Predicting the 10 Most Overpaid MLB Free Agents of the 2014 Class
MLB teams spend more freely on free agents with each passing year, so members of the 2014 class ought to be excited. Plenty of them will get overpaid as television money trickles into owners' wallets.
Those who achieve career-best production in their walk years typically strike gold on the open market. Recent examples include Hiroki Kuoda (one year, $15 million) and Angel Pagan (four years, $40 million).
Being elite at a thin position will help Robinson Cano, while Rajai Davis and Jacoby Ellsbury can emphasize their lightning speed to stand out in a relatively slow group.
History also suggests that teams covet power, even if it's attached to bad defense. Super-durable veterans wind up wealthy, as do players who debut in free agency during their mid- to late 20s.
In particular, these 10 individuals will make more than they deserve on their next contracts.
10. CF/LF Rajai Davis
Under certain circumstances, it can be wise to make a large investment in a one-dimensional position player.
But that will backfire when the individual is approaching/past his 30th birthday and dependent on speed to succeed.
Consider Chone Figgins, the utility man who performed below replacement level through three seasons of a $36 million deal. Or Vince Coleman, who faded quickly after signing his first free-agent contract.
Nonetheless, some MLB team can be expected to disregard all the horror stories and pay Rajai Davis. Enamored by the outfielder's efficient and aggressive baserunning, a front office will overlook his poor eye at the plate, lack of power and pedestrian defense.
Contract prediction: two years, $11 million.
9. 1B/DH Paul Konerko
Next offseason, Paul Konerko will be in the same situation that Lance Berkman recently was.
The latter leaned toward retirement before signing a very generous contract with the Texas Rangers in January. Like Berkman, Konerko should draw interest from numerous teams because of his power, plate discipline, consistency and solid reputation.
With that said, neither man is an everyday first baseman anymore. Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune reports that Chicago White Sox manager Robin Ventura wants to "employ Konerko more as a designated hitter to preserve his strength." After all, Konerko "coped with an array of minor ailments" in 2012 and has become a defensive liability due to declining athleticism.
In the past, this six-time All-Star has accepted less lucrative deals to stay with the White Sox. They might not be in the hunt for his services, however, as we've seen them turn "serious about getting younger," Gonzales writes. A.J. Pierzynski, for example, was not offered a multi-year deal coming off a career season.
Rather, other teams desperate for offense must motivate Konerko to play with an eight-figure salary.
Contract prediction: one year, $13 million.
8. LHP Paul Maholm
Trustworthy left-handed starting pitchers are pretty scarce across the 2014 free-agent class.
Paul Maholm doesn't provide a sexy strikeout rate, but he compensates with other strengths.
By inducing lots of ground balls, the 30-year-old rarely allows extra-base hits. He's also very durable with an average of 30 starts per season since becoming a full-time MLB starter in 2006. Most importantly, Maholm has learned how to attack right-handed batters. Opposing teams no longer gain an advantage from stacking their lineups with them.
This southpaw is a legitimate middle-of-the-rotation option and perhaps an ace on some of baseball's weakest staffs. The Atlanta Braves will probably have to choose between Maholm and former All-Star Tim Hudson (also an impending free agent).
Contract prediction: four years, $55 million.
7. 1B/OF Mike Morse
Old habits die hard, like Mike Morse's tendency to swing early in the count. He chases even when pitchers show no interest in challenging him.
Overall, though, Morse is an impressive offensive player. His deficiencies are evident in other phases of the game.
"The Beast" will always be a liability on the basepaths. He has totaled just two stolen bases since 2007. Moreover, he needs to be in scoring position to have any chance of coming home on a double.
Morse has major league experience at five defensive positions but only because he struggles at each of them. Carrying 245 pounds obviously limits his range.
Even if that deters a few National League clubs, there should be a large market for one of the class' strongest right-handed bats, particularly if the Seattle Mariners don't extend a qualifying offer.
Contract prediction: three years, $35 million.
6. RF/1B Corey Hart
Corey Hart shares several similarities with Mike Morse.
For one, he's just two days younger than Morse. Both will turn 32 prior to the 2014 season. Also, the lion's share of Hart's defensive experience has come as a corner outfielder or first baseman. And thirdly, these free agents-to-be are vulnerable to injury, with Hart expected to miss the month of April to recover from a torn meniscus.
After 13 years in the Milwaukee Brewers organization, the Kentucky native is still quite athletic. His lanky build aids him as a fielder and a runner.
His eventual Jason Bay-like deal will guarantee more years than his fragile body merits.
Contract prediction: four years, $65 million.
5. RHP Matt Garza
Several great-but-not-elite players who rejected qualifying offers from their former teams had frustrating free-agent experiences.
Michael Bourn and Adam LaRoche each settled for only $12 million per year. Right-hander Kyle Lohse is still searching for work!
Meanwhile, Zack Greinke and Anibal Sanchez did very well for themselves. Midseason trades ensured that they couldn't be linked to draft-pick compensation, so their suitors felt more comfortable making high bids.
Matt Garza will probably enjoy the same perk.
His Chicago Cubs continue to peddle veterans to clubs with expendable prospects. They want to replenish the farm system before entering an era of all-out contention.
The 29-year-old has impressive fastball velocity, a terrific slider and other offspeed options to keep batters guessing. With good health in 2013, he'll be popular at the trade deadline and wealthy come wintertime.
Contract prediction: five years, $88 million.
4. RHP Joel Hanrahan
Relief pitching can be so volatile from one year to the next (e.g., Fernando Rodney or Heath Bell). That's why contracts covering multiple seasons—especially those with annual salaries north of $10 million—should be offered very selectively.
Joel Hanrahan certainly doesn't belong in the top tier with the likes of Craig Kimbrel, Jonathan Papelbon and Mariano Rivera.
He performed beautifully in 2011, locating his high-90s fastball in hard-to-reach places. The right-hander generated plenty of ground balls and saved 40 games. Despite one of his lowest strikeout rates ever, Hanrahan dominated the ninth inning.
But he wasn't nearly as convincing this past summer. The NL All-Star allowed many more baserunners and left too many pitches up in the zone. The disparity in his home/road splits is also a concern.
Hanrahan will be a hot commodity regardless.
Baseball continues to overvalue the "proven closer" who has the "guts" to preserve slim leads and record the final three outs.
Contract prediction: three years, $33 million.
3. RHP Phil Hughes
In 2012, Phil Hughes stayed in the rotation throughout the season for the first time as an MLB pitcher. Aside from a 3.59 strikeout-to-walk ratio, none of his stats were particularly impressive.
He's coveted because he's young.
Hughes will be 27 years old once the World Series ends. The only available pitchers with later birth dates will include non-tendered arms and international free agents.
Moreover, the former first-round draft pick has been lightly used. Since going pro in 2004, Hughes has totaled less than 1,000 professional innings (635 in the majors).
Much like B.J. Upton, he'll get paid based on his great potential rather than tangible production.
Contract prediction: five years, $72 million.
2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
Jacoby Ellsbury erupted for 32 home runs in 2011 to supplement his great base-stealing and outfield defense.
It's difficult to believe that he'll be a perennial power threat. In five other MLB seasons, Ellsbury has combined for only 24 homers.
Of course, the elephant in the room is Ellsbury's injury history. The center fielder missed all but 18 games in 2010 due to nagging pain in his ribs. Then this past season, a shoulder problem that should have taken one month to heal (according to Dr. Daniel Quinn) sidelined him nearly three times as long.
Both injuries were sustained on freak collisions, so this isn't a matter of durability. However, it's fair to assign him the "slow healer" label.
Since Adam Jones received a $85.5 million extension at the same position, Ellsbury should easily crack nine figures in guaranteed money.
Contract prediction: six years, $130 million.
1. 2B Robinson Cano
Robinson Cano is an outstanding all-around second baseman, but he's not as unique as you might think.
Chase Utley flaunted comparable slugging and defensive skills during his late 20s. He might have been more valuable, actually, thanks to efficient base-stealing and a knack for being hit by pitches.
Both signed team-friendly contract extensions upon reaching arbitration eligibility. However, Cano was three years younger at the time and interested in a shorter commitment. He's approaching free agency in his prime with Scott Boras as a representative, while Utley is clearly declining and beset by chronic knee problems.
If Cano doesn't match Alex Rodriguez's second decade-long deal, he'll get pretty close. And whoever writes that check—even if its the New York Yankees, who would retain their top 2014 draft pick—will have overpaid.
Other desirable second basemen like Ian Kinsler, Dustin Pedroia and Brandon Phillips aren't available. Basic economic theory tells us that limited supply should put the Dominican in high demand.
The main consolation is that Cano has a better body than Utley and most others at the position. He probably won't make annual trips to the disabled list.
Then again, look at what happened to Alex Rodriguez (124 games per season since age 32).
Contract prediction: nine years, $225 million.
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