MLB Free Agents 2013: Aging Stars Guaranteed to Get Overpaid This Offseason

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MLB Free Agents 2013: Aging Stars Guaranteed to Get Overpaid This Offseason
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

In Major League Baseball, we always see at least one player get paid an exorbitant amount of money because teams tend to negotiate against themselves, and they want to make a move that will help sell tickets. 

Where teams get in trouble is when they start overpaying for players who are almost incapable of holding their value throughout the duration of the contract that it handcuffs them when they try to make future moves. 

This year's free agent class is heavy at the top, and players are going to seek very big money because they can get away with it. Their age and/or history should give teams pause, but when push comes to shove, teams will almost always cave in. 

Here are the soon-to-be free agents whose age will make their future contracts look very bad. 

 

Nick Swisher, OF (Turns 32 on November 25)

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There was a time when I would have put Swisher on a list of underrated free agents, but it turns out, he has an over-inflated sense of worth as he approaches free agency. 

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported that Swisher could be looking for a "Jayson Werth contract" this offseason. For those that don't remember, the Nationals signed Werth to a seven-year, $126 million contract two years ago. 

Swisher certainly has value as a solid defensive player in right field who can get on base and hit for power at a time when everyone is looking for home runs. 

There are, however, certain signs that point to a decline sooner rather than later. First, the fact that he will be 32 in less than three months. Second, per Fangraphs, Swisher's ability to draw walks has declined by almost four percent (15.0 to 11.2) this year, while his strikeout rate has increased by more than three percent (19.7 to 22.8). 

If Swisher's price tag is five or more years at $20 million per season, I would laugh in his face, which is not to say he is wrong to ask for it. Age and a decline in skills just don't make it likely that he will hold enough value to justify it. 

 

Josh Hamilton, OF (Turned 31 in May)

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I admit, I have no idea what Hamilton should get on the open market. If we were just talking about Hamilton the baseball player, I would have some hesitation about giving him a long-term deal because he has been fragile, but when he is on, there is no one more fun to watch hit. 

However, the elephant in the room is always going to be about Hamilton off the field. His relapse last offseason is only going to make teams more leery of giving him a huge contract that his raw baseball talent would justify. 

Another factor working against him, at least on the field, is his streaky nature. Hamilton's overall line this year looks great—.292/.355/.582, 35 home runs, 111 RBI—but in June and July he was terrible. He hit .202 with 56 strikeouts in 173 at-bats. 

Hamilton can be beat with offspeed stuff because he is going up there looking to swing. His bat speed and power are so good right now that he can get away with a lot of things mere mortals can't, but eventually that talent will dissipate and you are left with a free swinger with no patience. 

Because Hamilton is a legitimate superstar who can sell tickets and merchandise, he has added value that a lot of players on the market don't. The only question is: How much will you be willing to risk over a long-term contract?

 

Jose Valverde, CP (Turns 35 on March 24)

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Teams are always going to overpay for saves. It makes no sense because we all see how well long-term contracts for closers, and relief pitchers in general, work out. Unless you are Mariano Rivera, there really is no reason to give a reliever a contract longer than two years. 

In Valverde's case, he had a season in 2011 when he didn't blow a save, so, naturally, people assume he had a great year. His 8.59 K/9IP was the lowest of his career up to that point—it is down to 6.54 this year. 

His ground-ball rate continues to go down as hitters are able to make more contact with his stuff. He has always been an extreme fly-ball pitcher, though it has increased dramatically this year to nearly 65 percent. 

His ground-ball rate of 35.4 percent in 2012 is his worst since 2006 with Arizona. If you take him out of spacious Comerica Park, you are playing with fire. He needs to play in a big stadium that can hold all the fly balls he gives up. 

For some reason, though, I can see teams just ignoring those stats in favor of the almighty save, which Valverde has 26 of so far this season. 

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