ANALYZING THE TOP FREE AGENTS LEFT
It’s no secret that this off-season has been shockingly stagnant despite the number of free agents still left on the market. After the Giancarlo Stanton and Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes were resolved, an expected succession of signings didn’t materialize. Why? Are teams more hesitant to give out large contracts? Are they simply not enthralled by the top free agents? Are they saving for next year’s offseason that will include the likes of Bryce Harper, Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado and potentially even Clayton Kershaw? It’s possible that it’s all of these or something else. It still seems inconceivable that any of these players will be without a contract by the start of Spring Training, so let’s take a look at the top free agents left:
SP Yu Darvish
2016: 17 G 17 GS 100.1 IP 3.41 ERA 3.09 FIP 11.8 K/9 2.8 BB/9 2.5 rWAR
2017: 31 G 31 GS 186.2 IP 3.86 ERA 3.83 FIP 10.1 K/9 2.8 BB/9 3.9 rWAR
Career: 3.42 ERA 3.30 FIP 11.0 K/9 3.3 BB/9 19.3 rWAR
At first glance, it looks like he actually declined from 2016 to 2017. However, it’s important to point out that he came back from TJS in 2016 and may still need time to get back to full strength. Still, you would think that he’d then be worse in 2016. That said, his fastball speed actually went up from 93.3 to 94.2 MPH from 2016 to 2017. I should also note that both his ERA and FIP improced upon his trade from Texas to the Los Angeles Dodgers: 4.01 ERA and 3.99 FIP in 137.0 IP to a 3.44 ERA and 3.38 FIP in 49.2 IP. Unfortunately for Darvish, his 21.60 ERA in the 2 games that he started in the World Series is not helping his cause.
What kind of contract was he expected to receive? MLBTR projected him to get 6 years/$160 million. So far the Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros and Minnesota Twins showed interest, with all but Minnesota having face to face meetings him. The New York Yankees have interest too, though seem to only be getting involved if his price drops. I suspect that Darvish isn’t interested in the cold Minnesota weather and would like to go to a team that is closer to contention. I think that he will indeed end up signing with either Chicago or Houston, both teams need a top of the rotation starter (Houston’s Dallas Keuchel is a free agent after next season and Chicago’s Jake Arrieta is a free agent now). I don’t think that either team will pay 6 years/$160 million at this point, so 5 years/$110 million is what he will ultimately sign for in my opinion. He is still the top starting pitcher on the market and I still see him getting over $20 million in annual salary.
SP Jake Arrieta
2016: 31 G 31 GS 197.1 IP 3.10 ERA 3.52 FIP 8.7 K/9 3.5 BB/9 3.4 rWAR
2017: 30 G 30 GS 168.1 IP 3.53 ERA 4.16 FIP 8.7 K/9 2.9 BB/9 1.9 rWAR
Career: 3.57 ERA 3.64 FIP 8.3 K/9 3.1 BB/9 20.3 rWAR
Unlike Darvish, Arrieta is in clear decline going back to 2015. His ERA has dropped from 1.77 in 2015 to 3.10 in 2016 and 3.53 in 2017. His FIP dropped from 2.35 in 2015 to 3.68 in 2016 and 4.11 in 2017. His fastball speed dropped too, from 94.6 in 2015 to 93.7 in 2016 and 92.1 in 2017. MLBTR projected him to receive 4 years/$100 million.
The Chicago Cubs prioritize Darvish over him, but are reportedly open to a reunion. The Washington Nationals have been rumored as a destination as well due to Arrieta’s agent Scott Boras having a good relationship with the team’s owner Ted Lerner. I don’t see any mystery teams coming in due to Arrieta’s obvious decline and surely high contract demands. It also doesn’t help that he will cost a draft pick due to declining arbitration. I also don’t think that Chicago really want him back. I don’t really see Minnesota or Houston getting involved either, Houston just won tue WS and aren’t desperate, and Minnesota are looking for someone who can anchor the rotation going forward. Arrieta seems to be more like someone who a team will sign in a desperate bid to push themselves over the hump. Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy are hitting free agency after next season, and with them determined to finally get past the NLDS, they will sign him for 4 years/$80 million.
1B Eric Hosmer
2016: 158 G 605 AB .266/.328/.433 1.0 rWAR
2017: 162 G 603 AB .318/.385/.498 4.0 rWAR
Career: .284/.342/.439 14.1 rWAR
Hosmer is a polarizing figure. He’s supposedly a great teammate and clubhouse leader, however his stats are not particularly impressive. Despite his stats, his agent Scott Boras is looking for a big payday. MLBTR projected him to sign for 6 years/$132 million, though reports have been stating that Boras is looking for a longer deal. The Kansas City Royals and San Diego Padres have apparently already offered him contracts with both teams being the most active in pursuing him. St. Louis has been connected as well, but I don’t see them giving him such a large contract. Kansas City has been talking about a rebuild, but re-signing Hosmer would obviously not fit that plan. San Diego has been the most interested team according to reports, so I think that they’ll end up signing him. Strangely enough it appears as if he’ll get a large contract, so I’ll go with MLBTR’s prediction. Due to the first base market having so many options, I don’t see any mystery teams coming in at that price. In fact, I’m still surprised that any team would be willing to pay such an outlandish price for him at all. Did I mention he also comes with the cost of a draft pick due to declining arbitration?!
RF J.D. Martinez
2016: 120 G 460 AB 307/.373/.535 1.8 rWAR
2017: 119 G 432 AB .303/.376/.690 4.2 rWAR
Career: .285/.342/.514 13.7 rWAR
Martinez is projected by MLBTR to receive 6 years/$150 Million and will not cost a draft pick. His market has been surprisingly quiet despite him being the top hitter available, which is likely because of his below average defense, injury history over the last two years, and length of years that he wants at his age. It also doesn’t help that he doesn’t want to be a DH. Arizona wants him back, but they don’t have the money to re-sign him unless they lower payroll. They were trying to trade SP Zack Greinke to cut payroll, but his own age and salary make it hard to do.
The Boston Red Sox have been reported as his top suitors and seem to be waiting until his price drops? Will it? Looking at the teams that could use a corner OF, it’s not looking good for Martinez. The Los Angeles Dodgers could use an upgrade over Joc Pederson in left field but are also trying to get under the luxury tax threshold; the San Francisco Giants could use an upgrade over Hunter Pence in right field but prefer a center fielder, and if they end up signing a free agent to fill that hole it will almost certainly take them out of the running for Martinez due to their already troublesome financial situation and their own desire to get under the luxury tax threshold. Baltimore may be a fit but their priority is starting pitching, Toronto make sense since they’re still trying to contend but they don’t typically give out such contracts. Boston need a power bat badly so they still make the most sense. I think that they will ultimately win out and get him in at to 4 years/$100 million.