For the Mets and Yankees, free agency this offseason is primarily about the high price of superstars, as they try to re-sign Jacob deGrom and Aaron Judgerespectively.
But there is also the potential for some significant lower-profile signings this winter, which could be important to both teams, especially if they have to dig deep to keep their own guys.
And so to celebrate Black Friday, if you will, here are my Top 10 Bargains-To-Be in this free agent class. Not all of these players will come cheap but they’re all a long way from the deGrom/Judge shopping aisle.
1) CODY BELLINGER
If the Mets fail to re-sign Brandon Nimmotaking a shot with Bellinger might be worth their time, especially since his agent, Scott Boras, has indicated a preference to sign a one-year deal to rebuild the former NL MVP’s value.
Bellinger’s offense has fallen off dramatically since undergoing surgery on his right shoulder after the Dodgers’ 2020 championship season, resulting in LA not tendering him last week. Boras contends it’s still a matter of rebuilding strength in the shoulder, and Bellinger did hit 19 HRs last season, although he only hit .210. At age 28 he’s a very good center fielder and stole 14 bases as well.
2) MITCH HANIGER
Haniger could be a gamble worth taking for either the Mets or the Yankees, especially if Judge or Nimmo signs elsewhere and they need a starting outfielder. Haniger hit 39 home runs in 2021 for the Seattle Mariners, but a back injury (and a bout with Covid) limited him to 57 games in 2022, lowering his value while also adding risk to signing him.
Soon to be 32, Haniger could be slotted in to right field if the Mets need to move Starling Marte to center, or otherwise he could provide outfield depth and some pop in the DH spot, depending on what the plans are for the rookie Francisco Alvarez. Likewise, he’d fit nicely in right field in the Bronx if Judge leaves.
3) JOSE QUINTANA
A borderline elite starting pitcher in his 20s, Quintana had slipped into journeyman mode in recent years, but then figured something out in 2021 at age 33 and produced a very strong season, pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals.
Perhaps most significantly, the left-hander excelled in pennant-race baseball for the Cardinals after coming over in a trade, going 3-2 with a 2.01 ERA in 12 starts, allowing just one home run. Scouts say his ability to command four different pitches and use his four-seam fastball up in the strike zone more than last year was key to his improvement. He could be a good signing as a No. 3-4 types of starters for either New York team.
4) BRANDON BELT
Only a year ago, Belt was coming off a strong offensive season that saw him hit 29 home runs in 97 games and put up a .975 OPS, a key reason the San Francisco Giants surprised everyone by winning 108 games. However, a knee injury ruined his 2022 season, in which he hit only .213 before the team shut him down in August to have surgery.
Belt has since told San Francisco reporters that his knee feels “amazing” since the surgery, and at age 34 he could have a bounce-back season. He’s likely to sign a one-year deal and could give the Mets some needed left-handed power in the DH spot.
5) MICHAEL CONFORTO
Could the ex-Met be a “Plan B” of sorts for the Yankees should they lose Judge? Or could he reunite with his old team in Queens if they fail to re-sign Nimmo and move Marte to center field?
Both are intriguing thoughts as Conforto looks to rebuild his value, likely signing a one-year contract after missing the entire 2022 season due to what agent Scott Boras said was a shoulder injury suffered during an offseason workout. As a free agent last winter, Conforto was already looking for a bounce-back year after his poor 2021 season with the Mets. But he’s still relatively young, turning 30 in March, and has shown the ability to put up big numbers at the plate when he’s right.
6) TOMMY KAHNLE
The former Yankee missed most of the last three seasons due to Tommy John surgery and subsequent complications, yet Kahnle finally got back on the mound with the Dodgers last September and pitched well enough to earn important appearances in October during the postseason.
At age 33, Kahnle has one of the best changeups in baseball, and the Dodgers encouraged him to increase his use of it, to the point where it accounted for 67.5 percent of his pitches in his 13 appearances. Speaking about Kahnle’s changeup, teammate Freddie Freeman told reporters in September, “You can know it’s coming and you still can’t hit it.” If the TJ problems are behind him, Kahnle could be a good bullpen piece for either the Mets or the Yankees.
7) ROSS STRIPLING
At age 33, Stripling has had a career defined as a journeyman starter until last season when he pitched to a 3.01 ERA while going 10-4 for the Toronto Blue Jays. The right-hander started the season as a swing man, starting and relieving, but he eventually forced his way into the rotation and made 24 starts.
With his 91 mph fastball, Stripling has never been overpowering, but his precision allowed him to pitch effectively. The big difference last year was an increase in his changeup, which he threw 27 percent of the time, holding hitters to a .201 average. He won’t command a big contract but could be a good fit for either New York team at the back of their rotations.
8) NOAH SYNDERGAARD
The time might be right to catch Syndergaard on the upswing after grinding through his first full season back from Tommy John surgery in 2020. His fastball velocity was down significantly from his best days with the Mets, averaging 94.5 mph on his four-seamer and a tick lower on his sinker.
He wasn’t overpowering so he re-made himself into more of a sinker/slider type pitcher, and did so effectively enough to get through 134 innings with a 3.94 ERA, pitching for the Los Angeles Angels and then the Philadelphia Phillies. If Syndergaard regains some velocity another year away from TJ surgery, he might regain some of his old dominance as well.
9) MICHAEL WACHA
In what is becoming something of a trend around the majors, Wacha enjoyed his most successful season in four years by leaning more heavily on his secondary stuff, particularly his changeup, and less on his fastball.
As such, the 31-year-old right-hander went 11-2 with a 3.23 ERA for the Boston Red Sox, upping the usage of his changeup significantly to 30 percent, holding opposing hitters to a .168 batting average with it. Shoulder inflammation sidelined him for several weeks, limiting him to 128 innings, but he could be a low-priced option as a No. 4-5 types of starters.
10) JD MARTINEZ
He won’t exactly come cheap, but Martinez is coming off a bit of a down year with the Red Sox, so the Mets, who passed on trading for him at last summer’s deadline, would be buying low if they wanted to add some right. -handed pop to their lineup.
Martinez hit only 16 home runs last season but he did have 43 doubles, one more than his total in 2021 that led the AL. As a result he was still above league average overall, posting a 116 OPS-plus to go with his .274 batting average and .448 slugging percentage. At age 35, he could probably be signed to a two-year deal, which might be worth the gamble based on his strong track record.