Reflection is a great way for anyone to get a look at what they have done in the past and see how they have changed going forward into the future. Whether for good or for bad, MLB teams have had one full regular season (plus the playoffs for some) to reflect on the moves that they made during the 2018 – 2019 offseason.
While the winter’s MLB headlines were dominated by the big-money signings, as Bryce Harper and Manny Machado were the two biggest fish in the free-agent pool, there were much better value signings that occurred as well, helping teams only use a smaller amount of money to increase their win totals.
This article includes a list of five players that easily outplayed their contract values for last season, going to show that sometimes the bargain bin actually has the true value pieces hidden in it towards the bottom. Comprised of three pitchers and two position players, the market provided unforeseen value in different ways, showing franchises that while they all decided to pinch pennies last year, their money was still well invested, just in smaller amounts.
Starting Pitcher (L), Houston Astros
1 year / $4.5 million
Having been signed after suiting up for the Milwaukee Brewers the year prior, rejuvenated veteran lefty Wade Miley was able to refine his career and find his stuff again with the Brewers, using offspeed pitches, up in the zone pitches, and short starts to keep fresh the entire year.
With the bet on himself having come through ten-fold, Miley went south and joined the backend of the Astros rotation, where he remained strong. Even with having doubled his innings pitched total in 2019, Miley produced his first double-digit win total since 2015 in his lone season with the Boston Red Sox.
Fourteen wins against only 6 losses, a 3.98 ERA, and a 1.99 WAR are all solid numbers for Miley to hang his hat on for the MLB season, which are vast improvements even from his bounce-back season the previous season with the Brewers, except for the ERA.
After making a complete change in his pitching style to reformat himself and his career, Miley has been able to cash in big time in 2019, having signed a two-year deal with the Cincinnati Reds, for $15 million total.
Outfielder, Tampa Bay Rays
1 year / $3.5 million
Marked as one of the pricier signings for a small-market team like the Tampa Bay Rays, outfielder Avisail Garcia made up for being non-tendered by the Chicago White Sox and signed on for one year with the Rays to try and recuperate some of his value for a fringe postseason team.
All that Garcia managed to do was put together one of the best offensive seasons in his career, setting career highs in home runs and stolen bases, while putting together his second-most RBIs and third-highest batting average in a MLB season. Playing both of the corner outfield roles for the Rays, Garcia easily provided a ton of value to a Rays team that managed to make a postseason berth.
Jumping from one small-market franchise to another, Garcia signed on as the Brewers’ fourth outfielder for 2020 and beyond, where he can get regular playing time due to the health of both Ryan Braun and Lorenzo Cain being a big question mark, as well as some of the playing time at first base going to Braun as well. His two-year, $20 million deal is a huge jump from what he made with the Rays, and also marks the highest season average salary in his entire career, eclipsing that of when he was with the Chicago White Sox.
Relief Pitcher (R), Miami Marlins
1 year / $2.5 million
Even though he was eventually traded to the Minnesota Twins to help bolster their bullpen during their run into the postseason, Sergio Romo began his 2019 campaign on the roster of one of the more maligned franchises in the entire league, the Miami Marlins.
Having gone through pretty much every role that a pitcher can have, Romo has played the role of the opener in a game and the closer, as well as a regular relief pitcher, which was his main role in 2019. Having earned 20 saves is pretty remarkable for the 36-year-old, which marks his second consecutive season of 20+ saves and the fourth in his 12 seasons.
Romo may not have been on the Marlins for all that long, but his value was driven up high enough with a solid season to justify being one of the more coveted bullpen arms on the trade market. The Twins resigned him this offseason, doubling his base value and giving him a one-year deal for $5 million.
Starting Pitcher (R), Arizona Diamondbacks
2 years / $5.5 million
Four years pitching in the Korean Baseball Organization really did some good for starting pitcher Merrill Kelly, who managed to rectify his value overseas and come back to the United States and earn that large-ish contract. Having been originally drafted in 2010 by the Tampa Bay Rays, Kelly joined the Diamondbacks rotation that was trying to find bodies to help replace the void left by incumbent staff ace Patrick Corbin, who bolted for a payday with the Washington Nationals.
Kelly put up a very odd record in 2019, winning 13 games but losing 14 in 32 starts. 183.1 innings pitched in a big step up from the KBO is a huge success for the D-backs, even if the record and numbers do not necessarily paint that same picture so clearly.
The two-year deal can turn into a four-year deal, as there is a $4.25 million and a $5.25 million club option attached on the backend of his deal, filling up 2021 and 2022. Having left for the KBO before his arbitration eligibility was ever seen out fully, Kelly also is arbitration-eligible in his 2022 and 2023 seasons, which is unheard of for a player that is already 31 years old.
Arizona is looking for pieces to build around for the foreseeable future, and Kelly has put himself in the picture to be one of those, although his age may become a deciding factor in that conversation. By keeping his walk total down (only 57 free passes given up in 2019) and his appearances up, Kelly can solidify himself as a solid, but not flashy, arm in the D-backs starting rotation for a few more years in MLB.
Utilityman, Cincinnati Reds
While a putrid .187 batting average looks absolutely horrid in all situations, Derek Dietrich actually provided a huge lift for the hapless Reds, which looks to have found a potential cheap player to plug into their starting lineup.
After having been released by the Marlins in late 2018, Dietrich latched on with the Reds in February 2019, offered a chance to make an impression for the team and boy, did he do just that… for a while at least.
His power numbers were up, as his 19 long balls represented the most he has hit in a season, and his strikeout total of 74 was the lowest of all seasons in which he has appeared in 100 games or more, which is a small step in the right direction for the fiery slugger.
Defensive flexibility has helped get Dietrich another role at the major-league level, having suited up in four different positions in the field: first base, second base, third base, and left field. Second base became his home, but he also suited up a lot for first base in lieu of Joey Votto at times.