So the baseball hot stove has been pretty, well, cold this offszn. Some medium-sized trades/deals/swaps were made during the winter meetings, but since then, not much has been done.
I read an article on The Ringer last week during my lunch that talked about the lack of any big happenings during his offseason. It’s a long read but a good one if you have the time. It talks about:
- Free agency and how many free agents are signing later in the offseason and for less
- How young players are held down in the minors longer to push back the age at which they would reach free agency
- How revenues in the Majors have reached record highs but aren’t changing how teams spend money on players
- How the CBA runs out in 2021 and the risk of a baseball stoppage
(Oh, and how
Giancarlo Mike Stanton was signed by the Miami Marlins to a 13 year/$325 MILLION contract in 2014… before he was traded to the Yankees for 2018 for a salary dump. The Yanks owe him $265 million. That sucks. Because he sucks.)
Meanwhile, they used the fact young players are underpaid at the start of their careers as leverage to encourage players to sign below-market contracts through arbitration and into what would have been their first few years of free agency, pushing back the age at which stars like Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, Christian Yelich, and José Altuve hit the market, reducing their free-agent value even further.Michael Baumann, The Ringer
There’s this thought that once a player his free agency—which could be at age 30 if they start in the majors at age 24 (players have to have six years of playing under their belt before becoming a free agent)—his best years are behind him. Thus why teams won’t pay out the millions that some of these players are owed because of their talent.
Players can go to arbitration over their salaries when they have at least three full seasons of MLB service time and less than six—which is when they would go into free agency. Players with less than six years are under team control and can bring their salary to an arbitration panel if they can’t come to an agreement with their team. And, probably to no one’s surprise, arbitration panels are “old school, and tend to make their decisions based on player comparisons and traditional statistics like RBIs and wins” (Fangraphs). For example, Mookie Betts has five years of playing time and recently went to arbitration with the Boston Red Sox. The two settled on $20 million for the 2019 season, which after Betts will be a free agent. (I’ll cry if he leaves.)
One thing I often yell about a lot is that older players don’t need 10-year contracts, because nine times out of ten, they don’t work:
The growth of quantitative analysis in baseball in the 21st century has shown that older free agents are a bad investment, at least on the aggregate. Giving out contracts like the ones Pujols, Greinke, and others received just a few years ago is now simply seen as bad business, an inefficient allocation of resources.Michael Baumann, The Ringer
Long term contracts, at least in recent years, don’t seem to give the return on investment the teams are probably looking for. Because players are hitting free agency at ages later than say 26-year-olds Manny Machado and Bryce Harper.
The Chicago White Sox have offered a seven year/$175 million contract to Manny Machado. Rumor has it that there’s another team—the Philadelphia Phillies—in talks with Machado. I think that either team is dumb enough to pay that much for him.
I feel like he was playing under the radar with the Baltimore Orioles, and the only reason I suddenly knew who he was was because of the fighting the Sox/O’s had in 2017. I laughed when he got dumped to the Los Angeles Dodgers last season, and I laughed, even more, when he struck out for the final out of the World Series against Chris Sale, who was in to close out the game.
The O’s knew he was going to hit free agency at the end of the 2018 season and at least wanted something in return for him in an attempt to try to rebuild the team. (They got five players in exchange for Machado.) From glancing at his Baseball Reference page, he’s a career .282 hitter with 175 home runs, 513 RBIs, an .822 OPS, and only cleated one Red Sox player. Those seem like average numbers to me.
And don’t forget that Bryce Harper is still floating around in the free agency pool. (Not to be confused with the pool at Chase Field where the Arizona Diamondbacks play wearing one of those eight awfully designed uniforms they probably paid the same amount for that they paid for Zach Grienke’s six year/$206.5 MILLION deal in 2015.)
Harper is a career .279 hitter with 184 home runs, 521 RBIs, and a .900 OPS in his seven-year career, all with the Washington Nationals. I’m no baseball agent but looking at his numbers on Baseball Reference, he seems pretty average. A good, consistent outfielder, but not one who deserves the $200 million or whatever extremely ridiculous price Harper is looking for. I’ve always thought he was over-hyped, and I’ve never liked him. Yeah, he made it to the majors when he was 19, but he’s a slightly above average player.
These two seem to have the Taylor Swift problem: “I got issues and chips on both of my shoulders/Reputation precedes me, in rumors I’m knee deep.” (Although Ed Sheeran sang that part in “End Game.”) If they had absolutely amazing numbers, then they’d let the numbers talk for themselves. But I feel like they’re just known because of who they are. Young guys who started their careers when they were 19 and are considered the future of the MLB.
I’d take J.D. Martinez and his five year/$110 million contract any day over Machado or Harper. Martinez has hit over .300 since 2014, has had an OPS over 1.000 the last two seasons, and had over 100 RBIs in 2015, 2017, and 2018. He flew under the radar when he came up with the Houston Astros, began to get more recognition when eh was with the Detroit Tigers, and there was a J.D. Martinez daily watch after he went to free agency after his half a season with the Diamondbacks.
So spring training begins in less than a month for the MLB, and here are some of the free agent players who currently don’t have a job:
- Manny Machado
- Bryce Harper
- Craig Kimbrel
- Dallas Keuchel
- A.J. Pollock
I’m not sure what’s going to happen, but I’m interested to see what happens. No one should be getting a long term deal—like the six years Kimbrel is looking for as a closer. Give them four or five years at the most, and don’t get too caught up in the hype.