Re-Evaluating The Free Agent Class

When people talk about this group of upcoming free agents, they generally comment on the lack of high end talent available. With all due respect to Matt Holliday and John Lackey, they’re a clear step back from the likes of Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez, and Carlos Beltran types that have populated the market in recent years. The general consensus is correct – this group is not very impressive at the top end.

But let’s accept this free agent class for what it is – full of interesting players with a real chance to outplay the contracts they receive. Most years, free agency is akin to shopping at Pottery Barn, where you’re paying full price for marketing, store overhead, and the comfort of a familiar brand. This year, it’s more like buying scratch-and-dent furniture from Ebay.

Let’s be honest – you get a better deal on Ebay than Pottery Barn. Sure, you have to accept some risk that what you see in the picture bears some resemblance to what you’re going to get, and the chances of getting nothing for your money is a bit higher, but those factors help drive down price as well. And when you actually get what you were hoping for at an Ebay price, you come out with a really good deal.

That’s this free agent class. Rich Harden can be one of the best pitchers in baseball when he’s on the mound and throwing strikes, but his long injury history is going to limit him to a short term deal. He’s far from the only talented starting pitcher with injury concerns – Ben Sheets, Erik Bedard, Kelvim Escobar, John Smoltz, Justin Duchscherer, Brett Myers, and Randy Johnson are all probably looking at one year deals at rates that will be a fraction of what they would get if they were coming off healthy seasons.

It isn’t just pitchers, either. There are several position players who will almost certainly sign for less than we’ll project them to be worth. Even with teams appreciating defensive value more, it has been so undervalued that we can’t expect a full correction yet. Thus, players who derive a significant chunk of their value from their play on the field will still likely be relative bargains. That’s Placido Polanco, Adrian Beltre, Adam Everett, Mike Cameron, and Randy Winn.

Defense hasn’t been the only thing that’s been going for a discount of late, either. Older players near the tail end of their career have been increasingly sent into forced retirement, as teams have moved towards younger players at a rate where they’ve probably over-corrected. Players like Jim Thome, Vladimir Guerrero, and Carlos Delgado will probably find themselves in line for massive pay cuts, as they’re reaching the end of their usefulness as major league players. But they’re not there yet, and a team that can scoop up any of them on a one year deal could get a quality hitter without a long term commitment.

It’s a winter for bargain shopping. Maybe that’s not what the Yankees and Red Sox are into, but for the rest of baseball, this should actually be a nice change of pace.

We hoped you liked reading Re-Evaluating The Free Agent Class by Dave Cameron!

Please support FanGraphs by becoming a member. We publish thousands of articles a year, host multiple podcasts, and have an ever growing database of baseball stats.

FanGraphs does not have a paywall. With your membership, we can continue to offer the content you've come to rely on and add to our unique baseball coverage.

Support FanGraphs




Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

newest oldest most voted
walkoffblast
Guest
walkoffblast

The red so do not like to bargain shop? You might want to review last off-season.

Kampfer
Guest
Kampfer

The reason why they bargain shop was because they couldn’t sign Tex.

Rob in CT
Guest
Rob in CT

Except their bargain shopping was primarily for the rotation, which doesn’t really have anything to do with missing out on Tex. They’d have wanted starting pitching depth anyway.