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Sunday, September 15, 2019

Here are baseball’s top 20 free agents to be

If it feels like last year’s free agency just ended, that’s because it did. The “winter” technically stretched into early June, when Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel finally signed with the Braves and Cubs, respectively.

But it won’t be very long until we fire up free agency yet again, and, despite some rumors to the contrary, there’s a ton of talent on the table after the 2019 World Series wraps.

Here, we’ll take a look at some early free-agent power rankings (20 players for 2020). But like so much of life, it gets complicated. The market will be drastically affected by what happens with various opt-outs and option clauses. For this list, we’re going to leave off guys whose options are likely to be exercised or whose opt-outs aren’t. This currently applies to Kenley Jansen, David Price, Corey Kluber, Anthony Rizzo, Starling Marte, Nelson Cruz, José Quintana, Yu Darvish and Elvis Andrus, among others. But as always, stay tuned!

We will, however, include a few others who aren’t necessarily as likely to remain attached to their current contracts, and have noted those with an asterisk (*). All ages as of Opening Day 2020.

So, what thoughts do we have concerning this list?


QLE Posted: September 15, 2019 at 12:40 AM | 7 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: anthony rendon, aroldis chapman, free agents, gerrit cole, hyun-jin ryu, j.d. martinez, josh donaldson, madison bumgarner, stephen strasburg

Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. puck Posted: September 15, 2019 at 02:34 PM (#5879365)
Josh Donaldson:

He took a one-year “pillow” contract with his boyhood favorite team after a 2018 largely lost to injury, and he’s made good on it with a .261/.384/.543 slash and his typically reliable defense at the hot corner. Donaldson should be able to command a multi-year commitment this time around, perhaps with a similar average annual value ($23 million).

I wonder. 2020 is his age 34 season. As wev'e seen, there haven't been a lot of big multi-year deals for older players.

Deals 2 yrs+ with an AAV over $20M+ the past 3 off-seasons, with the age of the 1st free agent season 30+:

Arrieta (3/75, 32)
JD Martinez (5/110, 30)
Upton (5/106, 30; added a year to existing deal?)
Darvish (6/126, 31)
Santana (3/60, 32)
Cespedes (4/110, 31)
Encarnacion (3/60, 34)

Encarnacion and Santana are the closest. Neither received as high a AAV, Santana was 2 years younger but not as good, and then again neither is a 3B.
   2. Swoboda is freedom Posted: September 15, 2019 at 04:05 PM (#5879392)
With 20/20 hindsight, which of those deals gets done again?

Arrieta has been ok.
Martinez has been good.
Upton is having a down year and has 3 years left on deal.
Darvish is pitching well this season after being hurt last year, still has 4 more years left on deal.
Santana is having a good year after being ok in first 2.
Cespedes hurt a lot.
Encarnacion has been good with bat, but not great.
   3. Walt Davis Posted: September 15, 2019 at 05:48 PM (#5879440)
bWAR to date

Arrieta 3.8, 1/$25 left
JDM 9.5, option, 3/$62
Upton 10.6 since Det, 2.9 since the 1-year added, 3/$63
Darvish 2.8 (injury), 4/$84
Santana 6.3, 1/$20
Cespedes 3.1 **, 1/$28
EE 7.4, done

At $8/WAR, JDM is off to an excellent start and only needs another 3-4 WAR over 3 years to break even. EE was worth his $60. Darvish is really too soon to tell -- he was hurt last year, he's really changed his game this year. If he maintains the change and can reduce his HRs, he'll be excellent -- or he could start walking guys again and keep the HRs and be terrible -- or he could get hurt again. Santana has nearly earned his $60 already; clearly Cespedes is a disaster.

Upton is a tricky one -- over the original contract he's been worth it so far and just might eke it out to be worth the remaining 3 ... but sure, they'd let him opt out rather than give the extra year with 20/20 hindsight.

(I've ignored the contract structure out of laziness.)

One thing that went wrong -- most relevant to Upton and maybe EE/Cespedes -- is that payroll growth has flattened. Cooked into any long-term contract is some assumption about payroll inflation -- roughly that $25 M 5 years from now is the equivalent of $20 M today or that if it's $8/WAR today, it'll be about $10/WAR at the end of the contract. The original Upton contract is based on the idea that he'd be roughly a 3.5 WAR player paid like a 2.5-3 WAR player for a couple of years; then about a 2.5 WAR player; then maybe 2 and 1 WAR. The original contract had an NPV around $107 so break even around 13-14 WAR, assuming 5% inflation. He's already close enough to that original target that the next 2 years could only be good. But if inflation is essentially 0% then break even shifts to 15 WAR. Add the extra year at low inflation and it's up to about 17 WAR. Those are both still very much in play as long as he can bounce back to average for a couple of years.

Billie Eilish during a Cubs game ... we've come a long way from the Brickhouse days. (Just 40-50 years ago. :-)

** I was surprised to see that, on a rate basis, when he was healthy, Cespedes was still producing at a 4-WAR level. Of course he's now missed about 2.5 of the last 3 seasons so it seems unlikely he'll return at that level if he does at all ... but it wasn't a collapse it was an injury. Injury risk should be cooked into ever contract, $/WAR already. I consign those more to bad luck than mistake.
   4. Walt Davis Posted: September 15, 2019 at 06:11 PM (#5879447)
On the FA's to be -- depends a lot on the opt-outs. Obviously any team would like Cole, Rendon or Donaldson. Standard risk/uncertainty with the main debate being around things like 5 or 6 years (or 2 vs 3 for Donadlson). I think JDM, Strasburg and Chapman all have pretty borderline decisions and that probably the best path for both them and their current teams are short extensions/raises so I'll wait to see what happens.

So MadBum, Ryu, Wheeler and Ozuna are the genuinely tough to call cases. I find Bumgarner hard to judge. He missed a good chunk of 2017-18. He's healthy this year with good but not excellent performance. The K-rate is well below his peak levels despite generally rising K-rates. At first glance, he looks more like Keuchel than Lester ... but then the difference between those two in performance was much less than the difference in the contracts. Is there still a GM out there who will value Bumgarner for his grit?

Ryu obviously won't get very many years. I can see squabbles over AAV and an expensive vesting option. Wheeler is probably in the Minor/Leake/Lynn territory. For Ozuna, it seems unlikely anything resembling his 2017 is coming again. He's a (much) younger McCutchen with a worse rep. In this market, I think he'd but lucky to reach 4/$60.
   5. Jose Is Absurdly Chatty Posted: September 15, 2019 at 06:30 PM (#5879450)
JD Martinez I think is Likely not to opt out. His contract is structured so that next year he makes $23.5 and then drops to $19.5 for 2021 and 2022. He has another opt out after next season and I suspect he is going to stay for 2020 then go at the end of next year.

If I’m Chapman I look at Kimbrel and I don’t opt out. I don’t think he’s going to do better than what he currently has.
   6. Walt Davis Posted: September 15, 2019 at 09:31 PM (#5879474)
JD Martinez I think is Likely not to opt out. His contract is structured so that next year he makes $23.5 and then drops to $19.5 for 2021 and 2022. He has another opt out after next season and I suspect he is going to stay for 2020 then go at the end of next year.

That's a pretty big risk. He'll be turning 33 and if next year is not kind -- the poor guy will have to settle for 2/$39! But I mostly agree -- he's probably not going to do much better than 3/$62 -- an extra $3-4 M doesn't seem worth the bother. Even in the good old days, there were only a few DHs who got more than 3 years and all at a substantial discount relative to position players who could hit at the same level. But if he thinks he can really cash in (say 3/$70-75), he should opt out this year because there are few scenarios where he'll be in better shape next year. As I said in another thread, I mainly expect him and the Sox to come to some sort of agreement that either boosts the year 4-5 salary or adds a 4th year ... or he waives the option in favor of a reasonably expensive vesting option with an $8 M buyout or something. Understandably, the Red Sox might decline figuring they've got him right where they want him. (Plus if they are trying to reduce payroll ...)
   7. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: September 15, 2019 at 10:12 PM (#5879505)
Look like 20 minor league deals

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