2021 MLB Free-Agent Sleepers: 5 Under-The-Radar Signings For Fantasy Baseball
Here’s Taylor Tarter’s 2021 MLB Free-Agent sleepers list of 5 under-the-radar signings who could pay off in fantasy baseball leagues.
During what had been an otherwise quiet start to 2021 MLB free agency, James McCann kicked off the major “Hot Stove” signings by inking a 4-year $40.6 million deal with the New York Mets. Since then, other big names have been scooped up in free agency and trades. Players like Liam Hendriks (Chicago White Sox), George Springer (Houston Astros), J.T. Realmuto (Philadelphia Phillies), and Trevor Bauer followed when the market opened up to sign big deals.
However, the baseball world had a slew of under-the-radar signings this season that could pay off for MLB organizations and fantasy baseball teams. They can be considered fantasy MLB sleepers in their 2021 homes.
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2021 MLB Free-Agent Sleepers
Garrett Richards, SP, Boston Red Sox
If there is anything that 2020 told us about the Red Sox, it is that they severely lacked starting pitching depth. Chris Sale missed the 2020 season because of Tommy John surgery; Eduardo Rodriguez had complications from COVID-19.
16 different pitchers started games for Boston in 2020, and the only one who started a full season’s worth of games was Martin Perez, who finished with a 4.88 ERA. Tanner Houck’s 3.25 ERA was the best of any Red Sox pitchers who started more than 1 game.
It became obvious to the front office that acquiring pitching was a necessity, and that is exactly what Boston did. Garrett Richards isn’t a flashy name, but he’s seen success throughout his 10 seasons in the majors, while also dealing with some injuries. Richards has a 3.36 ERA over his last 31 starts, and despite the injuries, his fastball velocity has remained above 95 mph. His fastball and slider are his best pitches, and if used well in Boston, he could bring a lot of value to the team. He just has to stay healthy.
C.J. Cron, 1B, Colorado Rockies
C.J. Cron was signed to a minor-league contract with the Rockies, but he’ll likely break camp with the team. His main competition for the position is Josh Fuentes, who also has outfield experience.
Cron had his best season in Tampa in 2018. It’s the only season where he had more than 500 plate appearances. In that season, he hit 30 home runs with a .253 batting average.
If that season is his ceiling, then we have to factor in the “Coors Field Effect” when projecting his 2021 output. Pending he makes the team and receives 500 PA, you could be looking at a .260 hitter with 35-to-40 home runs, which interestingly might be better than Nolan Arenado does in St. Louis.
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Anthony DeSclafani, SP, San Francisco Giants
The San Francisco Giants have perhaps one of the most underrated and overlooked pitching staffs in all of baseball, and rightly so. This rotation has no stars.
There are a few solid pitchers, though, and combined with a well-rounded and flexible defense, and an offense that finished with a positive run differential in the NL West, the Giants should be an interesting team to watch this season.
As far as DeSclafani, it is reasonable to expect an improvement this season, after a down year in 2020. It was his worst season by far, and his stat line should be closer to above average or good in 2021. Look at what the Giants did for Kevin Gausman after moving there from Baltimore.
In 2020, DeSclafani’s velocity and spin rate were down on nearly every pitch, which led to a dip in strikeouts and an increase in walks and home runs.
Despite his poor 2020, DeSclafani could be a solid pitcher. He has shown the ability to get strikeouts and limit walks, so he should improve — possibly significantly — in SF, whose home stadium Oracle Park generally plays pitcher-friendly.
Joakim Soria, RP, Arizona Diamondbacks
Early in his career, Joakim Soria was a productive closer for the Kansas City Royals. Between 2007 and 2011, he racked up 160 saves. His worst ERA during that span was 4.03 in his final year with the Royals. In fact, he’s only had above a 4 ERA 3 times in his 13 year career.
Now, Soria should be the closer for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Over his career, Soria has been exceptional at limiting home runs, and he’s been very good at striking out batters as well – his career rate is 9.8 K/9. There may be competition for the closer role. The D-backs used Stefan Chrichton in the role in 2020, but since being drafted in 2013, he’s only seen 68 2/3 major league innings.
In that span, Soria picked up 63 saves. Soria isn’t a huge name, and the Diamondbacks likely won’t compete for a division title, but Soria has a legitimate shot at picking up 30 saves in Arizona this season.
Jonathan Schoop, 2B, Detroit Tigers
“Jonathan Schoop to the Detroit Tigers” is a headline that is not going to turn many heads, but he’s been quite productive throughout his seven-year career in the majors.
Aside from his five-game foray in 2013, he’s been an above-replacement-level player every year. He’s a career .259 hitter, but he’s also produced double-digit home runs in all but two seasons, one of which was his 2013 rookie year and the other was a shortened 2020 season.
His best season came in 2017, for the Orioles, when he had 32 HR, 92 R, 105 RBI, and batted .293. His BABIP was a bit above normal that season, so a realistic expectation for his average in 2021 is likely closer to the .250-.260 range.
However, he should again keep displaying his power stroke for the rebuilding club for a possibly productive 2021 line.
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