What’s Up With 2017 Free Agents

What’s happening to this year’s crop of free agents?  This is December 27, and out of the top 50 MLB TradeRumors free agent predictions, only 19 have signed new contracts, and one decided not to opt out (Masahiro Tanaka).  Of the 30 unsigned players, none of the top 11 have signed new contracts (excluding Tanaka not opting out), and 15 of the top 20 are still unsigned.

 

Of the 20 that have signed, half are relief pitchers, and the two elite closers are still unsigned.  The Cubs would rather sign a high leverage setup than re-sign their closer for 2017 (Morrow over Davis).  Maybe they come back and sign Davis, but not without him coming down on his salary expectations.  The Rockies had thought they had Holland re-signed, but not unless he comes down on his expectations.

 

There were also 6 back of the rotation starting pitchers signed.  None of the top of the rotation or mid rotation pitchers have been signed.  Two first baseman not named Eric Hosmer, and one All-Star SS moving to 3B rather than the All Star 3B also signed.

 

Rumors for any of the top free agents near signing are non-existent.  One of the problems I am sure the Players Union is observing is that of the 9 free agents who received qualifying offers, only one has signed (Carlos Santana).  Five teams will pay luxury tax, and therefore will lose a 2ndand 5thdraft choice and $1M in International Pool money if they signed any of the players that were given qualifying offers.  Those that contribute to revenue sharing but do not exceed luxury tax would lose a 2ndround pick and $500K International Pool money.  In addition, the luxury tax is getting very punitive, and teams are pushing to get below the luxury tax threshold.  Therefore, the teams willing to pay salaries for the high level free agents are not going to be bidding, driving the bids lower.  The Players Union said no to a salary cap, and yet that is really what we have.  Right now, both Boston and the Nationals are the only teams above the 2018 luxury tax threshold, and they are two of the big spenders. The other big spenders (Dodgers and Yankees) are not likely to spend big. Scott Boras especially likes the Nationals and they are not budging on Arrieta.  If Boston was not really concerned with luxury tax, JD Martinez would be a Red Sox.

 

With the Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox, and Nationals out of the excessive bidding due to luxury tax, the top tiered free agents may need to scale down their expectations as teams with less revenues will be the bidding teams.  The Giants are also on the brink of luxury tax for 2018, so they are not going to take on a $15M AAV Free Agent.  The Cubs have the ability to sign a big salaried free agent, but I bet they regret signing Jason Heyward.  Do you think they are re-thinking $100M contracts with $20M+ AAV?  Luxury tax penalties will be reviewed and scrutinized heavily in the next CBA.

 

One additional area of review might also be giving front offices pause to sign the big free agents; the history of high priced free agents.  I thought I would go back and look at the top 21 free agents in 2015/2016:

David Price – 7 years $217M with opt out after 2018 (unlikely)

Jason Heyward – 8 years $184M with opt out after 2018 (very unlikely)

Zack Greinke – 6 years $206.5M

Justin Upton – 6 years $132.75 M with opt out after 2017 (exercised – re-signed with Angels 5 years $106M

Chris Davis – 7 years $161M

Yoenis Cespedes – 3 years $75M with opt out after 2016 (exercised – re-signed with Mets 4 years $110M

Jordan Zimmerman – 5 years $110M

Johnny Cueto – 6 years $130M with opt out after 2017 (not exercised)

Alex Gordon – 4 years $72M

Ian Desmond – 1 year $8M.  Signed 5 years for $70M in 2017 with Rockies

Jeff Samardzija – 5 years $90M

Mike Leake – 5 years $80M

Wei-yin Chen – 5 years $80M

Kenta Maeda – 8 years $25M (Heavy Incentives)

Matt Wieters – Accepted QO – 1 year $15.8M.  Signed 2 year $21.5M in 2017.

Dexter Fowler – 1 year $13M. Signed 5 years $82.5M in 2017.

Daniel Murphy – 3 years $37.5M

Scott Kazmir – 3 years $48M

Ian Kennedy – 5 years $70M

Yovani Gallardo – 2 years $22M

Ben Zobrist – 4 years $56M

 

Of the seven $100M+ contracts – 2 had a good 2017 after a less than stellar 2016 (Upton and Greinke).  I like Upton’s chances of performing thru the remainder of the contract much more than Greinke.  Cespedes was okay but did not perform equal to the contract using WAR values.  Cueto obviously did not perform or he would have opted out.  Price, Heyward, Davis and Zimmerman probably epitomizeBUSTso far.

 

Gordon, Chen, Kazmir, Gallardo have been a big BUST, dare I say horrible.  Desmond and Fowler both earned their 2016 contract but not 2017.  Does this bode well for the next four years at $14M and $16.5M respectively?  Of the non $100M free agents, only Daniel Murphy and Kenta Maeda are providing value for their salaries.  Murphy and J.A. Happ were the best FA performers for 2015/2016. Don’t you think the 30 different MLB organizations are looking at these results?  Doesn’t it give pause to big dollar contracts to the top four who are looking for $100+ and the next 7 looking for $70M+?

 

That is also why their might be more trades.  Wouldn’t you rather have a Christian Yelich with a WAR of 4.5 and due $41.25M over the next four years or J.D. Martinez at 6-7 years at $150M to $200M with a WAR of 3.8? Or Marcell Ozuna and his 2 years of arbitration with a 4.8 WAR?  Every team is going to try to pry Christian Yelich, Chris Archer, and Gerrit Cole from their teams rather than pay for the elite free agents.

 

I know many fans dislike sabermetrics, but the powers in baseball do value them when it comes to looking at value.  FanGraphs has estimated that 1 WAR is equal to approximately $8M.  Is it any wonder that the Dodgers are more comfortable developing home grown talent?  Seager, Bellinger, and Taylor are three pre-arbitration players each with a WAR 4.0 or greater.  Barnes and Kike’ also pre-arbitration had a 2.5 WAR and 1.3 WAR respectively.  Wood in his 1styear arbitration had a 3.4 WAR.  Kershaw’s 4.6 WAR was enough to cover his salary.  Grandal (2.5), Forsythe (1.7), and Puig (2.9) all had WAR values greater than their salary.

 

Last year’s 3 free agents signed by the Dodgers, Jansen, JT, and Hill all earned WAR values greater than their salary.  All three have $16M AAV and need a WAR value of 2.0 or greater to equal the value of the 2017 salary.  JT at 5.5, Kenley at 3.6, and Hill at 2.6 all had WAR values greater than the 2.00 minimum WAR value to justify their salary.  Even Utley (1.3) and McCarthy (2.4) had WAR values greater than their salary.  Each of the relievers and Joc had WAR values that justified their salaries.  Only A-Gon with a -1.1 WAR did not justify his salary.

One other point came to light when reviewing WAR for relievers.  Some reliever 2017 WAR values:

Craig Kimbrel – 3.3

Robert Osuna – 3.0

Andrew Miller – 2.3

Brandon Morrow – 1.7

Wade Davis – 1.1

Greg Holland – 1.1

David Hernandez – 1.1

 

There were 12 relievers with a 2.0 or greater WAR and 29 with a 1.5 or greater WAR.  Why pay Davis and Holland the money they are requesting when they have the same WAR value as David Hernandez?  Brandon Morrow and his 1.7 WAR equates to a salary of $13.6M, which is less than he will be receiving from the Cubs, and if he closes, an even better WAR can be anticipated.

 

WAR for pitching, especially relievers, is skeptical and open for further review.  But it is obvious that there is just not a lot of value placed on pitchers pitching 60 or so innings, unless they are lock down.  You can expect the Dodgers to continue to look for values for their relievers.  They will pay one reliever a lot, but not multiple.  They will continue to push Baez, Fields, Cingrani, Stripling, Avilan, and hope for Stewart, Garcia, Koehler, Font, Liberatore, and Paredes to show better value.

 

It may not be a great free agent class, but there are a few elite talents, and the second/third tiers are still waiting for the market to emerge.  There are only about 7 weeks before pitchers and catchers report, and by then most teams will be set, with a few adjustments, but no major transactions.

When can we expect to see 10 of the top 11 sign…Darvish, Martinez, Hosmer, Arrieta, Moustakas, Cain, Davis, Lynn, Holland, Cobb? Or the next five…Bruce, Morrison, Reed, Frazier, Lucroy?

 

 

This article has 36 Comments

  1. Personally, I think it was time for this to be done, it was already reaching exaggerated figures of money, no one is worth so much money! I do not understand why give such a long contract knowing that in the end the players will be over 40 years old (Pujols, Cabrera)

    Why not give one year contracts? that they be paid for what they did that season, so if a player did not have a good season, he will have to prepare himself better for the next one and receive a good contract

    Unfortunately it’s not about putting together a good team, now the concern is to know if you do not exceed the salary cap (I know, it’s not a salary cap, but practically serves as such)

    Welcome to the new era of baseball

    1. Jorge I have been saying that for years pay the players for what they do in that particular year do away with the guaranteed contracts.

  2. It just seemed like yesterday that Dave Parker or Nolan Ryan were reported to be making $1M… Made us damn near upchuck our brew. And now we got a kid named Harper saying opening bid will be $400M??? I don’t blame the players or their agents… Damn Owners and Unions… Every year I have to cut down on the Dodger games I can go to and it pisses me off… Minor Lg. ball gets most of my $$ nowadays…
    Oh well, I feel a little better now…

    1. At some point, most Teams will realize how bad these contracts are.

      That may or may not be today.

      1. I have always liked the Maeda type contracts. I am all for good base contracts but the really money comes from benchmarks.

        1. The Maeda contract was ingenious, and if he does move into a relief role, it will come back to bite him unless there are adjustments. I just do not know how legal adjustments to existing contracts are. But remember, the Players Union hated that contract. They cannot stand incentive driven contracts.
          .
          If the Dodgers think Maeda is better suited for the bullpen in their organization, it might be fair to discuss it with Maeda and his agent, and maybe the more fair thing to do for Maeda to maximize his contract would be to trade him. I think those discussions would happen after the 2018 season.

      2. One fear the owners have is that if they stay with the supposed current mindset, agents like Scott Boras will start screaming collusion. Owners fear the “C” word more than high salaries. But I agree there has to be a point where the salaries have hit a ceiling and it is not considered collusion.

  3. MLB is still about putting together a good team, it’s just the FO’s are learning that buying an FA for 200M (or more) that pays a player into his mid to late 30’s is a gamble that for the most part is not working for the team. The player basically is being paid for what he has done, not what he will do or more likely can’t do over the course of the contract, becoming a liability that can tie the hands of the team, preventing them from trades or maybe from moving other players into that spot. The game is moving toward youth and the minor leagues because those players are coming up with huge skill sets that the teams can control at a cheap cost for most of the players productive years. Paying for an expensive FA is easy and short-sighted, building the farm is much harder but teams are seeing the Dodgers do just that, and now can stay under the luxury tax, and stay competitive for years to come. I don’t see Harper or Machado being offered contracts next year by the Dodgers and if Kershaw is asking for 7 years the Dodgers may pass.
    Thank you, AC, for your article, got me curious and I don’t know why I chose Ted Williams but I looked up his career numbers to see how valuable he was for Boston in his last years. I was amazed at his stats but never having more strikeouts then walks in any season is just unbelievable.

    1. Baseball1439 I agree 30 years old free agents Maybe something can be put together where a player retirement age is 35 so between their minor league and 35 years old are where the contracts must stay in between.jmo

  4. Well, after that, maybe a few more will agree with me that Kershaw will have to have a full and healthy year plus a Koufax like playoff/WS to get a big offer from the Dodgers if he opts out. I don’t think he will opt out but the Dodgers will cover themselves by protecting a backup rotation of Urias, Buehler, Wood, Alvarez should they lose Kershaw.
    .
    Myself, I love Kershaw but if he opts out then I am ready to move on without him.

  5. Bum you’re right, painfully so… I like the Dodgers and other teams philosophy of building from within… When your players reach 30+ difficult and hopefully sensible decisions will be made…
    MLB needs a few more players like Tony Gwynn… I wonder what he would have rec’d on the open market!??!
    Is anybody anxious to see Otani in the freeway series???

  6. Talking about a different era, how about Yogi Berra in 1950.
    656 plate appearances, 28 HR, 124 RBI and a grand total of
    12 STRIKE OUTS !
    Ok, maybe not another era more like another galaxy far far away.

  7. I agree that what Harper and Machado hint at requesting as free agents is unconscionable. Kershaw is my favorite Dodger (slightly more than Seager & Wood), but if he opts out and requests another 7 year $200M deal then I am prepared to watch him pitch for another team. I want him to be a Dodger for life, but I am a Dodger fan much more than any single player.
    .
    I disagree with Bums as I do think Kershaw will opt out (if not extended first). He is due a guaranteed $65M for 2019 & 2020. He will get at least 4 years at $25M or $100M guaranteed. Why wouldn’t he take an additional $35M guaranteed (at a minimum). The Rangers will offer more to get Kershaw in Texas one year before their new stadium is due to open. He loves LA, and is heavily involved in the community, but make no mistake he is a Dallas boy. I can see the Dodgers offering 3 additional years at $25M AAV and a mutual option for $25M for a 4th year, $10M buyout. The option year takes him thru age 36. That is $150M guaranteed with a potential $165M. That maybe a bit high in the last year (maybe two), but to be a Dodger for life, IMO it would be worth it.

    1. I have always maintained, that unless Clayton just wants to go home, he will retire as a Dodger, and the Front Office will make that happen…

      Does he have reasons (known only to him) that he might want to go home? That’s what we don’t know.

      I can see Kershaw pitching into his late 30’s, if his back allows it. That’s also what we don’t know. If he goes to Texas, his career ERA and WHIP will rise and the fact that he could retire with the lowest ERA by a starting pitcher in the modern era will also fly away..

      FYI, Kershaw’s career ERA is 2.36. Look at some of the rest:

      Grover Cleveland Alexander – 2.56
      Whitey Ford – 2.74
      Sandy Koufax – 2.76
      Bob Gibson – 2.91

    2. AC

      Another good job!

      I don’t know that War is always the best way to value players, but it is another measure, that people can use.

      It seems odd to me, that Forsythe has such a high, defensive War.

      He has a higher defensive War, then everyone on the team, except, for Corey.

      And if you look at Forsythe’s prior defensive War numbers, they are not even close to the numbers he had this year, except his first year, but even that number, is not this high.

      Forsythe does seem like a very sure handled defensive player, but he doesn’t seem to have the range it would take, to get such a high defensive War.

      1. MJ,
        WAR needs to be adjusted, and defensive WAR more than offensive. How do you really measure range? But for now it is how players are valued. As long as it is consistently applied, it does give a measurement as to who is the more “valuable” player contract wise. Would you pay more for Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna over JD Martinez? How about Tommy Pham? Some team is going to over pay Martinez, and he is not worth a Yelich or Ozuna (or Pham). Martinez will probably make near 1.5 times the combined salary of Yelich and Ozuna, but that is how free agency works.
        .
        There are anomalies. How is Jeff Samardzija worth a 3.8 WAR and Kenley Jansen worth a 3.6 WAR? WAR places higher values on number of innings pitched more than how the pitcher pitched in those innings. Is that a fair metric? Is a 200IP starting pitcher worth more to a team than a lock down closer? Not in my mind, but that is where WAR is going to have to adjust for pitchers. Nothing is exact, and there are always more “what if” scenarios that need to be considered.
        .
        As long as WAR values are compared to players within the same positions and they are consistent in their application, fair comparisons can be made. But eyeballs need to be considered as well.

  8. I was having a conversation with a young attorney in my office who didn’t experience baseball before the free agent era. What really happens here is that players usually don’t get paid much during their most productive years. They are under team control and make league minimum or are arbitration eligible. By the time that they get paid big money, most are already in their late 20s.

    Teams want to get the most out of players who they spend time and money scouting, developing and coaching, and planning their seasons around. Players want to hit the open market and get paid $$$ as soon as possible. The question is where to draw the line. The current set up is designed to get players paid after their best years in many cases and teams have finally figured it out. Many teams (like the Dodgers) will no longer pay 2 or 3 extra years (after the player is unlikely to produce in an amount equal to the cost of his contract) as a cost of doing business. Players know that if they are only going to make $$ in one or two contracts after team control is expired that the best way to maximize that is to get more years. In most cases that will no longer happen. In light of this, should teams have fewer years of player control?

    The mid-price free agent is no longer going to get big $$. The stars will get paid and the Tom Koehlers of the world will get their small contracts. The mid-priced guys have no where to go. And if they are given a qualifying offer? Doubly tough.

    As a fan, I like to see the players that have been on the Dodgers stay a while. Most of us grew up knowing who the players were on our teams (and on other teams) knowing that the rosters would change little from year to year. As a capitalist, I can appreciate the end of the reserve clause, but as a fan it stinks! Look at how little the roster used to change before 1976 and how much it changes now.

  9. Max Scherzer signed for $210 M before the 2015 season with the Nats and half his money was deferred, in effect making $15 M annually for 14 years! His WAR so far: 2015 7.1, 2016 6.2, 2017 7.3; he has earned his contract. IMO only he and Kershaw have earned their contracts as front line pitchers. Kershaw has earned just over $100 M in the first 3 years and has a WAR of 2015 7.5, 2016 5.6, 2017 4.6 dropping by one each year. His cap hit for 2018 is $35,571,428. His back injuries were a factor in his WAR declining and should be a factor in extending him or not. I think that he is the only high profile free agent FAZ will be concerned with next off season and rightfully so. I hope a fair agreement can be reached to keep him a Dodger for life.

    I am surprised all of the top free agents are still out there, it’s a combination of fiscal restraint by teams and greediness on the part of players and agents and also the production (or lack of) by numerous free agent signings of the past few seasons. It’s not collusion, more like a collective realization that the strategy does not work for the long term and does not replace player development.

    I think the Dodgers feel Grandal, Forsythe, Ryu and Puig will outperform their contracts and therefore are worth more to them than another team. After unloading the 3 ugly contracts they are safe unless someone blows them away with an offer, only Kemp remains to be seen. Tony Watson is still out there, I would give him 2 years and $15 M or 1 year at $8 M to come back and set up Jansen. That would still leave them some room under the cap and they have an extra roster spot.

    1. Scherzer and Kershaw have earned their salaries when using WAR as the basis. But neither have won a WS so their contracts have not been fulfilled according to the fans. Even though Scherzer’s contract is back loaded, for luxury tax purposes, his 7 year contract has an AAV of $28.689M, and yet he has still earned that AAV for three years.
      .
      In contrast, Jon Lester signed a 6 year $155M contract or $25.833 AAV. He earned his salary the first two years but was woefully shy in year 3. Will that downward trend continue for years 4-6? Cubs fans will be a little more forgiving because Lester was still essential in bringing home a WS in 2016.
      .
      Scherzer and Kershaw are prime examples that the very best of the best can be worth what they are being paid (for awhile). But how does that relate to Scott Boras claiming that JD Martinez is worth $200M or that Jake Arrieta is worth Stephen Strasburg dollars. If Boras is successful in getting both Martinez and Arrieta their requested contracts, what do you think the chances of the Dodgers being able to keep Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, and Julio Urias are? Maybe one, but all three? The owners just need to look at Boras and tell him to pound sand, and that they are not going to take his calls anymore.

  10. If the ceo of apple is worth 100 million a year, then the elite athletes are worth twice that. And an elite brain surgeon twice what the elite athlete is worth. Capitalism has run wild in this world.

    1. Steve Jobs might have been worth that, but Tim Cook is not. Jobs was a visionary. Cook is ordinary.

  11. Capitalism isn’t the culprit IMO. Greed and self-centerdness is. A player ought to be paid what he is worth to a team. And he ought to be worth what he is paid.
    Wouldn’t it be something if a player, let’s say a pitcher, who through no fault of the team, doesn’t preform as he is being paid to. Like Darvish in WS or Greinke in 2016, says
    “cut 20M from my pay, I just didn’t measure up”. Wow, ok I am dreaming, but has that ever happened ? Should it ?

    1. I seem to remember Lyman Bostock saying he should give back $$ after under performing for The Angels after signing is free agent contract. I am pretty sure it didn’t happen but do remember him making the comment.

      1. He did try, but the contract would not allow him to do so, and the Angels would not take the $$. He also heard loud and clear from the Players Union.

    2. So, should young players and rookies make what they’re worth too? What would Bellinger have made last year if he wasn’t a rookie but a 7th year player?

      1. I absolutely concur. Again using WAR as the standard, Seager had a 7.4 WAR for 2016 and a 5.7 WAR for 2017, or an average of 6.5. His value was $104M for those two years, but only earned a little more than $1.1M for those two years. Do you think the Dodgers ownership feel badly about that disparity? Do you think they are going to make that up to Seager?
        .
        Bellinger had a WAR of 4.0, or a value of $32M. He earned less than $550K. Should the Dodgers give Cody a $30M bonus because that is what he was worth? Outside of A-Gon, the September callups, and other part timers like SVS, Granderson, Eibner, Freeman, Romo, Thompson, every Dodger player exceeded their 2017 salary based on their WAR. Should the Dodgers pay for all of the excess WAR value for those players? There is not enough loss in A-Gon’s salary to come close to making up the difference. The owners will stay with the system they have and just be wiser about how far out they want to go with their contracts, and how high the AAV is. Contrarily, the Union will want less time before arbitration, and less years in arbitration.
        .
        Another example is Mike Trout. Since 2011, Trout has compiled a cumulative WAR of 54.4, worth $409.7M (per Fangraphs). However during those same years, Trout has earned a total of $47M (including a $5M bonus). Trout has another $99.750M remaining on his contract, and if his WAR for the next three years is 0, he will have still earned enough to justify the contract from a value standpoint. And this is how owners look at the value of contracts…over the life rather than on a year to year basis. But we fans do not care if the player has a WAR of 6 in the early years of the contract and no WS championships, and then the player is valued at less than the value for those last few years and becomes an albatross.
        .
        This is where teams get their value vs. the players value. The Dodgers have learned that well, and will continue to promote from within and not sign expensive FA, except for maybe their own. But they have to make sense. They are not going to pay $200M for a DH, or $175M for an aging RHSP even from their own roster. It is still a team game. Unfortunately, agents do not look at it that way.

    3. Yes it has happened. The great ‘Stan The Man’ Musial did return some of his money for what he felt was under performing. Probably the most under paid for what he gave to the sport.

  12. Sounds like most of us, we know what we “should ” do but don’t always get around to doing it. But at least Bostock realized he should of.
    Bellinger made $535,000. Not bad. And I think he proved he is worth more to the Dodger organization. How much and when, I don’t know but whatever he gets I hope he earns every penny. And in which case I hope it’s alot.

  13. Since the beginning farm teams have always proven most valuable in several aspects. Branch Rickey’s design to compete with the damn Yankees who have still more championship titles by mostly doing it the old fashion way. Sometimes it takes a mixture of both ways, actually most times it takes both ways. It’s clear the farm system is most necessary but there’s a lot of stars in the HOF and they can cost more for that simple fact. It’s more business than sport, at least to the owners it is. Where’s the beef? What he said!

  14. Thanks for the info regarding Stan Musial. Figures I guy like that would do it. And maybe others have wanted to but as mentioned regarding Bostock, not legally allowed to.
    I wonder if a lucrative base salary of some sort, based on WAR or some other metric and then supplemented with incentives and bonuses would be an equatable system of compensation. Just throwing it out for discussion or debunking

    1. You’re welcome. I should of worded it as he took a 20% pay decrease for the following season. It’s always fun to give The Man his due props.

  15. Capitalism is whatever the public can or will bear. Seems folks can bear almost anything these days. Though the reverse robin hood crap I just had forced down my throat by congress is pushing the boundaries for me. Baseball is basically bread and circus for the masses. Works for me though. I do enjoy me some Dodger baseball.

  16. Marlins are now listening to trade offers for Yelich. Hmmm, this could get interesting in our neck of the woods…

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