Many veteran free agents remain unsigned and, apparently, unwanted. In the cases of Dexter Fowler, Ian Desmond and Yovani Gallardo, the lack of excitement for their services is tied to the qualifying offers they were given, as teams are reluctant to pay them a market-rate salary and lose a draft pick. In other cases, I think the lack of interest is related to the aging curve in post-steroids baseball. As Dave Cameron of FanGraphs pointed out, in 2015 players 30 and older combined for 266 WAR; in 1998, that figure was 470 WAR.
Simply put: Older players aren't as productive as they once were. Teams are understandably reluctant to sign older talent only to be on the short end of that aging curve. Why pay millions for a veteran when you can give a chance to a younger player who may be just as good or better and a lot cheaper? That said, here are five remaining free agents who could be worth the risk:
1. Dexter Fowler, OF
Fowler is in the same boat as Desmond and Gallardo, but he's less of a risk, coming off a solid season with the Cubs in which he posted a .346 OBP and was worth 2.2 WAR. He'll be entering his age-30 season and his consistency is a plus: He's been worth between 1.7 and 2.8 WAR each season since 2010. The Cubs soured on his ability to play center field but he would make an adequate defender in a corner. He still makes sense for the White Sox, who need to upgrade over Avisail Garcia, and since their first-round pick is protected as they had one of the 10 worst records in the majors they'd only lose their second-round pick.
2. Ian Desmond, SS
His OPS has now declined three seasons in a row, from .845 down to .674 in 2015 as he hit .233/.290/.384. His strikeout rate has increased from 20.7 percent in 2012 to 29.2 percent in 2015, leading to the drop in batting average. He makes too many errors at shortstop. On the other hand ... he has power at a position where few players offer it; he's been very durable, playing 154-plus games in five of the past six seasons; his defensive metrics are actually OK despite the errors; even in his bad 2015 he was worth 2.0 WAR. So it's all about risk assessment as Desmond enters his age-30 season: Are you willing to gamble or is the offensive decline irreversible?
The Padres need a shortstop and their first-round pick is protected, and if Desmond does bounce back he could become attractive trade bait. The Royals may have maxed out their payroll, but Desmond could be a big upgrade over Omar Infante at second base. They've already lost their first-round pick with the Ian Kennedy signing, so Desmond would only cost them a second-rounder. If you can get Desmond on a contract similar to what Howie Kendrick signed with the Dodgers -- two years, $20 million -- why would you not take the risk?
3. Tyler Clippard, RHP
The veteran reliever has a 2.68 ERA since 2009 and is coming off a year with a 2.92 ERA and .186 average allowed. So why is he still out there? Some have suggested he looked fatigued down the stretch after he joined the Mets. But his month-by-month fastball velocity remained consistent throughout the season. He has lost 1 mph off his fastball since 2012 and his K rate did drop to a career low in 2015. Still, supposed playoff contenders like the Tigers, Mariners and Diamondbacks could use bullpen depth and Clippard would be a worthwhile gamble.
4. Burke Badenhop, RHP
Talk about a guy who gets no respect: He's spent each of the past five seasons with a different team even though he's been a durable reliever who has averaged 63 appearances and 65 innings per season while posting a 3.35 ERA. He's not your classic fireballing reliever as he relies on a sinker to get groundballs and he's not going to be a primary setup guy, but he's a solid depth addition for the back end of any bullpen.
5. Mat Latos, RHP
His personality is a negative, he's had injury issues and he's coming off a 4.95 ERA, but as this article details, his peripheral numbers in 2015 were actually similar to his career norms. You wouldn't want to give him a big guarantee but he could be a bargain with an incentive-laden deal based on innings or games started. He makes sense as a depth rotation option for teams like the Orioles, Rangers, Marlins or Tigers.