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Thursday, August 15, 2019

Four Soon-to-Be MLB Free Agents Whose Stock Is Rising

The winter’s free-agency freeze induced a wave of anxiety around baseball, leading to a slew of extensions signed early in the season. Brandon Lowe agreed to a six-year deal in Tampa Bay after just 129 MLB at-bats. Eloy Jimenez signed long-term with the White Sox before he ever set foot in an MLB batter’s box. Many players seem either desperate to shed their rookie deals or terrified of entering free agency. The market’s paralysis can deter even the top talents from leaving their current teams. (See Arenado, Nolan and Trout, Michael.)

There remains a sample of quality free agents in the 2019-20 class, however, even if J.D. Martinez and Stephen Strasburg choose not to opt out of their current deals. Expect multiple nine-figure contracts, and one pitcher who could become the league’s most expensive arm. So which upcoming free agents have helped their cause as we begin to consider the next class?

In case you want to know who won’t get signed this coming winter….

QLE Posted: August 15, 2019 at 05:13 AM | 10 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: anthony rendon, free agency, gerrit cole, josh donaldson, will smith

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   1. The Duke Posted: August 15, 2019 at 08:43 AM (#5871574)
josh only getting a 2 year deal? I suspect he will do better than that
   2. Rally Posted: August 15, 2019 at 09:07 AM (#5871583)
I see Will Smith in the headlines and think "Why is a free agency article talking about a rookie catcher who's under team control for the next 7 years or so?"

Forgot about the Giant's reliever.

MLB is getting out of hand with all these CGI versions of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
   3. Walt Davis Posted: August 15, 2019 at 06:02 PM (#5871775)
Rendon and Cole are the big names and they were pretty hot names in April so it's more their stock isn't falling (due to injury or a bad season) than that it's rising.

But those examples in the intro annoy me. Eloy's and Lowe's deals (I didn't even know about the latter) have pretty much nothing to do with the FA market. Those are "get your first $X million now in case you get hurt" deals. In Eloy's case, it was pretty clearly "sign this deal or we will Bryant you." Neither of those guys was gonna get to FA before 2026 -- the dragged out Machado/Harper negotiations didn't affect their decision.

It's the FA buyouts that come in the last couple of years of arb that might be the result of a dragging FA market. Maybe the Trout extension (incredibly cheap) was affected by it. More likely an extension like Kyle Hendrics -- 4/$55 + unlikely vesting option which covers his last arb and three FA years -- was strongly affected by it. After 2020, he'd have been turning 31, a BIP-oriented pitcher -- those guys have not done particularly well lately (see Lance Lynn, 3/$30 for ages 32-34). So Hendricks had a tough decision -- maybe he could do better if he waited but maybe not and almost certainly not by much versus the risk of injury or a fluky bad season. He probably made the right choice. I'm somewhat surprised Rendon has not come to agreement with the Nats on an extension but he is a Boras client.
   4. the Hugh Jorgan returns Posted: August 15, 2019 at 06:33 PM (#5871779)
It'll be interesting what Rendon gets. He's a solid 4-5 WAR player and has been consistently good for a few years now. He's 30 in June next year, so I can't see him getting 8 or more years.

Does someone pony up 7/210 or more? Less?
   5. Bote Man Posted: August 15, 2019 at 09:00 PM (#5871823)
Smart Nationals fans are savoring every extra-base hit and stellar play at the hot corner as long as Rendon wears a Nats jersey, because it's almost a guarantee that he won't after this season. Very likely ditto for Strasburg when he opts out.

Assuming Ted Lerner is still alive, I'm a little bit surprised he didn't pull out all the stops and authorize Rizzo to spend up for real pitching help, payroll luxury tax be damned. This might be his last chance to see his team go to the post-season before he croaks.
   6. Walt Davis Posted: August 16, 2019 at 01:11 AM (#5871896)
Does someone pony up 7/210 or more? Less?

I would guess less, barring deferred payment shenanigans (i.e. 7/$210 with $70 M of it deferred or something is a different kettle of fish). 6/$180 maybe. Arenado did get 7/$260 but (a) Colorado loves its guys and (b) he was only 27 at the time (so it runs through age 34). A Rendon equivalent to that might be 5/$160. If he wants 7 years ... OK, maybe 7/$210 is in play on the upper end.

He's a more valuable player than JDM but JDM didn't do all that well either (same ages at FA). Altuve only got 7/$164 at a younger age but Hou had some years of control left as I recall. Goldschmidt was a year older and with at least one year of control left and the Cards extended him for 5/$130. Machado got 10/$300 of course but was 5 years younger at FA.

So for now I'll WAG 5/$140 or 6/$150 (or their NPV equivalents) on the low end and 7/$210 on the high end.
   7. Walt Davis Posted: August 16, 2019 at 01:39 AM (#5871898)
Wow, a surprisingly terrible comp list.

Expansion era, ages 25-29, at least 70% of games at 2B, SS or 3B, OPS+>115, WAR between 15 and 25 (Rendon 18.8+). This creates a list of 27 players with Rendon #19 but probably around 14-16 by year's end.

The scary starts right at the top with Tulo. Kyle Seager #4. Fregosi 7, Longoria 8, Cirillo 9, M Williams 10, David Wright 13, John Valentin 14, Eric Chavez 15, Ventura 16, Alfonzo 18, HoJo 22, Hanley 23, Headley 24, Vidro 25, Zimmermann 26, Reyes 27. I don't think I've ever seen a longer list of injured/collapsed comps for a good player before. Even promising comps like Sandberg and Alomar are promising because they had 2-3 big seasons left before collapsing.

Anyway, going through the motions to see what these comps did from ages 30-36:

25 players. OK, some of these guys did better than I expected but here goes:

29-33 WAR: Edgar, Biggio, Sandberg
21-24 WAR: Alomar, Harrah, Ventura, DaEvans
15 WAR: M Williams, Aramis (eventually Longoria probably)
8-10 WAR: Valentin, Cirillo, Wright, McAulliffe, Headley
<8 WAR: 10 players

Breaking even on $200 M requires being at least in that top 7 (call it the top quartile). Harrah is a pretty promising comp because nobody raved about his defense or anything. Matt Williams was already less durable but he'd also been more productive on a per PA basis. Aramis was in reality probably a bit worse than Rendon 25-29 but it's still pretty close. Wright is a very good comp and what evidence we have suggests he'd have been pretty productive (say the 21-24 group) had he been healthy. Still the median of this group ends up being 9-10 WAR and that seriously questions signing him long-term.

It is likely the case that some of these folks had shown decline by age 29 already so I'm sure we can trim the list back some, likely to Rendon's benefit. But just at age 29, among the flops ... Wright 7 WAR, Tulo 5.5, Hanley 5.4, ARam 5.3, Cirillo 4.8, Williams 4.6 in jut half a season. ... some successes: Harrah just 3.8, Alomar 3.4, Ventura 2.1, Evans 0.2. But Fregosi, Alfonzo, Vidro, Zimmermann were showing injuries/cracks by 29 so there's an argument to pull them. Still, of the top 13 non-Rendon at age 29, only 5 hit the 20+ WAR mark afterward.

If the nerds' comps look like this, he's gonna end up in JDM territory.
   8. Bote Man Posted: August 16, 2019 at 07:09 AM (#5871902)
It's notable that Anthony Rendon is known for treating baseball as his job. He declined the invitation to the All-Star Game and routinely cuts out of post-game interviews after the first question. He has outright declared that there is much more to his life than baseball; he doesn't hang around the clubhouse drinking beer and eating chicken with the guys. So it wouldn't surprise me to see him go for a shorter contract term with a larger payout so that he can sooner open a boat-up bar on the bayou and put his feet up.
   9. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: August 16, 2019 at 08:47 AM (#5871906)
Wow, a surprisingly terrible comp list.

2B in general do not age all that well once they turn 30. I think that catchers are the only position with a less-favorable aging curve.
   10. Walt Davis Posted: August 16, 2019 at 11:57 PM (#5872087)
Rendon is much more a 3B than 2B ... and the aging of 2B is pretty much a myth. SoSH or Jose went through this pretty thoroughly a few years ago. Certainly the very good 2B tend to age just fine. Even a famous flop like Alomar put up those 20+ WAR.

Expansion era, ages 25-29, 80% 2B, 2400+ PA (allows them to miss up to one season), WAA>=5 (so at least a 3 WAR player). The list is here, 32 players ranging from Hunt, Maz, Cash, LeMahieu around 5-6 WAA to Utley, Morgan, Carew, Altuve, Knoblauch.

Here they are for ages 30-34, sorted by WAR to keep PT in but with WAA listed as well. Kipnis, Walker, Dozier and LeMahieu still going but only LeMahiue is likely to add substantial WAR through 34. The median is about 10 WAR with a couple of WAA (Orlando Hudson, Bill Doran). But ten guys show up as 4 WAR players over that period.

So how does that compare to, for example CF? The starting list is 43 players ranging from Pinson to Griffey. We can drop McCutchen and Pillar (probably won't add much but he's still only 30 so won't rule him out), leaving 41 comps. Median is about 10 WAR (DwMurphy, Ellsbury), only 6 of 43 made it to 19+ WAR. Jim Edmonds is way out in front on 32 WAR which is still less than Morgan's leading total for 2B. What you do get with CF is a much better representation of 3 WAR players.

What about 3B? 37 players from Lansford to Boggs, Schmidt, Santo. Kyle Seager is the only active guy still young enough to add much. These guys do better with a median around 13-14 WAR and 12 at 20+ -- funny, 3B also have a rep for aging poorly.

Corner positions are a bit hard because guys do shift around a fair bit among LF, RF and 1B. I set the threshold then at 50% at LF or RF. That gives us 83 players ranging from Higginson/JDM to Bonds and Yaz. Young active guys are Heyward, JDM, Brantley and Springer. The median is around 10 WAR, maybe 11 (Pence, Griffey Sr, Canseco). Clemente and Bonds dominate, 20 players make it to 19+ WAR.

So out of that set, 3B are the only ones who stand out -- better in median, higher rate of 4+ WAR players. The other three are about the same. The main distinctive characteristic of 2B is that there are fewer of them to start with -- their list is only 32 names, 3B are next with 37 and the three OF positions are about 40 each. But having been 3-WAR 2B in their primes, they don't seem to age any worse than similar LF/CF/RF. Once you're out to ages 35-36, it's pretty much a crapshoot regardless of position.

One odd thing is that 2B often have big seasons in their early 30s (I think just a fluke). Alomar was pretty useless after 33 but put up 24 WAR from 30-33. Sandberg put up 22 WAR from 30-32 ... at that point who cares what he does at 33-34? Carew shifted to 1B at age 30 ... and put up 22 WAR for 30-32 (and stayed solid after that). Utley, Cano, Grich were 5-6 WAR players for 30-32. I don't know whether that's particularly different than other positions but I think it's partly what fuels the "2B cliff dive" belief -- Alomar came down hard, so did Sandberg ... heck, so did Morgan and Carew in their way (they just managed to maintain that 3-4 WAR level). But if they'd had their 7 WAR seasons in their late 20s then 5, 3, kinda useless, that looks like regular decline while 4/7/3/kinda useless looks like a cliffdive.

That said, we probably wouldn't expect 2B to age well. They're pretty much players who don't have the arm for SS/3B (and possibly not the range for SS) but don't hit well enough to hold down a corner spot. As they age and the defense and bat start to decline, they've really got nowhere to go. So they've either got to maintain defense (Whitaker, Morgan for extreme examples) or hit like Carew, Molitor. 3B face a similar plight but CF, as the defense slides will still generally be good defensive LF/RF so might still be able to get by even with a 100-105 OPS+. (I suppose that's true as well for 2B/3B who move to 1B). In Rendon's case, he's averaging 30 Rbat, 142 OPS+ and playing average defense at 3B over the last 3 seasons -- even if things start to decline, he's got a lot of cushion before he won't be at least an average 1B. Before running his comps, I would have thought at least 15 WAR over the next 5 years would have been a pretty good bet. And maybe it is, I tend to doubt that "injury rate of WAR/batting comps" is a particularly good predictor of injury risk.

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