Baseball Bits #11: How Much are Harper, Machado, Really Worth?

Welcome to the final article of my initial 2018-19 MLB free agency coverage.  Bryce Harper and Manny Machado may be the Top 2 free agents of the off-season, but how much money are they really worth?  Keep reading to find out my take.  If you haven’t seen them yet, you can also check out my previous MLB free agency articles at the links below.  In February, I may also have some updated predictions on where the final remaining free agents will sign, so stay tuned.

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MLB 2018-19 Free Agency Coverage – Tentative Schedule

Week of November 19: MLB 2018-19 Free Agency Predictions: Pitchers

Week of November 26: MLB 2018-19 Free Agency Predictions: Catchers & Infielders

Week of December 3: MLB 2018-19 Free Agency Predictions: Outfielders & Trade Ideas

Week of January 21: Baseball Bits #11: How Much Money are Harper, Machado Really Worth?

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It’s been a crazy off-season so far.  The Mariners have completely refreshed their roster, and the Dodgers dealt away Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp in one trade.  Winter Meetings were not only full of trades, but also free agent signings.  Many of the top free agents, including Patrick Corbin, J.A. Happ, Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Brantley, Josh Donaldson, Wilson Ramos, Yasmani Grandal, and Andrew McCutchen have been signed.

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But the top two free agents of the off-season, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, remain unsigned.  Harper and Machado are regarded as a couple of the league’s best offensive players, and among free agent batters, Harper and Machado were the Top 2 in oWAR.  Both Harper and Machado are capable of making a mediocre team a contender, or making a team that’s already a borderline playoff contender a relevant World Series contender.  

Machado met with three teams in December: the White Sox, Yankees, and Phillies.  He is likely going to sign with one of those three teams, but he has not made his decision yet, though he has reportedly narrowed it down to the White Sox and Phillies.  Originally, I had predicted that Machado would go to the Phillies.  But after their acquistion of Jean Segura, I see the White Sox as the best fit.  There could be mystery teams in on Machado though, according to several newer reports.

Harper has not met with any teams yet, but the Dodgers, Cubs, Nationals, and Phillies among others have shown interest.  After trading away two of their outfielders and more to the Reds for next to nothing, it would not be smart for the Dodgers to pass on Harper.  But I think there’s a chance he’ll sign with the White Sox or Phillies as well.

Although they have some different suitors, one thing Harper and Machado have in common is their demand for a big contract.  Harper turned down a 10 year, $300 million contract offered by the Nationals back in September. Machado could also reportedly sign for $250-300 million or more.  But are Harper and Machado, let alone any free agent batter worth that much money?

I did some research on some free agents throughout the last 12 years.  I looked at free agent batters and pitchers who were Top 50 in oWAR or pWAR the season before they hit the open market who ended up signing for at least $12 million/year and at least $45 million total.  I researched their stats the following year. Did their WAR improve or decline? I looked at other stats too, like OPS for batters, and ERA for pitchers. The goal is to gauge how much Harper and Machado are really worth based on how big an impact they could realistically make right off the bat.  Keep reading to see my research and some interesting “Baseball Bits” that I found through my research.

The Research

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The “Baseball Bits”

  • Of the 23 free agent batters since 2006 who were Top 50 in oWAR and signed for at least $12 million/year and $45 million total:
    • Only 2, or 8.7%  (Lorenzo Cain and Nelson Cruz) saw an increase in oWAR AND OPS throughout their contract, and only 1 of the 2 saw an increase in oWAR of 1.0 or more (Cruz, 4.2 → 6.0)
    • Only 4, or 17.4%, saw an increase in oWAR OR OPS throughout their contract:
      • Cain, 2017-2018
      • Justin Upton, 2016-2017
      • Cruz, 2014-2015
      • Victor Martinez, 2010-2011
    • 19 of the 23 (82.6%) saw a decrease in both oWAR AND OPS, and 14 of those 19 (60.9% of all the free agents, 73.7% of the 19), saw an decrease by 2.0 or more in WAR or 0.2 or more in OPS
    • Only 7 of the 23, or 30.4% were under 30 as a free agent
      Of those 7, 6 saw a decrease in OPS AND oWAR
    • Only Justin Upton saw an increase in OPS, while none of the 7 saw an increase in WAR
    • Harper and Machado both had an oWAR between 4.0 and 5.0 in 2018.  12 of these 23 free agents also had an oWAR between 4.0 and 5.0. Of the 12:
      • 2 saw an increase in both oWAR and OPS
      • 1 saw an increase in OPS
      • 9 saw a decrease in both
    • Harper and Machado both apparently want over $250 million.  Only 1 free agent hitter since 2006 (Alex Rodriguez, 10 years, $275 million) received that much, and he saw a significant decrease in both oWAR and OPS the next year.  Robinson Cano (10 years, $240 million) made almost that much and saw a mild to moderate decrease.
  • Of the 17 free agent pitchers since 2006 who were Top 50 in pWAR and signed for at least $12 million/year and $45 million total:
    • Only 1 (Max Scherzer) saw an improvement in pWAR AND ERA the next year
    • Only 2, or 11.8%, saw an improvement in pWAR OR ERA the next year:
      • Scherzer, 2014-2015
      • Jon Lester, 2014-2015
    • 15 of the 17 (88.2%) saw a decline in pWAR AND ERA.  12 of them (80% of the 15, 70.6% of of all the free agents) saw a decrease in ERA or pWAR by 2.0+
    • Only 5 of the 17 were under 30 at the end of their first year of the new contract (Barry Zito, CC Sabathia, Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, Johnny Cueto).  Only 2 of the 5 (Scherzer and Lester) saw an increase in pWAR or ERA
    • None of these free agent pitchers were paid anything close to $250 million.  The largest of their contracts went to:
      • David Price, 2015-2016 (7 years, $217 million)
      • Max Scherzer, 2014-2015 (7 years, $210 million)
      • Zack Greinke, 2015-2016 (6 years, $206.5 million)
      • Of these 3, only Scherzer saw an improvement in pWAR OR ERA

The Verdict

Very few of the free agents since 2006 saw their WAR, OPS, or ERA improve on their new contract.  You have to take into consideration that Harper and Machado are younger than any of these free agents.  However, 3 of the 4 free agent batters who saw an increase in WAR or OPS were actually 30 or older.  This may be due to the fact that it’s easier to judge an older free agent.  But both Harper and Machado entered the league as teenagers and have proven themselves throughout the years.  Finding the right young free agent is hard, as it’s not everyday that two proven 26-year old sluggers hit the open market in one off-season.  I also saw different results among free agent pitchers, as both pitchers who saw either their ERA or WAR improve on their new contract were under 30.  Plus, both of the free agent batters who saw their stats improve had an oWAR between 4.0 and 5.0 the year before signing, just like Harper and Machado did in 2018.  However, it’s not like the teams in the market for Harper and Machado necessarily expect better stats throughout their new contract, especially if they’re looking to sign 8-12 year deals.  Some might not even expect improvement from 2018 to 2019.  But you should expect your $300 million dollar free agent to improve the next year.

The real question is, should anyone (even the Dodgers) pay Harper or Machado $300 million?  Similar contracts that have been signed in the last 10-12 years have not ended up working out so well.  Alex Rodriguez signed a 10-year, $275 million deal with the Yankees in 2008 (the most among the free agents I researched).  He was a star player for the Yankees early on in the contract, but his stats saw a decline in Year 1 of the contract, and by 2015, his stats had declined significantly.  Maybe the steroids had something to do with it (2014 was the year he missed for steroids), but he was no longer the same A-Rod when he returned from his suspension, and he ended up retiring the year before his contract expired.

The only other free agent batter who even came close to receiving that kind of contract was 2B Robinson Cano, who signed for 10 years, $240 million with the Mariners in 2014.  Things have worked out in the first half of his contract, but he didn’t quite play at the level he did with the Yankees.  Who knows, maybe he will improve after being traded to the Mets and returning to New York City, but so far, he has begun to slowly decline during his new contract.  He’s still a key piece in the lineup, but he made even more of an impact with the Yanks.

Harper and Machado are a unique situation, but it would be silly to give them $300 million only for them to decline significantly.  I can’t see any team giving Harper or Machado much more than A-Rod without regretting it later.  They are younger and Harper nearly won the Triple Crown in 2015, so maybe they’re worth a little more, but not $300 million.  I don’t think Machado is worth more than A-Rod, and his attitude has turned some teams off.  I think he goes to the White Sox, but it would be ridiculous to give him much more than $25 million/year.  A 10 year, $260 million deal could work.  As for Harper, he may be worth a little more due to his MVP season, and the Dodgers should be willing to bid a little more after their trade with Cincinnati.  But he’s still not worth $300 million or more.  9 years, $288 million would be more reasonable.  The Dodgers may end up giving him over $300 million, but I don’t think it’s worth it.

That’s all for this edition of Baseball Bits.  Stay tuned for more MLB coverage soon, including my MLB 2019 Season Predictions (which will come after the NFL season ends and Harper and Machado finally sign).

 

 

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MLB 2018-19 Free Agency Predictions: Pitchers

Welcome to my 2nd annual MLB free agency predictions.  Last off-season, things took a long time to get going due to a relatively dull free agent market.  This year, that is not the case.  We might have the best MLB free agent class in the history of my blog, and it’s bound to get going any minute now.  That’s why I’m releasing my predictions in November and December this year rather than January.  I wanted to get these out before the Winter Meetings, where a lot of big moves could occur.

Today, I will be sharing my predictions for free agent pitchers.  Feel free to comment with your thoughts.

Below is my tentative schedule for my 2018-19 MLB free agency coverage.

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MLB 2018-19 Free Agency Coverage – Tentative Schedule

Week of November 19: MLB 2018-19 Free Agency Predictions: Pitchers

Week of November 19 or 26: MLB 2018-19 Free Agency Predictions: Catchers & Infielders

Week of November 26 or December 3: MLB 2018-19 Free Agency Predictions: Outfielders & Trade Ideas

Week of December 3 or 10: Baseball Bits #11: Big Free Agent Contracts

Starting Pitchers

Top Tier

Note: These were made BEFORE the James Paxton trade

The Jays have a lot of infield prospects on the rise.  But their starting rotation needs some help if they want to contend.  They will surely go after the market’s top starters.  They are open to bringing back J.A. Happ, but I think Dallas Keuchel and Ervin Santana fit their mold better.  Keuchel will serve as Toronto’s ace, where they will need an upgrade with Marco Estrada leaving.  Santana isn’t what he used to be, but will still boost their rotation, especially if he rebounds fully from his injury in 2018.  Meanwhile, Happ will head to the Angels to provide stability in an injury prone rotation that will be without Shohei Ohtani.  The Yankees will pursue a younger starter like Patrick Corbin to upgrade the rotation in the long term, and an older starter to supplement the rotation until younger Yankees pitchers are ready to take over.

Jerry Dipoto had intended to rebuild this off-season.  But they have too much talent on the rise to just start over now.  It would be a Marlins-like move to rebuild now.  I think it would be smarter for them to add a mid to high tier starter such as Gio Gonzalez or Nathan Eovaldi and an outfielder or two to supplement the young talent.  Charlie Morton will leave Houston for and sign with the Nationals, who could use a #3 starter to replace Gio Gonzalez and add depth to the rotation.

High to Mid-Tier Starters

Shields will return to the White Sox.  They will seek to be led by young talent, but need Shields back for depth.  The Padres will also bring back their veteran starter, Tyson Ross for similar reasons.  I could also see them adding Garrett Richards among other veterans as future investments to guide their return to contention.  Richards will miss 2019, but hopefully, he’ll come back as a better pitcher in 2020.  I think Jason Hammel is a good veteran fit for the Yankees.

If the Rays want to make the playoffs, their “committee day” in their rotation isn’t going to fly.  They’ll need to add rotation depth, and Estrada seems like a good fit for them.  He has experience in the AL East, and a mid-tier starter or two is just what Tampa needs.  The Orioles could also use another starter.  They aren’t signing anyone too expensive as they start a rebuild, but Yovani Gallardo has been on the team before and could be a good bargain signing for them.

Mid to Low Tier Starters

Eovaldi really boosted his free agent profile in the playoffs.  But I think the Red Sox will be willing to offer him a long term contract after his playoff performance.  The Rays will add Derek Holland as another option for the rotation.  Holland, Tyler Glasnow, and Brent Honeywell will likely fight for the final two spots in the rotation.  I think Ryan Yarbrough fits best as a long reliever.  Similar to the O’s, the Royals and Tigers will look for affordable rotation depth.  I think Lynn and Santiago are good fits.  I could see Chris Tillman joining the Braves, who may seek a veteran starter to fill in until their pitching prospects are ready.  I think the Giants should sign a lower tier starter, such as Jaime Garcia to give them options if young starters Chris Stratton, Tyler Beede, and Ty Blach struggle.

Relief Pitchers

Top Tier Closers and Late-Inning Relievers

There has been a lot of hype surrounding Kimbrel after he turned down the qualifying offer, but I think he will return to the Red Sox.  He just wanted a longer term deal.  The teams that were in the running for Kimbrel such as the Angels and Phillies will settle for other top closers such as Mark Melancon and Zach Britton.  I think Jeurys Familia, another top closer will go to the White Sox as they try to take steps toward contention.  I could see the Mariners keeping active in the free agent market by adding another bullpen arm in Miller.  The Reds could also use a bullpen arm to replace Drew Storen, and Brach seems to be a good fit.  He can close or set up, and he and Raisel Iglesias could make a strong veteran-younger player late-inning combo.

Mid-Tier Closers

Pittsburgh’s #1 hole right now is their bullpen.  They’ll look to add multiple quality relievers.  As they rebuild, they are not in the running for the market’s top closers.  But Herrera is a reasonable closing option for them.  Some other rebuilding teams who need closers, such as the O’s, Royals, and Rangers, will have to settle for lower-tier closers such as Tyler Clippard and Cody Allen.  Meanwhile, I see veteran closer Greg Holland headed to Tampa, hoping to rebound from a rough 2018.  Holland is an affordable option for a Rays team that wants to make the jump from mediocre to playoff contender.  Storen, another seasoned veteran, could make for a good duo with fellow late-inning reliever Addison Reed for Minnesota.

Low Tier Closer-Mid Tier Set-Up

Herrera isn’t quite enough to fill Pittsburgh’s late inning hole.  Romo could be a good fit.  The Brewers could also use another late inning arm.  They don’t need a top tier guy, but someone like A.J. Ramos or Santiago Casilla could definitely help.  I think Casilla will return to the A’s though, and Zach McAllister, another mid-tier reliever, will return to Detroit, where he spent just about a week in his final MLB stint of 2018.  The Rockies could resign Adam Ottavino, but I think they will go for a slight upgrade, Justin Wilson, with the Indians adding Ottavino to supplement Brad Hand and replace Andrew Miller.

Low Tier Late Inning Relievers

The Braves have been a rumored suitor to bring back Craig Kimbrel, but they should trust Arodys Vizcaino as their closer and add a lower tier late inning reliever to support him (I see them adding Maurer).  The White Sox will sign Tony Sipp as a slight upgrade over Jeanmar Gomez, who I have going to Detroit.  Gomez and McAllister will set up closer Shane Greene.  The Royals will also look for an affordable bullpen arm.  They should be set in the late-inning department with the duo of Clippard and Boone Logan.  The Mets will be active in this free agent market, and they need late-inning help.  Aaron Loup is a good addition, but I don’t have them adding a closer. Jenrry Mejia is eligible to return in 2019, and the Mets should be hopeful he can close.  Duke will play a similar role in Toronto, setting up closer Ken Giles.

High Tier 7th Inning Relief

If the Red Sox bring back Kimbrel, they should be fine to let Carson Smith and maybe even Joe Kelly test the market.  I think Smith will find a destination despite his injury, as the Twins sign him to supplement the late-inning duo of Storen and Reed.  The Angels, who will still look for more bullpen help beyond Britton, will sign Kelly.  If he’s having a good year, Kelly can become the full-time set up man in LA over Cam Bedrosian.  Norris, a former starter, can provide the Rays with a trustworthy 7th inning arm.  Jake Diekman should play a similar role in San Francisco.  The O’s and Reds could also use bullpen help, but cannot afford the top guys in the market.  They will settle for Axford and Warren, respectively.

That’s all for Part 1 of my MLB FA Predictions.  Stay tuned for Part 2, where I will evaluate the catcher market and the infield market.  This comes in good timing, as Kurt Suzuki just signed in Washington, and J.T. Realmuto trade rumors are reaching their peak.

Note: I think the Marlins will end up trading Realmuto to Atlanta with Kurt Suzuki off the table.  The Marlins should sign another catcher to supplement Chad Wallach.