Every fan wants their team to sign the top free agent in the winter, but there's only one Aaron Judge. The fact is, there are a bunch of lower profile players who can also help a team win, and while they don't get the headlines of the New York Yankees retaining their record-breaking slugger, they could still play integral roles in pennant races.
Let's take a look at five great under-the-radar acquisitions this offseason:
J.D. Martinez, Dodgers
Martinez doesn't seem like a guy who should even be on an under-the-radar list, but the Los Angeles Dodgers added the 35-year-old on a sneakily great one-year, $10-million contract.
The Dodgers are having an uncharacteristically quiet winter, seemingly attempting to reset their luxury tax. So, it's also kind of shocking that, for a team known for constantly landing huge stars, this is its big signing. That being said, there's plenty of reasons to love this move.
First, Martinez is still a very good hitter, crushing 44 homers with a .484 SLG in 287 games over the past two seasons. At this point in his career, he should almost certainly be confined to designated-hitting duties, and the Dodgers have the flexibility elsewhere in the lineup to easily accommodate that. Just last year, he sat 87th percentile in barrel rate and 84th in expected wOBA - slightly higher than Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Matt Olson, to name a couple.
Second, the five-time All-Star is reuniting with Mookie Betts as well as his old hitting coach Robert Van Scoyoc. Even if that doesn't actually make him play better, it will certainly help Martinez acclimate more smoothly to his new surroundings.
And, finally, Martinez does seem to rise to the occasion when playing for a winning club. When he was moved in the middle of the 2017 campaign from the Detroit Tigers to the Arizona Diamondbacks, he hit 29 homers over the final 62 games of the year while suddenly entering a pennant race. When playing for the 108-win Boston Red Sox the following year, he enjoyed his finest season yet, boasting a .629 SLG with 43 homers en route to a World Series championship. And when the Red Sox weren't playing well, neither was he.
Most of the talk in Los Angeles is about the club losing Trea Turner, Justin Turner, Tyler Anderson, and a bunch of others. But don't let that distract you from the fact that Martinez can still be an impact player in the heart of a contending team's lineup.
Erik Swanson, Blue Jays
Early in the offseason, the Jays addressed their most glaring need, sending slugger Teoscar Hernandez to the Seattle Mariners for righty reliever Swanson as well as pitching prospect Adam Macko. We'll just be focusing on Swanson here, though.
The 29-year-old broke out in a huge way last season, authoring a dominant 1.68 ERA and 1.85 FIP over 53 2/3 innings, and inflating his strikeout rate to a whopping 34%. Combined with his 5% walk rate, only four qualified relievers were better than Swanson by K-BB%; Edwin Diaz, Andres Munoz, Ryan Helsley, and Chris Martin (we'll get to him later).
In a stacked Mariners bullpen, Swanson did not see much high leverage time. And, in those higher pressure moments, Swanson was not as sharp, allowing a .707 OPS against. So, it's tough to tell if he was a one-season apparition or if he made lasting changes that will continue to work.
One indication that he won't regress, though, is how well his stuff played. There are tons of ways to rack up strikeouts. Blue Jays fans will remember that Robbie Ray racked up a ton of K's by expanding the zone. However, when he did work in the zone, his propensity to cough up homers came back to bite him. That's the case for many pitchers.
Conversely, though, Swanson dominated while also living in the zone. 42.7% of his pitches were in the strike zone - right around the league median for qualified relievers - and he generated swings and misses on those pitches better than everyone except Diaz, Munoz, and Josh Hader. He was sensational at fooling hitters on pitches that should've been hittable. It's a great indication of previous dominance and should forecast well.