple crown, Cy Young, and MVP. We’ve seen a handful of pitchers find themselves abroad and return to solid success in the bigs, like All-Star Miles Mikolas and WBC Final Starter Merrill Kelly. Fedde attributes his new found success to the Push Performance pitching lab in Scottsdale, Arizona that completely overhauled his conditioning, mechanics, and pitch shape, most notably transitioning his slider into a sweeper and adjusting his change-up grip. The signing is a low-risk high-reward move for the White Sox who aren’t making big moves to move toward competing this year, but also have not been shedding assets like Cease or Robert for prospects either. Fedde will have full run to prove himself for a future trade to a contender or potentially be in the rotation for a contending White Sox team if they choose to hold on to their young studs long-term.
A borderline all-star getting $45 million is not usually underrated, but what the deal means for Reds is one of the more interesting storylines of the offseason so far. The switch-hitting third-baseman has quietly performed well for three of the last four seasons, slashing .254/.329/.437 with a 112 OPS+ over that time despite a stinker in 2022 where he produced negative WAR. With a number of teams going into the offseason with questions at the hot corner, Jeimer’s list of suitors appeared to be long, however the Reds did not seem like they would be one of them.
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Jeimer now slates as Cincy’s everyday first-baseman despite a roster that includes young infielders Jonathan India, Elly De La Cruz, Spencer Steer, Matt McLain, Noelvi Marte, and Christian Encarnacion-Strand. Lineup projections have Steer as the everyday left fielder, “Hands Like Feet” India as the full-time DH, and CES as the odd man out despite raking at every minor league stop and a strong cup of coffee in the majors last season. Signing Jeimer may signal that the Reds management have chosen quality and depth over development, and given how wide open the NL Central appears to be that may be the right idea. However, the deal may mean a trade for pitching is coming and one or more of these young Reds infielders will be saying goodbye to Skyline Chili soon. Either way, look out for Jeimer and his 76th percentile Sweet-Spot% in Cincinnati's Wiffle Ball field.
Speaking of Spencer Steer and CES, the Twins traded both to the Reds at the deadline in 2022 for right-hander Tyler Mahle. Injuries held Mahle to just four starts for the Twins in 2022 and five starts in 2023 before going down with TJ in May. The defending-champion Texas Rangers signed Mahle to a back-loaded two-year $22 million deal and expect to have him in the rotation around the All-Star Break. With DeGrom and Scherzer on the shelf first half of the year as well, the Rangers may struggle to find innings early, but could have a juggernaut rotation come playoff time.
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Mahle struggled with the longball in Great American SmallPark leading to a career ERA more than a run lower in games outside of Cincy. Despite average velocity, Mahle’s four-seamer has been one of the best in the game over the last four seasons helping him to xERAs in the low-to-mid 3s each year. Mahle has been known to mess around with his offerings and pitch mixes and with a clean bill of health and Mike Maddux behind the scenes we could see a big second half in 2024 and even bigger 2025 for Mahle in Texas.