Every week, I’m going to look at one player who is flying under-the-radar on the free agent market, but who could have a big impact on a Major League team in 2013. The players I’ll be looking at will not be found on MLB Trade Rumors’ Top 50 Free Agents, but will be players that could end up being integral secondary pieces on a championship-caliber club. Think Gregor Blanco from this year’s Giants.
We’ll see how long I keep this up. It’s not like I have a record of regularly posting on these virtual pages.
Ronny Cedeno was once considered the shortstop of the future for the Chicago Cubs after being signed as an amateur free agent out of Venezuela back in 1999. He had both defensive acumen and a quickly developing bat. His breakout minor league season came in AA in 2004 when he hit to a .729 OPS in a tough hitter’s environment. He made his Major League debut the following season with the Cubs and had a respectable .300/.356/.375 slash line in 41 games and it looked as though the Cubs had found a decent replacement for the departed Nomar Garciaparra. However in 2006, his first and only season as a full-time player for the Cubs, he fell off a cliff hitting to a terrible 47 wRC+. Although he could handle the position, Cedeno’s defense eroded along with his offense and suddenly his long-term outlook turned bleak.
He stuck around in Chicago for a few more years as a part-time player before being dealt to the Mariners in the 2008-09 offseason. A few months later in July, he was traded again—this time to the Pirates. Last season, Cedeno turned up with the Mets as a utility infielder and had a decent season in that role. He had just 186 plate appearances, but posted a solid 107 wRC+ and a career-high .410 slugging percentage. He played mostly second and short, but also saw a few innings at third base and didn’t embarrass himself at any position.
Cedeno managed—albeit in a very small sample size—to increase his walk-rate to 9.1% (his career mark is just 5.3%) and he also decreased his strike-out rate to 18.8%. The increase in contact ability allowed his solid BABIP skills to have more of an effect on his batting line. Walk-rate and strikeout-rate are things that can stabilize quickly so this could be a sign of a change in approach.
Last season, Cedeno managed to garner a Major League contract from the Mets at $1.2-million—a decrease of over half a million from his final arbitration year with Pittsburgh—which was surprising considering he managed to accumulate 2.7 fWAR over his final two seasons as a regular in Pittsburgh.
Cedeno is not a player I’d want as an everyday regular on my team, but as a competent utility infielder who can play a decent shortstop, I’d be comfortable giving him $1-$2-million without thinking much of it. Keep in mind, Nick Punto made $1.5-million last season in that role and is much less valuable.
Cedeno, who will turn 30 in February, would be a nice pickup for a team looking for some depth up the middle. He’s the exact type of player that could end up with 300-400 plate appearances on a contending team based on his versatility. Although nobody will be talking about him this offseason, he could end up providing close to a win above replacement and will come cheap. Hell, he may even be had on a minor-league deal.