Betting on Yourself
Photo: John Amis/ AP
In free agency, we often see players who have had down years, or have been oft-injured, settle for one year deals. Many teams are not willing to hand out multi year deals to these players due to their track record, but still believe the are capable of a bounce back. This past offseason (which stretched into the regular season) we saw former Cy Young and MVP winners each settle for a one year deal. While some players have had bounce back years, others on one year deals have been below replacement level players, creating a cloudy future.
Josh Donaldson: 1 year/23 million with the Atlanta Braves
Donaldson, who won the 2015 AL MVP, settled for a one year deal with the Atlanta Braves. Donaldson established a fine slash line the past two years with .262/.375/.525, but also struggled with shoulder pain and a nagging calf injury. Thew latter of the two, limited him to a combined 162 games played over the past two years. Still with the track record and the offensive prowess that Donaldson possesses, it landed him a one year deal worth 23 million dollars. This season, Donaldson has avoided the injured list, and has slashed .267/.384/.531 with 29 home runs and has been worth 3.8 wins above replacement per Fangraphs. Barring a contract extension with the Braves, Donaldson is expected to re-enter free agency this offseason at age 34, but should garner interest from multiple teams.
Overall this deal has worked well for both parties. Donaldson has set himself up for a multi-year deal, and the Braves slotted a veteran slugger with playoff experience into their young lineup.
Next offseason projected contract: 2 years/38 million
Dallas Keuchel: 1 year/13 million with the Atlanta Braves
The offseason hot stove carried into June, when Dallas Keuchel finally agreed to a contract with the Atlanta Braves. Keuchel who may have scared teams off by seeking a reported five year deal, waited until after the MLB draft to ink his one year (technically four month deal), with Atlanta. The 2015 AL Cy Young winner has fought off a drop in fastball velocity (89.3 to 88.2) to post a respectable 4.14 ERA across his first 12 starts this season. Assuming Keuchel reaches free agency for the second straight year it will be interesting to see how Keuchel and agent Scott Boras approach this offseason. A drop in velocity and a high asking price could scare some teams off, but Keuchel has proved to be one of the more consistent pitchers over the past 5 years.
While Keuchel was originally looking for a five year deal near 100 million dollars, he has succeeded in Atlanta. I would predict Keuchel will be able to land a multi year deal this offseason.
Next offseason projected contract: 3 years/42 million
Cody Allen: 1 year/8.5 million with the Los Angeles Angels
One of the most consistent bullpen arms in baseball from 2012-2017, Allen took a major step back in 2018. After posting a 2.67 ERA and 122 saves across six seasons, Allen regressed to a 4.70 ERA but still converted 27 saves in 32 opportunities in 2018. Looking for an opportunity to close this past offseason, Allen latched on with the Angels who looked to be without an established closer. Allen converted 4 saves in 4 opportunities for the Halos, but took the loss in back to back games when he entered the 9th innings in a tie game. After these 2 appearances, Allen was removed from his closer role and put into lower leverage roles. Even with his new role, Allen struggled to a 6.26 ERA and a less promising 8.39 FIP and in mid June, the Angels designated Allen for assignment.
While this deal looked great on paper, this deal didn’t work out for either party. Allen was unable to hold down the Angels closer role, and the Angels were left without a potential quality bullpen piece.
Allen picked up a minor league deal with the Twins, but was shortly released after 6 minor league appearances.
Next projected contract: Minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training.
Gio Gonzalez: 1 year/2 million with the Milwakuee Brewers
A very curious case of this past free agency was Gio Gonazalez. Gonzalez, 33, entered the offseason as one of the most consistent and durable pitchers on the market. Gonzalez had only made two separate trips to the disabled list in his 11 year MLB career and held a career 127-97 record and a 3.69 ERA. But this offseason, Gonzalez was unable to find a job until late March, when he inked a deal with the Yankees that would pay him 3 million if he cracked the MLB roster, and an additional 300,000 for each start. Gonzalez couldn’t crack the major league roster, and opted out of his contract before signing with the Milwakuee Brewers.
This season Gonzalez has posted a 4.06 ERA with a 2-1 record while starting 12 games. He has continued to be a quality mid rotation arm who has helped to stabilize an often injured Brewers rotation. The deal has seemed to work out for both parties, giving Gonzalez a consistent opportunity to start, and providing a stabilizing force in the Brewers rotation.
Next projected contract: 1 year/5 million
Matt Harvey: 1 year/ 11 million
Matt Harvey looked liked he would be one of the highest paid pitchers in baseball when he reached free agency. After posting an incredible 2.53 ERA in his first 3 seasons and starting the 2013 All Star game, Harvey then posted a 5.39 ERA in his last 3 years. As a result, Harvey settled for a 1 year prove-it deal with the Angels. Harvey started 12 games for the Halos, pitching to the tune of a 3-5 record with an ERA of 7.09 that ranked 3rd worst in baseball (min 50 innings pitched). The Harvey signing did not work out for either party and even the pitching starved Angels elected to designate the 30 year old righty for assignment.
After about 3 weeks of free agency, Harvey was scooped up by the Oakland Athletics on a minor league deal. He had a strong debut in AAA Las Vegas, allowing 2 hits across 4 innings pitched. Harvey’s next contract will depend on if he cracks Oakland’s roster and how well he pitches. If he pitches well, he will probably land an incentive based major league deal. If he pitches poorly, he will probably settle for a minor league deal, if he is willing to take it.
Next Contract Prediction: Minor League deal with an invite to spring training
Yasmani Grandal: 1 year/16 million with the Milwakuee Brewers. The deal also contained a 2020 mutual option worth 16 million, or a buyout worth 2.25 million
Grandal, known as one of the most well rounded catchers in baseball, turned down many reported multi year deals, and took a one year deal with the Brewers. It was reported in late December that Grandal turned down a 4 year/60 million dollar deal from the New York Mets, who ended up signing Wilson Ramos. Grandal has always been known as one of the best catchers in the league, but in his first season with the Brewers, he has turned in one of his best offensive seasons. Among catchers with at least 300 plate appearances, Grandal ranks 3rd in wRC+ with 117, 2nd in homers with 20, and tied for 3rd in RBIs with 61.
As far as the defensive side, Grandal is also one of the tops in baseball. Grandal ranks 12th in baseball with a strike percentage of 51.6%. In addition to strike percentage, Grandal ranks 2nd in the league in runs against strikes. Overall Grandal is one of the best pitch framers in baseball, and combined with his offense, he is one of the most well rounded catchers in baseball.
This offseason, I would expect Grandal to opt out of his contract and search for a lucrative multi-year deal.
Next Contract Prediction: 4 years/56 million
Trevor Cahill: 1 year/9 million with the Los Angeles Angels
Trevor Cahill, primarily known as a ground ball pitcher, looked like the perfect fit with the Angels strong infield. Coming off a season in which he posted a 3.76 ERA in 21 games (20 starts), Cahill landed a major league deal and was expected to be a decent piece in the Angels rotation. But like Harvey, Cahill has been a huge disappointment for the Angels. Cahill started 11 games, including Opening Day, allowed a 6.92 ERA along with a .894 opponent’s OPS. After these 11 starts, Cahill was banished to the bullpen but the results have yet to improve. In 17 relief appearances he is 1-3 with an ERA of 6.15, primarily working in low leverage or mop up situations.
With a minimum of 80 innings pitched this season, Trevor Cahill ranks last in the MLB in fWAR (-0.8), 3rd worst in ERA (6.62), and 2nd worst in home run/fly ball percentage (24%). Cahill does have a career ERA of 4.23, but now on the wrong side of 30, Cahill will struggle finding a major league deal.
Next Contract Prediction: Minor League deal with an invite to spring training
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