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The 2018 MLB Offseason Will Not Be Affected By 2017 MLB Offseason

Patrick Corbin and Manny Machado are going to command large contracts in free agency. There’s a whole host of others that will cash in, too.

Last offseason was a stark wake-up call for free agents in Major League baseball. Players entered with grand dreams of having cash cascade over them like a waterfall, only to leave the free agency period still thirsty for a glass of water.

It’s caused some fans and media to speculate that last year is the ‘new normal’ for free agency. While it can be said that the analytical revolution in front offices has nigh-uniformly caused a re-evaluation on the merits of spending vast sums of cash over long time periods for players in their 30’s, what hasn’t been addressed is that maybe last year’s free agents just weren’t that good.

The best free agent was Shohei Otani and he wasn’t truly a free agent. As an international player still subject to the international pool, his posting fee ($20M to Nippon Ham Fighters) and signing bonus ($2.3M) belie the fact that he made the minimum salary this year of $555,000. Even if he misses some time in 2019 for his TJ surgery and is ‘only’ a hitter, he’s still a steal at the minimum salary.

Here’s the list of MLB Trade Rumors’ Top 10 Free Agents from last year. I’ve included what MLBTR estimated they would get, what they actually got, and who signed them:

Player Est. Contract Actual Contract Signed By
Yu Darvish 6 yr/$160M 6 yr/$126M Cubs
J.D. Martinez 6 yr/$150M 5 yr/$110M Red Sox
Eric Hosmer 6 yr/$132M 8 yr/$144M Padres
Jake Arrieta 4 yr/$100M 3 yr/$75M Phillies
Masahiro Tanaka 5 yr/$100M Did not opt out Yankees
Mike Moustakas 5 yr/$85M 1 yr/$6.5M Royals
Lorenzo Cain 4 yr/$70M 5 yr/$80M Brewers
Wade Davis 4 yr/$60M 3 yr/$51M Rockies
Lance Lynn 4 yr/$56M 1 yr/$12M Twins
Greg Holland 4 yr/$50M 1 yr/$14M Cardinals

Take a look at these names. Aside from J.D. Martinez and Lorenzo Cain, I would guess that all of the other teams on the list have some buyer’s remorse. Maybe not the Royals or Twins, because the Moustakas and Lynn deals were just for 1 year and they received some assets back in mid-year trades. But I bet the Cardinals regretted that 1 year deal to Holland. One could make the argument that he may have cost them a wild card spot. Shout out to the Padres for the present and future albatross that is Eric Hosmer.

I know the Yankees are technically on the list above, but Tanaka just didn’t opt out. So actually the Yankees really didn’t make a splash last year. No team signed more than one of the supposed top 10 free agents. Here’s why — they were saving their money for this offseason instead.

By not going over the Competitive Balance Threshold of $197M, the Yankees got their tax payor clock reset to zero. In other words, if they were to exceed the now $206M CBT, they would only pay 20% in tax overages and not upwards of 30%, 50% with loss of draft picks.

This year’s class of free agents is not the sun-engulfing class that was anticipated two years ago, but it is still potentially spectacular. This is one man’s estimation on this year’s Top 10, in no particular order. Also, I’ve included the player’s age in parentheses.

  • SS/3B Manny Machado (26)
  • OF Bryce Harper (26)
  • LHP Clayton Kershaw (31) *
  • LHP Patrick Corbin (29)
  • LHP David Price (33) *
  • C Yasmani Grandal (30)
  • LHP Dallas Keuchel (31)
  • OF A.J. Pollock (31)
  • 2B D.J. LeMahieu (30)
  • 2B Brian Dozier (32)
  • RHP Craig Kimbrel (31)
  • OF Michael Brantley (32)

The asterisks next to Kershaw and Price imply that they have opt-outs this year in their deals. Kershaw can forgo 2 yr/$65M and Price 4 yr/$127M. I can’t see Kershaw hitting the market after a year when he finally started to look truly mortal. He loves L.A., he’s a legend there. Maybe they do an informal extension of some sort. David Price, however, wouldn’t surprise me if he opted out. I don’t think he and the city of Boston have the best relationship. I could very easily see him on the market. So that’s why I gave you 12 guys on a top 10.

That list leaves off lots of other interesting names, of course, but I had to draw the line somewhere.

The Yankees have scads of payroll space this year. With just $103M on the books towards the CBT, per Cot’s Contracts, the Yankees have a full $103M to spend potentially before even crossing the line. They could get both Machado and Harper, if they so chose to do. However, as strange as it sounds, they don’t need them. With Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar, the Yankees have the left side of the infield covered. Machado would upgrade Andujar, but it’s almost unnecessary. Where would Harper play in the outfield of Judge, Stanton, and Hicks (with the spectre of Jacoby Ellsbury still looming) ? Rather, they should get Corbin and Grandal. Corbin replaces Sabathia in the rotation. Grandal can take over at catcher and the Yanks could shunt Gary Sanchez and his poor defense to 1B or DH.

Likewise, I can’t see Boston in on Harper, as their outfield of Benintendi, Bradley, and Betts is pretty much perfect right now. An Outfield of Dreams, if you will. Sure, they may make a run at Machado in free agency, but he’d have to be willing to play 3B, as I can’t see them moving Xander Bogaerts off SS. If Price opts out, maybe they go for Corbin. Grandal, like he would for virtually every team, would be a good fit here, too.

But rather, I think the Phillies are going to go nuts in free agency. They should go nuts in free agency. After their abysmal end to the season, they need to course correct. They clearly have the payroll space and the present positional need to get both Machado and Harper. With just $89M towards the CBT, they have $117M in potential space. This is a franchise that was routinely around $150M in payroll just a few years ago. Machado could play SS if he demanded and J.P. Crawford gets moved to either 3B or out in a trade. Harper slides right into RF.

Like the Yankees, the Dodgers stayed under the $197M CBT this year, so their tax rate gets reset to zero, as well. With $83M in space under the $206M CBT, the Dodgers could also retain their current player in Grandal. It’s hard to see them retaining Machado, as Corey Seager will be back next year at SS and Justin Turner is under contract at 3B for two more years. Corbin would make a nice addition to their staff, of course. Could they make a play for Harper and then move one of Pederson, Kemp, or Puig ? Sure, I guess.

The Cubs are already pressing up against the CBT with $162M committed in 2019. Once you factor in arbitration to guys like Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber, and Kyle Hendricks, there won’t be much space to add a major name. Sort of the same for the Cardinals, too. The past three years, their 25-man payroll has been around $145-160M. Next year, counting arb and min-scale salaries, they’re already at $136M. Maybe they could back load a deal for a Harper or Machado-type, but it’s hard to see them in the mix for one of those guys.

The Giants are a big money team historically, but they’re in dire need to shed salary and start a rebuild.

Both the Astros and Mariners are going to wade into free agency, I’d presume, in the battle for an interesting AL West race in 2019.

I think the top guys are going to get their cheddar, but it may not necessarily be from who everyone is expecting. I can see bidding wars more for players like Corbin, Grandal, and David Price if he opts out.

There should still be bargain deals for the 2nd and 3rd tier guys, if teams are willing to wait until January and February again like last year, but that would require some more unofficial-don’t-call-it-collusion among the owners and front offices. As Alex has pointed out, there’s a glut of good 2B on the market.

After this year’s free agency period, last year’s will look like an abnormal blip, not the start of a trendline.

Nerd engineer by day, nerd writer at night. Kevin is the co-founder of The Point of Pittsburgh. He is the author of Creating Christ, a sci-fi novel available on Amazon.

18 Comments on The 2018 MLB Offseason Will Not Be Affected By 2017 MLB Offseason

  1. Wow, Price had a pretty good year I guess but to me, he isn’t what he used to be. Are you saying he can do better per year than the 4/127 you’re thinking he’ll opt out of? That’s a HUGE risk for him to take IMO.

    • Kevin Creagh // October 22, 2018 at 8:18 AM //

      No, I’m saying that I believe he may not like the actual ‘city’ of Boston. All of these guys want the years of security more than the AAV. If they can get both, that’s the perfect storm. So instead of 4/$127, if Price could get something like 6 yr/$180, he’d do it.

      I don’t necessarily think he should do it (or will), but that’s why there are opt-outs.

  2. OK, I see what you mean, but he’s 33 and I can’t see anyone giving him anywhere near 6 years, but I’ve been wrong plenty of times before.

    • Kevin Creagh // October 22, 2018 at 9:03 AM //

      Again, I agree, but I’m not sure he likes the city of Boston and its inherent racism.

      • Yes I have a friend from Boston who is African-American and talks about that as well. Of course Price is from Nashville and while I have lived in Nashville in the past, being white, I can’t judge the racism in that city either. Mookie Betts(Nashville) and Jackie Bradley Jr (born in Richmond VA, went to college at South Carolina, which is not known for it’s racial tolerance) may have similar feelings to David. I have not heard them speak on it. It will be interesting to see what Price does for sure!

        • It ?s much more racist towards Whites with ?White guilt ? and affirmative action (racial preference for employment). All races had slavery so time to get over this fantasy that Whites are oppressing everyone.

  3. I think the article is pretty much spot-on. There are teams with payroll space and expectations, and some significant talent to spend it on. I would agree that there will be something a little closer to a feeding frenzy, and I’ll try to be excited when the Bucs ink Lonnie Chisenhall.

  4. Not sure if I just missed it or if you did…

    2017->2018 Offseason was a game changer and will continue. Those players who are at the top, whose arm, glove and/or bat can change the course of the season by them selves.. those people will be paid. They where last off season too.

    Its these mid range guys.. they’re going to continue to see a slack in salary until there is a change in the CBA. Its just not worth paying a 2-3WAR player 10-15M/year any more.

    They Manny’s, Bryces, etc.. they’ll be paid but since Teams where able to get away with not paying for the midrange guys last year, they’ll do it again this year.

  5. Eovaldi turned some heads too this season & postseason. He might do pretty well this winter.

    • Kevin Creagh // October 22, 2018 at 2:38 PM //

      I agree. He’s in the next 10, for sure. With his 2 TJ’s though, he’s got a ton of red flags around him.

  6. Hello my name is Josh Donaldson // October 22, 2018 at 2:48 PM //

    My weakside platoon split is better than DJ lemahieus career season. My strongside is a career average 170 wrc. I was hurt most of last year but put up numbers close to my career average in September. I’m probably the fourth best free agent available this winter.

    • Kevin Creagh // October 22, 2018 at 2:53 PM //

      Hi, Josh. You’re also entering your age-33 season off the back of being hurt for the better part of 1-1/2 seasons. That will depress your value significantly, but you’re also in the 11-20 tier probably.

      • Yeah he won’t cash in. I think he’s a heck of a wild card if he’s able to get into the area code of the astronomical numbers that he’s put up consistently the previous 4 seasons he’s a steal on anything 3yrs or less. I just see him going to the cards and putting up big #.

  7. Phillip C-137 // October 22, 2018 at 3:42 PM //

    From an academic point of view it will be interesting to see how the 2018 offseason spending plays out for the top 15 or so guys. As far as guys in the Pirates potential orbit are concerned here’s the possible 1B FA’s. (Goldschmidt isn’t really going to be available but he was listed as a possible so I included him.) (This also relates back to the Oct 18th article.)

    (With today’s age, 2018 HRs, OPS and Salarly)
    -Age – HRs – OPS – $
    Matt Adams – 30 – 21 – .786 – $4.0 mil
    Lucas Duda – 32 – 14 – .731 – $3.5 mil
    Goldschmidt- 31 – 33 – .922 – $11.1 mil
    Joe Mauer – 35 – 6 – .729 – $23.0 mil
    Logan Morrison-31-15 – .644 – $5.5 mil
    Steve Pearce-35 – 11 – .890 – $6.250 mil
    Mark Reynolds-35- 13 – .803 – $763,441
    Justin Smoak -31 -25 – .808 – $4.125 mil

  8. Bobbybaseball // October 27, 2018 at 9:53 PM //

    I think your logic is twisted. I can see Kershaw opting out before Price. We know he can get more than 2 years, although I agree he will stay with LA.

  9. John Stamos // October 28, 2018 at 9:05 AM //

    A discussion of the teams that are likely to spend in free agency based on their space under the tax threshold, historical willingness to spend, competitiveness (in the AL West as the article discusses, no less) that does not mention the Angels is…weird.

    • Kevin Creagh // October 28, 2018 at 9:38 AM //

      I didn’t go through every single team, of course, but the Angels are a team that SHOULD be spending during the remaining Trout/Ohtani years.
      However, Arte Moreno has never spent up to the max CBT level. The past three years they’ve had opening day payrolls of $165M’ish.

      If you subtract off $14.5 for insurances, you’re looking at $131M opening day payroll right now. With the insurances, their CBT is at $145M. So let’s say they can spend $35M this offseason. That’s a lot, but it’s not in the same class as the other teams mentioned.

  10. You misread Cot’s, after adding the Arb est. and benefits the NYY have 48MM. However, if they trade Gray and non-tender DiDi they add 20MM. That leaves them 68MM for Machado, Corbin, CC, & 2 or three cheap roster fill ins. I think they will go over 206MM in 2019. Anything that seems less than going for it in 2019 will be a PR disaster for Cashman.

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