Age, future performance, skills and character are all defining traits that determine what a Major League Baseball free agent is going to get on the open market.
When players hit free agency, the speculation about how much money they will get is almost as exciting as trying to figure out who will win next year's World Series. Yet a lot of the deals are roundly criticized as being for too much money and/or too many years.
This year's crop of free agents is heavy at the top, then drops off quickly. In previous years, this usually leads to players like Gil Meche getting a five-year contract from the Kansas City Royals.
So who will be the players likely to get overvalued on the open market this winter?
B.J. Upton, CF
I keep going back and forth on what to do with Upton this offseason. On the one hand, you see a center fielder who hit 28 home runs, stole 31 bases and has played at least 144 games every season since 2008.
On the flip side, since posting a .273/.383/.401 line in 2008, Upton has seen his season-by-season batting average go from .241 to .237 to .243 to .246. His on-base percentage isn't getting any better, going from .383 to .313 to .322 to .331 to .298 last season.
Plus, the defense, which used to be Upton's strong suit, has fallen off in the last three years. His UZR (per Fangraphs) in 2008 was 7.8, but has fallen in each of the last four seasons to -2.4 this season.
Yet I can easily see a team that looks at a 28-year-old athlete with good power and a history of good defense at a premium position offering him a five- or six-year contract for at least $10-12 million per season.
As much as I love Upton's potential, at some point, we have to accept that he is who he is.
Kyle Lohse, SP
The work that Lohse did the last two years with the St. Louis Cardinals is nothing short of incredible. He has thrown 399.1 innings, posted ERAs of 3.39 and 2.86 and has lowered his walk rate from 3.42 in 2010 to 1.62 this season.
Lohse is the kind of pitcher who is due for regression very quickly. He doesn't miss many bats—his career strikeout rate is 5.65/9 IP. This season, it was 6.10 and he has an extreme flyball rate (59.5 in 2012) despite working primarily with a sinking fastball.
He needs command and deception to get by, basically making him a younger version of Derek Lowe. Someone is going to look at Lohse's performance the last two years and be willing to give him a big multi-year deal, especially in a pitching market that is very thin after Zack Greinke.
Plus, Lohse is going to be 34 years old for the 2013 season. His velocity keeps ticking down, which will leave him more susceptible when he doesn't have his best command.
Rafael Soriano, RP
Soriano does have a $14 million player option, but Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports Soriano is likely to decline the option to become a free agent.
With the big caveat out of the way, it appears Soriano will be looking to get one more big payday before his skills diminish.
Everyone thought the Yankees were nuts to give Soriano three years and $39 million two years ago, and someone has to do it again to land the reliever's services.
It's not like Soriano is the worst free agent on the market this year. He was terrific for the Yankees after taking over the closer's role, but I just hate the idea of investing a lot of money and a lot of years in relief pitchers.
Unless you know you are getting Mariano Rivera in his prime, there is no reliever worth a three- or four-year contract at $10 million or more per season.
Soriano also had significant injuries at various points in his career. He had Tommy John surgery in 2004 and only pitched 14 innings in 2008 with elbow issues. In 2011, he missed time with elbow inflammation.
Too much risk, not enough reward with big-money relievers on the open market is a philosophy that not enough teams adhere to.
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