Top 10 Best Value Bargain Free Agent Signings So Far in 2024

Some free agent signings look better than others now that we are a third of the way into the 2024 season. Here are the top 10 best bargains.

TORONTO, ON - MAY 01: Seth Lugo #67 of the Kansas City Royals delivers a pitch during a game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre on May 01, 2024 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Value is a difficult thing to quantify in sports, particularly at the professional level, where athletes are not only tied to their production, but also have a number attached to them for what they are being paid. The top-end talent who brings in the biggest salaries have set a high-bar that they have to meet and very rarely produce real value on their contracts.

On the other hand, there are always bounce back, or breakout players who hit the free agent market and sign with new teams that end up provided a huge amount of surplus value to their clubs, by virtue of the fact that they aren’t getting paid top dollar.

Today, we are going to look back at this year’s free agent class and highlight the top 10 players who are providing the greatest value to their new teams based on the contracts that they signed.

Honorable Mention Pitchers: Jack Flaherty and Luis Severino

Jack Flaherty and Luis Severino do not crack this list, because they both signed eight-figure one-year deals, which were originally viewed as overpays based on the seasons they were coming off of.

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Flaherty signed a one-year, $14 million deal with the Detroit Tigers, coming off a season where he pitched to a 4.99 ERA. His numbers looked worse down the stretch last year, as he pitched to a 6.75 ERA after being traded to the Baltimore Orioles at the deadline.

Detroit provided Flaherty with a safe landing spot, giving him a chance to rebuild is value in a great pitcher’s ballpark. So far so good on that front, as Flaherty has seen a huge spike in his strikeout rate (from 22.8% in 2023, to 33.2% in 2024) and is pitching to a 3.46 ERA across his first 11 starts.

Meanwhile, Luis Severino has experienced similar success with the New York Mets, having signed a one-year, $13 million deal to change boroughs this offseason. Severino was coming off a disastrous 2023 season, which saw him pitch to a 6.65 ERA while making just 18 starts.

Now healthy and headlining a new rotation, the 30-year-old is looking like the Sevy of old, pitching to a 3.22 ERA across his first 10 starts, having carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning twice already this season.

Again, people where surprised by what both Flaherty and Severino signed for this offseason, but now all these months later these guys are looking like bargains on their current contracts.

With that said, a step back in performance over the final two-thirds of the season could still be in the cards from either guy, where their contracts would probably end up being considered proper value.

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Honorable Mention Hitter: Tommy Pham, Chicago White Sox

Tommy Pham might be 36 years old, but the man can hit. That is why it was so shocking that he was left unsigned at the start of this season, with no team willing to meet his demands in free agency.

With plenty of spots up for grabs in their lineup anyway, the Chicago White Sox finally signed Pham for $3 million, with $1.5 million available in incentives. The deal was actually originally signed as a minor league contract, although that was really just semantics to give him a little time to get his swing right before coming up to the big league club and getting his MLB deal.

Through 30 games, Pham is hitting 294/.344/.429, with a 120 OPS+, giving the White Sox some much-needed production. His stay in Chicago probably won’t last too long however, as Pham is destined to get dealt at the deadline just like he did last season. When he joined the Arizona Diamondbacks and played a role in their run to the World Series.

The only reason Pham doesn’t crack this list is because he was signed late and the sample isn’t quite as large as it is from some of the hitters who did make our top 10.

10. Amed Rosario, Tampa Bay Rays

Contract: One-year, $1.5 million

2024 Stats: 172 PA, .278/.291/.396. 2 HR, 20 RBI, 98 wRC+, 0.2 fWAR

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Amed Rosario gets the nod ahead of Tommy Pham to be part of our top 10 for a few reasons. One, he is making half the money as Pham, without any incentives. Two, he has played a very vital role to a team that has been trying to keep their head above water early in the season.

Amed Rosario is not an elite offensive player, but he has swing the bat at about a league average rate with a 98 wRC+. Further, he is batting .278 with 43 hits through his first 43 games played, which trails only Isaac Parades and Yandy Diaz for the team lead.

The 28-year-old has played a super utility role for the Rays, having already registered starts at third base, second base, shortstop and in right field. Pham is the better hitter for sure, but Rosario is still providing a ton of value to the Rays that goes beyond the numbers.

9. Jordan Hicks, San Francisco Giants

Contract: Four years, $44 million

2024 Stats: 11 GS, 58 IP, 2.33 ERA, 3.56 FIP, 7.45 K/9, 2.95 BB/9, 0.8 fWAR

When the San Francisco Giants signed Jordan Hicks, we were all surprised to learn that the plan was to make him a starting pitcher. Hicks did have one eight-start stint in the Cardinals rotation back in 2022, but he had spent most of his career as a high-leverage reliever.

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Now back in the rotation, Hicks has been fantastic for the Giants, turning into something of a workhorse. With 58 innings pitched already, Hicks will clear his career-high with one more month of starts and he is pitching to a career-best 2.33 ERA.

There is likely to be some regression from Hicks as he faces a starter’s workload for the first time, but needless to say, the Giants bet on Hicks has paid off in a massive way.

In terms of the production they are getting, an argument can be made that Hicks is sitting at the wrong end of this list, but our case against that is due to the risk that this deal still presents.

Hicks was one of just five starters who signed four year deals this offseason. At $44 million, the 27-year-old is the biggest bargain of the bunch, but there is no guarantee the Giants will get this production for three more years beyond this season.

If there ever gets to a point where Hicks can’t maintain his success in the rotation and ends up back in the bullpen, his $11 million a year contract becomes far less valuable.

8. Reynaldo Lopez, Atlanta Braves

Contract: Three years, $30 million

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2024 Stats: 9 GS, 51.1 IP, 1.75 ERA, 2.86 FIP, 8.24 K/9, 3.16 BB/9, 1.3 fWAR

As we have done in plenty of articles already this year, this is where we lump Reynaldo Lopez and Jordan Hicks together again. All you have to do is switch out the team names and adjust the contracts slightly and we can just copy and paste everything we said about Hicks here for Lopez.

The 30-year-old has been pitching out of the bullpen the last few years, but signed in Atlanta with an opportunity to return to a big league rotation. Lopez actually has way more experience starting in the big leagues than Hicks, having made 32 or more starts with 180+ innings pitched back in 2018 and 2019.

Across the first six years of his career, 97 of Lopez’s 112 appearances were games started. In 2022 and 2023 though, Lopez pitched almost exclusively out of the pen. Now back in the rotation, Lopez has shined with a 1.75 ERA across his first nine starts.

You can make the argument that Lopez’s production has been slightly better than Hicks’, but really is featured a spot ahead because there is less risk in his three-year, $30 million deal. Not only is it a year and $14 million less, but Lopez also has a better track record to suggest that he can maintain the workload of being a starting pitcher.

7. Joc Pederson, Arizona Diamondbacks

Contract: One-year, $9.5 million

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92024 Stats: 146 PA, .306/.409/.532, 6 HR, 16 RBI, 169 wRC+, 1.3 fWAR

The Arizona Diamondbacks were looking to add some thump to their lineup this offseason, and Joc Pederson certainly fit the billing. Pederson is nearing 200 career home runs, having left the yard at least 15 times every year since 2018 (2020 excluded).

So far this year, Pederson is certainly on track to hit at least 15 home runs again, playing on the strong side of a DH platoon. The left-handed slugger has been the Diamondbacks best hitter so far, leading the team in each mark of the triple-slash line and with his 169 wRC+.

6. Erick Fedde, Chicago White Sox

Contract: Two years, $15 milllion

2024 Stats: 11 GS, 64.1 IP, 2.80 ERA, 3.87 FIP, 8.11 K/9, 2.52 BB/9, 1.1 fWAR

Here is the latest success story of a struggling starting pitcher going to the KBO and coming back a redefined man. After pitching himself out of the big leagues back in 2022, with a 5.81 ERA in the Nationals’ rotation, Fedde went to KBO and won himself their Triple Crown.

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This led many teams to pick up the phone for Fedde this offseason, but the Chicago White Sox won the bidding by guaranteeing a second year on his contract. That deal looks like a bargain now, especially when you consider that it will make him more attractive at this year’s deadline.

Fedde has been the ace of the White Sox so far, pitching to a 2.80 ERA across a team-best 64 1/3 innings pitched. There is every chance that he becomes their lone representative at this year’s All-Star game, before being shopped later that same month.

5. Cooper Criswell, Boston Red Sox

Contract: One-year, $1 million (pre-arb)

2024 Stats: 9 G, 8 GS, 38.2 IP, 3.96 ERA, 3.80 FIP, 8.38 K/9, 2.09 BB/9, 0.6 fWAR

This is the point in the list where I might lose some of you, but bare with me.

Yes, I have Cooper Criswell as being a more valuable free agent signing this offseason than Jordan Hicks. Based on their stats, that is an absurd take to have, but we are talking about value here.

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Criswell was designated for assignment by the Tampa Bay Rays in November as a casualty of a 40-man roster crunch, where Tampa needed to add multiple prospects to their roster to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft.

The Boston Red Sox swooped in and signed Criswell on a one-year, $1 million deal and then optioned him to Triple-A to start this season. The 27-year-old right-hander was recalled on April 13th and has been a fixture in the Red Sox rotation ever since.

Criswell has not pitched deep in games, but is sporting a solid 3.96 ERA, with expected metrics that back up his performance, as his 3.68 xERA and 3.57 xFIP indicate he has even been slightly unlucky so far this season.

Ultimately, Criswell cracks our top-five, because he was a pre-arb signing that looks to have a long big league future ahead of him in Boston. Signed for $1 million, but coming with five years of team control, Criswell could prove to be a massive bargain if he sticks around in Boston for the long haul.

4. Ben Lively, Cleveland Guardians

Contract: One-year, $750K (pre-arb)

2024 Stats: 8 GS, 45 IP, 2.80 ERA, 3.66 FIP, 8.60 K/9, 2.80 BB/9, 0.4 fWAR

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Are we sensing a theme?

Here is another pre-arb signing that took place this offseason that is paying massive dividends in a team’s rotation. Ben Lively has had a long odyssey across baseball, having been drafted in the fourth round by the Cincinnati Reds all the way back in 2013.

Lively made his MLB debut with the Phillies in 2017, had stops with the Royals, Diamondbacks and even went overseas to play in the KBO for three years from 2019-2021. He returned stateside with the Reds on a minor league deal last season.

Across 19 appearances and 12 starts, Lively pitched to a 5.38 ERA, and was eventually DFA’d and optioned to Triple-A. Because he was not on the 40-man roster, Lively elected free agency this offseason, and latched on with the Cleveland Guardians on a minor league deal.

With Guardians dealing with some injuries to their rotation early in the season, namely Shane Bieber going down with a torn UCL, Lively was called up to make a start for Cleveland on April 17th.

Now having made eight starts in the rotation, Lively is pitching to a sub 3.00 ERA, and has won four of his five starts in the month of May. If he can maintain this throughout the season, the Guardians will have a pitcher they can keep in their rotation for years to come.

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Despite being 32 years old, Lively won’t be eligible for arbitration until 2026, and won’t be eligible for free agency until 2029. That is five years of control if the Guardians decide to keep him around. For a small market franchise, this could be one heck of a find.

3. Jurickson Profar, San Diego Padres

Contract: One-year, $1 million

2024 Stats: 233 PA, .323/.421/.495, 8 HR, 35 RBI, 170 wRC+, 2.4 fWAR

We have reached the point of the list where we can start to talk about potential All-Stars, which is pretty crazy to say about a journeyman like Jurickson Profar.

Profar is in the midst of what appears to be a career-year, slashing .323/.421/.495 with 35 RBIs for the San Diego Padres. On team that has Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr., Profar is leading the squad in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, RBIs, wRC+ and in fWAR.

The 31-year-old has quite literally been the best player on the Padres so far this season, making him deserving of the first All-Star appearance of his career. Signed for just $1 million, there might not be a better bargain in the sport right now for this season.

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Profar checks in at No. 3, only because the next two guys are on bargain deals with multiple years of team control.

2. Seth Lugo, Kansas City Royals

Contract: Three years, $45 million

2024 Stats: 12 GS, 78.1 IP, 1.72 ERA, 3.20 FIP, 7.58 K/9, 2.07 BB/9, 1.8 fWAR

An argument can be made that Seth Lugo should be No. 1 on this list. Lugo has pitched 20 extra innings than the next guy we will discuss, and has done so with a slightly lower ERA.

The only thing that holds Lugo back is the fact that the expected metrics foreshadow a regression, as his xERA of 3.68 and xFIP of 3.82 are much higher than his 1.72 ERA. He also does not have quite the same name recognition as are No. 1 bargain free agent, who is more than making back his salary in jersey sales on the North Side of Chicago.

With that said, the Royals hit the jackpot with Seth Lugo this offseason!

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Lugo has become an ace for the Royals, and an absolute workhorse. He is 9-1 on the season, keeping his team in every game he pitches. Lugo has 10 quality starts in 12 tries and is suddenly a contender, if not the early frontrunner for AL Cy Young.

Signed to a three-year, $45 million deal, Lugo is an absolute bargain for the production he is giving the Royals. Unfortunately for Kansas City, the third year of his contract is a $15 million player option, which he will almost certainly decline if he can keep this up through the 2025 season.

1. Shota Imanaga, Chicago Cubs

Contract: Four years, $53 million

2024 Stats: 10 GS, 58 IP, 1.86 ERA, 2.73 FIP, 9.16 K/9, 1.55 BB/9, 1.6 fWAR

The Chicago Cubs probably signed the best contract of this offseason, when they inked Shota Imanaga to a complicated four-year, $53 million deal. The deal pays Imanaga just $23 million over the first two seasons, with a pair of player options at $15 million apiece in 2026 and 2027.

Now where this contract gets even more interesting is that the Cubs hold a $57 million club option on Imanaga after the 2025 season, locking him in for a total of five-years and $80 million. If they decline the option, Imanaga can pick up his player option. A similar set of options would trigger after the 2026 season.

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Considering the way he has pitched so far in his Cubs career, there is every chance that Imanaga will be getting the full five-year, $80 million deal and even that would be a bargain.

The 30-year-old southpaw hit the ground running to start his MLB career, having pitched to a sub 1.00 ERA through his first nine starts. He did finally hit a snag against the Brewers this week, giving up seven earned runs to add a full run to his ERA.

Still, he is looking like a runaway favorite to win this year’s Rookie of the Year, and he is even one of the favorites in the Cy Young race as well.