Archive for the ‘Washington Nationals’ category

Some Order Has Been Restored to the (Baseball) Universe

February 20, 2019

It’s being reported that Manny Machado and the San Diego Padres have reached agreement on a deal that will last ten years and guarantee Machado $300 million, with an opt-out after the fifth season, the money fairly evenly spread over the ten year term and a limited no trade clause.  It was a long time in coming, but it sure seems in line with the other free agent contracts already signed this off-season.

I was figuring that unless the teams were in fact colluding, Machado would get at a minimum eight years and a $250 million guarantee, because that would a bargain for the age 26 through 33 seasons for a player of Machado’s caliber.  This is, in fact, what the White Sox offered Machado, although the ChiSox offer also included a whopping $100M in performance incentives and additional years.

That Machado got an extra two years and $50M guaranteed over an eight year, $250M deal seems in line with what the best offer would be in light of the tough negotiating teams have been performing this off-season.  Still, until the deal was finally reported with Spring Training already underway, one certainly couldn’t be sure what Machado would finally get.

I agree with Justin Verlander that signing Machado or Bryce Harper to a long-term deal is actually a good move for a rebuilding team like the Padres.  Even if the Friars need another three years to put together a contender, they’ll still have Machado for another five years (barring injury) of peak or close-to-peak performance.

Paying generational players like Machado or Harper even record-setting contracts tends to be a better risk than signing most other free agents, because they reach free agency younger and their peak performance lasts longer.  Of course, there is risk, since ten years is a lot of time for a debilitating injury to occur.

Machado’s offensive numbers are going to drop playing half his games at Petco Park, but the fact that Machado is not a “Johnny Hustle” type who gets too high or too low may actually be a good thing.  I don’t see Machado losing confidence in his abilities just because his offensive numbers drop off a little.

Now we’ll see what Harper gets, most likely from the Phillies.  I’d guess at least $330M guaranteed and possibly as much as $360M guaranteed over 10 to 12 seasons.

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San Francisco Giants Loading Up on Marginal Players

February 17, 2019

With it now looking like the Giants will be bridesmaids in the Bryce Harper sweepstakes (mlbtraderumors suggests today that the Phillies are now the clear favorites to sign Harper), the Giants are continuing to load up on marginal players to address weaknesses throughout the major league and AAA rosters.  I listed the earlier signings about a month ago.

Since then, the Giants have added outfielders Cameron Maybin (age 32 in 2019), John Andreoli (29), Gerardo Parra (32), Craig Gentry (35) and Anthony Garcia (27); infielder Yangervis Solarte (31); catchers Stephen Vogt (34) and Rene Rivera (35); and right-handed pitchers Trevor Gott (26), Jose Lopez (25), Jake Barrett (27) and Brandon Beachy (32).  That’s whole lot of names but not much to get excited about.

In fact, the Giants have accumulated so many possibly has-been or never-will-be outfielders that one has to wonder how the team will get all of them enough Spring Training plate appearances to reasonably separate all the chaff from whatever remaining wheat there might be.

On a more positive note, the Giants have been good at identifying relief pitching candidates who suddenly become useful major league arms once they get to pitch their home games in the pitcher-friendly confines of McCovey Park (name sponsors come and go, but Willie McCovey is eternal, at least in the hearts of Giants’ fans).  Trevor Gott or Jake Barrett could well be the bullpen diamond in the rough the Giants turn up in 2019.

The Giants have been linked to still free agents Gio Gonzalez and Josh Harrison, and there has been rumored interest in the Yankees’ Jacoby Ellsbury.  Still, it looks to me like the Giants are starting a rebuild without yet disclosing that fact to the fan base.  If the Giants don’t make any more significant moves between now and the start of the 2019 regular season, the fans are likely to figure it out on their own soon enough.

Maybe Free Agents Just Aren’t Worth It

February 3, 2019

On February 1st, I was planning to write a post about how strange it is that four of the top five free agents (at least according to mlbtraderumors.com) are still unsigned.  Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post beat me to it.  However, the title of his article got me thinking whether not signing free agents means not trying to win.

Analytics are showing that free agents aren’t worth the money they are getting in terms of actual performance on the free agent contracts they sign and that MLB teams are finally catching up, although it has taken them a long time to do so.

I thought it might be interesting to look at what last year’s top 50 free agents (according to mlbtraderumors.com) did in  2018, the first year of their free agent deals, when everyone expects free agents to be worth the most.  Everyone basically understands that signing a free agent is a win-now strategy and that players are overpaid in the latter years of their free agent deals to provide big value in the first year or two of their contracts.

So what were free agents worth in the first year of the new contracts they signed during the 2017-2018 off-season, which was the off-season when free agent contracts dramatically tightened up in terms of guaranteed seasons?  As it turns out, not what they were paid.

I used the average salary over the years of multi-year contracts, rather than the actual first year salaries, which are in many cases lower, because it was less work to calculate.  It also gives a more accurate value, in a sense, of what the team will end up paying annually for the term of the contract.

By my calculation, teams committed $441.9 million in first year salaries, and got total production value, according to fangraphs.com, of only $356.6 million in return.  Of the 47 free agents I included, only 12 players performed in 2018 at a level greater than their average annual average salary over the lengths of their contracts, while 34 performed worse, 10 of whom cost their new teams money by playing at a level below replacement level.  The 47 players have a remaining 62 seasons on their combined contracts, when as a group they will almost certainly perform at a lower level than they did in 2018, since free agents as a group do not age well at all.

Free agent contracts look like a lottery gamble for teams.  A team might hit it big with the kind of performance J.D. Martinez, Lorenzo Cain, Jhoulys Chacin, Miles Mikolas and Mike Moustakas gave their teams in 2018, but teams were more likely to get the the underwhelming and overpaid performances Yu Darvish, Eric Hosmer, Wade Davis, Zack Cozart and Jay Bruce gave their 2018 teams.

There are a lot of reasons why teams would continue to sign free agents, even if they are overpaid even in their first seasons with their new clubs.  It’s good public relations to sign free agents, particularly if you have lost one or more of your own players to free agency.  The cost in talent, compared to trades, of signing a free agent is very low (although the current collective bargaining rules make it more expensive in terms of talent for the wealthiest, highest spending teams to spend big on free agents, which has always been the driver of the free agent market).  It might be worth overpaying a free agent in order to plug a glaring hole in your line-up.

However, what I take from this information is that it makes little sense to sign a free agent, particularly one in the bottom half of the top 50, unless you are fairly certain one or two performances is all that is separating your team from making or returning to the post-season.  Rebuilding teams shouldn’t be signing free agents until they are truly ready to compete.  Even if you don’t have a replacement level player in your organization at the position you are looking to improve at, a replacement level player can probably be obtained cheaply from another organization, particularly when compared to the financial cost of free agents, even with the sharp tightening in the market the last two off-seasons.

While I still suspect that teams are engaging in some kind of soft collusion — maybe MLB is holding meetings where MLB’s analysts are lecturing teams on the actual value of free agents each November — in-house analytics departments for each team are probably telling teams the one thing they need to do with respect to free agents is sign them for fewer seasons than they did in the past.

mlbtraderumors.com predicted that Bryce Harper and Manny Machado would get respectively 14 and 13 season contracts at $30M per.  The reason they may not yet be signed is that, while teams are willing to pay the $30M per, they aren’t willing to guarantee more than eight or 10 seasons, even for free agents so young and so good.  The only rumors I have heard for either is that the White Sox may have offered Machado somewhere between $175M and $1250M for seven or eight seasons only.

The current collective bargaining agreement terms are devastating the free agent market, because the ten richest teams can’t spend like they once did.  The talent bite that comes from overspending the salary cap for three seasons in a row, in terms of draft picks and international amateur spending, is steep enough that the richest teams are all trying to keep close enough to the cap amount that they can dip under at least once every three seasons in order to avoid the most severe penalties.  It is the richest teams that drive the upper limits of free agent contracts, so the current rules are bound to effect free agent contracts in a big way.

Los Angeles Dodgers Sign A.J. Pollock for $55 Million

January 26, 2019

So much for the Giants signing A.J. Pollock, one of the few premium free agents the team had been linked to.  The Dodgers signed Pollock for four years and $55M, only $5M less than mlbtraderumors.com had predicted.

At least the Giants get to keep the draft pick compensation that signing Pollock required, and management is making noises that they will still find a way to improve the outfield mix before Spring Training starts.  I’m really starting to feel, though, that new General Manager Farhan Zaidi was brought in to start a quiet re-build of the team that will begin in earnest next July if the 2019 club, with it’s core of veteran players, doesn’t play better/win more than they did last year.

The Padres have reportedly gotten in on Manny Machado because his market isn’t where everyone was expecting it to be.  It’s possible the Gints could similarly jump in on Bryce Harper, but I won’t have any expectations of that front until a signing is reported to be imminent.

What I am starting to anticipate with so many top free agents still unsigned is that the final contract guarantees will be disappointing, but will feature lots and lots of player opt-outs.  When teams originally began giving players opt-out clauses, as I’ve written before, it seemed absolutely crazy because the players getting the opt-outs were also getting record-setting deals.  Times have changed in a big way, and now the player opt-outs have become the miss congeniality, second banana prize in place of the record-setting contract guarantee.

J.D. Martinez‘s contract last year was the perfect example of this.  The $110M guarantee was disappointing, but he gets two opt-outs after each of the 2019 and 2020 season.  I could easily see either or both of Manny Machado or Bryce Harper getting $75M to $100M less in guarantee than mlbtraderumors.com projected, but getting like three or four or even five separate opt-outs over the length of the contract.

Why not?  The opt-out clauses make sense if the team can short the player on the guarantee.  In Bryce Harper’s case in particular, I have no doubt that Scott Boras will wring out every single possible term he can to get that benefits his client, particularly if he can’t get a record-setting guarantee.  Manny’s agent Dan Lozano won’t be far behind Boras.

 

Ballplayers Still Getting Paid

January 12, 2019

Even with the free agent market tight and the average player salary down in 2018 for the first time since 2010, the stars are still going to get paid.  That’s the message I’m taking away from all the arbitration compromises being announced.

Nolan Arenado will set an arbitration process record with somewhere between his requested $30M and the $24M the Rockies are offering him.  All of Mookie Betts ($20M), Anthony Rendon ($18.8M), Jacob DeGrom ($17M), Khris Davis ($16.5M) and Jose Abreau ($16M) will be earning more than $15 million in 2019 through the arbitration process.  That’s at least several lifetimes’ worth of income for most Americans.

More than free agency, the owners hate arbitration because it forces them to give their young stars huge raises.  That said, it’s hard to feel any sympathy for the owners, who are obviously much richer than the players and have figured out they can non-tender any player they don’t feel is worth his likely arbitration raise.

Given the competition between the rich players and the even richer owners, my sympathies are with the players, because they are the ones who put the cans in the seats.  That said, it’s hard to feel a lot of sympathy if players are making just a little less than in recent years’ past, when they are still making this kind of money.

You want to make the lives of professional players as a group — negotiate further increases in the major league minimum annual salary ($555,000 in 2019) and pay minor league players a living wage.  That’s the tide that would raise all boats.

Another Slow MLB Off-Season

January 10, 2019

It’s been another slow MLB off-season, and this baseball blogger is finding it hard to find much to write about except how slow the off-season free agent signing period has been.

Is it collusion? Maybe, maybe not.  Given the past history, I’m am always justifiably suspicious when teams stop spending on free agents.  Player salaries were down in 2018 for the first time since 2010.  However, things aren’t exactly rosy for MLB in spite of a currently booming economy.  Post-season TV ratings are down, and eleven teams failed to draw two million fans or average 25,000 fans per game in 2018, with attendance in Tampa and Miami absolutely dreadful by recent standards.

Add to these trends are the fact that analytics have given teams a reason not to spend quite so much on free agents.  Mainly that seems to be playing out in shorter free agents contracts, rather than lower annual averages.

I have been particularly impressed with the accuracy of mlbtraderumors.com’s contract predictions for its list of the top 50 free agents this off-season, at least in terms of the amounts of the contracts that have signed so far.  The main difference between the predictions and the actual contracts signed so far is that many of the contracts are a year shorter than predicted, but actually feature higher average annual salaries.  As such, it really could be possible that teams have simply gotten smarter about giving long-term deals to the majority of free agents, who are not reasonably likely to any good in those last additional seasons.

[As an aside, I noticed that mlbtraderumor’s predictions piece got many comments criticizing the fact that it hadn’t accurately predicted most of the actual signing teams.  In my opinion these criticisms are kind of stupid and fairly typical of a lot of the negative comments people like to write.  With 30 MLB teams, the vast majority of the top 50 free agents are going to have three to five teams serious about signing them, with numerous other teams who see the player as a Plan B if the free agent they really want signs with someone else and also a few bottom-feeders like the Twins last off-season willing to jump in at the last minute if the free agent can be signed as a relative bargain.  That makes it pretty hard to accurately predict which team signs which free agent.  The contract-length-and-amount predictions, and the relative accuracy thereof, feels a lot more pertinent and significant to me.]

It’s also worth noting that we could expect Bryce Harper and Manny Machado to go into January unsigned, as both are trying to wring record-setting deals out of their respective suitors.  Neither Harper (injuries, inconsistency, maturity level) or Machado (maturity level, post-season performance) is without his faults, which means it’s going to take some work to get them the deals that they and their agents dream about.

Like last season, some of the players who haven’t signed yet are going to get squeezed, particularly if they aren’t Harper and Machado — these two will get paid no matter what — it’s just a matter if they are guaranteed $200M+ or $300M+.  Of course, none of the still free agents is going to go to bed hungry anytime soon.

As a final note, I appreciated the creativity of the most recent big free agent signing, that of Zach Britton.  While it guarantees Britton $39M, which was just a little more than mlbtraderumors.com predicted, it provides tremendous flexibility to both the Yankees and Britton.  Britton can opt out after two years and $26M, and after year three the Yankees have a $14M team option for 2022.  Although I have a problem with Scott Boras’ conflicts of interest and his Trumpesque puffery, he is extremely creative in terms of working out the best possible deals for his most elite clients.  I can’t imagine that Britton doesn’t feel pretty good about this deal.

Philadelphia Phillies Sign Andrew McCutchen for $50 Million

December 12, 2018

The Phillies have reportedly reached a three year deal with Andrew McCutchen that promises him $50 million.  Although it’s not much more than the $45M guarantee mlbtraderumors.com predicted, it feels like a lot for a 32 year old outfielder who can no longer play center field and had an OPS under .800 last season.

Fangraphs says that McCutchen was worth roughly $21M in 2018 and $29M in 2019 (he gets on base, drawing 95 walks last season, despite a declining batting average and power numbers), and the Phillies are obviously trying to put together a winning team in 2019 and 2020, so the deal makes a certain amount of sense.  It also suggests that the Phillies probably won’t be the winner in the Bryce Harper sweepstakes if they’ve now agreed to pay this kind of money for another right fielder.

The signing is obviously good for Michael Brantley and A.J. Pollock, who are roughly in the same group of free agent outfielders as McCutchen, but not so good for Harper who now has one less team willing to bid up his final free agent contract.

There haven’t been a lot of signings so far, but the McCutchen and Patrick Corbin signings don’t suggest that this will be as tough an off-season for free agents as last off-season was.