Three unheralded free agent hitters who could be difference makers

Free agent catcher Welington Castillo will be a good offensive and defensive addition. (AP)

The 2017-18 free agent class pales in comparison to the historically deep class that’s coming next winter. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t good players available or difference-making deals to be found on the open market.

We wouldn’t necessarily say this winter’s class is filled with hidden gems. Just about every one of the 184 players on Jeff Passan’s Ultimate Free Agent Tracker has established himself in MLB. But the truth is, once you get past the first dozen or so the list goes from marquee names to journeymen. That means most of this winter’s signings will fall under the category of unheralded, rather than headline news.

Those are the guys we’ll be focused on here. Good but often overlooked players with good upside, be it short-term or long-term, who we think will immediately boost whichever team signs them. On Saturday, we looked at three pitchers who fit that bill. Today, we’ll zero in on three unheralded hitters that we’d put in the same category.

You won’t find any predictions or rumors about where these players might go. We’ll just explain why we think the signing team could end up very happy they made the deal.

Welington Castillo, catcher

The veteran catcher is high on everyone’s free agent rankings, but he’s not a superstar. In fact, Castillo has spent most of his career splitting playing time behind the plate. In eight seasons, he’s yet to play in more than 113 games in any season.

Still, Castillo has been remarkably productive on both sides of the ball. He’s hit double-digit home runs six times, including a career best 20 in just 96 games in 2017. He’s hitting .259 for his career, which is more than respectable for his position. Now entering his age 31 season, he very well could be a top 10 offensive catcher.

He’s pretty underrated on the defensive side too. He’s improved his pitch-framing a lot over the years, which makes his defensive skills well-rounded. He already had a strong arm, which he backed up by catching 24-of-49 attempted base-stealers in 2017. His pitch-blocking is considered good too. He might not be a guy teams want to trust as a 130-game type player, but he’ll make his 100 games count. He might fit best with a team trying to bring along a younger catcher.

Jeff Passan Ultimate Free Agent Ranking: 15

Veteran outfielder Jon Jay was a valuable contributor for the Cubs in 2017. (AP)

Jon Jay, outfielder

The veteran outfielder will not be viewed as a long-term solution, but his next team will have a difficult time keeping him out of the lineup just like the Cubs did last season. There were stretches when Jay truly looked like their best or at least their most consistent player. Not because he’s great at any one thing, but because he does all of the little things very well.

Jay gets on base, as his career .288 batting average and .355 OBP shows. He’s not a Gold Glove defender, but he can play all three outfield positions, make all of the routine plays while mixing in some spectacular ones too. He’s not a power guy or a speedster, yet he’s still a guy managers want to have involved in key situations.

Call him a “glue guy” if you want, but the truth is he softened the blow of the Cubs losing Dexter Fowler last winter. Chances are he’ll make a similar impact next season.

Jeff Passan Ultimate Free Agent Ranking: 37

Howie Kendrick (R) is a versatile and valuable bench player. (Getty Images)

Howie Kendrick, infielder/outfielder

Kendrick was a good get for the Washington Nationals at the trade deadline. In 52 games with them, he hit .293/.343/.494 with seven homers. Overall Kendrick hit .315/.368/.475 after spending the first half with the Philadelphia Phillies. Point being, Kendrick can still flat out hit as he enters his age 34 season.

He offers some versatility too on defense. He can still handle second base, which was his primary position for many years. He’s more of a corner outfielder now, but could probably play up to six positions in a pinch while still providing that solid bat. Any team looking for a dynamic bench player who’s especially good against left-handed pitching, which honestly should be all 30 of them, would be wise to check in on Kendrick.

Jeff Passan Ultimate Free Agent Ranking: 60

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!