As ESPN’s Christina Kahrl noted last week on Twitter, perhaps it is spending that is the new market inefficiency.
After all, who anticipated that Brewers would be responsible for the greatest free-agent deal to date? And tonight, another team in something of a no-man’s land has made its second splash of the New Year, perhaps sensing opportunity.
#Mets in agreement with free-agent 3B Todd Frazier on two-year, $17M contract, sources tell The Athletic. Pending a physical.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) February 6, 2018
The Mets entered Monday forecast to finish 80-82. They’ve passed the offseason firmly entrenched in that space between the Haves and Have Nots, a space fewer teams seem interested in inhabiting. But with the addition of Todd Frazier, they appear to have paid relatively little for a player who can help at third or first base, positions at which Asdrubal Cabrera and Dominic Smith, respectively, sat atop the club’s depth chart entering the day.
The deadly accurate FanGraphs crowdsource projections and former FanGraphs manager editor Dave Cameron each forecast Frazier to earn a three-year, $42-million deal. Frazier ranked as Dave’s No. 13 overall free agent, one spot ahead of the Mets’ other notable free-agent signing, Jay Bruce. Frazier, whom FanGraphs dot com projects to be a perfectly competent major-league player (.234/.321/.444, 2.3 WAR), settles for significantly less money and one fewer year than Bruce, at a reported two years and $17 million.
While Bruce received precisely what the crowd predicted (three years, $39 million), the contract nevertheless seemed like a pretty good one for Bruce given the nature of this winter’s free-agent market.
The Frazier deal, meanwhile, might be evidence of the New Year’s discount effect, a phenomenon we’ve cited several times here at FanGraphs during the offseason.
Max Rieper of Royals Review found that, from 2013 to -17, free agents who signed before Jan. 1 received guaranteed dollars 4.0% above FanGraphs’ crowdsourced estimates. Free agents who signed after Jan. 1, meanwhile, received 25.3% less than FanGraphs’ estimates. This makes sense: anxiety theoretically increases for players, and demand drops, as spring training nears.
Frazier signed for 40.4% fewer dollars than the crowd’s forecast. He appears to have lowered his demands in order to ensure employment in 2018 and 2019. Frazier’s contract should be sobering for those free agents still holding out hope that their initial contract demands will be met less than two weeks before the beginning of spring games.
Frazier’s contract might be a sign of the discounts we can expect during what remains of the winter. There might also have been something else working against him, too, beyond the strength of the third base position and the lack of obvious fits/needs outside of New York.
Frazier can hit the ball out of the park. We know that. We’ve seen the majestic home runs in games and in the Home Run Derby setting. But at a moment in the game when seemingly everyone is able to hit home runs, perhaps Frazier’s carrying tool had less appeal in the current market. With clubs devaluing free agency, holding back spending power for next offseason, and determined to remain under the luxury-tax threshold, players are already facing an uphill battle.
What’s interesting about Frazier is he that he showed significant secondary skill growth in his age-31 campaign last season. This might be an even greater value signing for the Mets than the forecasts suggest.
After having never once produced a double-digit walk rate in his career, Frazier posted a 14.4% mark last season while also cutting his strikeout rate by three percentage points (21.7%). It was the sixth-best walk rate in the game amongst qualified hitters.
Frazier cut his out-of-zone swing rate by a whopping eight percentage points to a career-low 24.5% in 2017, and his swing rate fell to a career-low 58.6%, down from 72.6% in 2015. His swinging-strike rate fell to 9.3%, another career low.
The discipline gains at age 31 are pretty interesting.
Like Bruce, Frazier has been an extreme fly-ball hitter for a while. Frazier’s fly-ball rate (47.5%) ranked eighth in the sport. Bruce ranked 11th.
We’ll have to see if this is the beginning of a wave of discount signings for clubs, but the Mets are the type of team that is wise to take advantage of such a market. If enough things break right, if we squint, we could see New York playing meaningful baseball late into the summer. Frazier can help make that happen and at a bargain of a price.