When Major League Baseball's free-agency period arrives, every available player is dissected by media, fans and front-office members around the sport. After all, the future of each franchise is on the line when lucrative contracts are awarded to players on the open market.
From the perspective of agents, the objective is simple: make the client look as attractive as possible by highlighting all the ways he impacts a game and clubhouse. Over the past generation, no one has done this better than super-agent Scott Boras.
Usually, the lists of pros and cons meet somewhere in the middle. From scouting reports prepared by teams, to industry expectations for contracts, to fan reaction when mid-level performers change uniforms, the spotlight on each player tends to fall close to reality.
Yet every year, there are a few, or more, free agents who are treated differently. Their weakness are accentuated, and their strengths are barely talked about. When articles and news reports are filed about them, the slant is toward a franchise making a mistake on an overrated player or a former star in decline.
The following free agents are experiencing that thus far during the hot-stove season. All will find work in 2014, but it will not be without reservation. Here's a look at why their respective demises are being greatly exaggerated and how they can prove the naysayers wrong after arriving at their next destination.
Shin-Soo Choo, OF
Demise: Left-handed pitching
The narrative around Choo has nothing to do with age, athleticism, overwhelming contract demands or personality quirks. Instead, his perceived inability to hit left-handed pitching has become a major talking point. When fans are wondering if a free agent is about to become a platoon player, major questions arise.
To be fair, there is a major difference in Choo's offensive game when a left-handed pitcher is on the mound. In 2013, the left-handed hitting outfielder posted an OPS over 1.000 versus right-handers, but that figure dropped to .612 versus lefties. The gap is significant, but it is hardly one to stop teams from offering him a contract in excess of $100 million.
Here's why: Choo's inability to hit lefties is being confused with his inability to get on base against lefties. On the path to compiling a sterling .423 on-base percentage in 2013, Choo reached base at an elite level against righties (.457) and at an above-average clip against southpaws (.347). Yes, despite all the talk around Choo's difficulties with left-handed pitching and the idea of a $20 million platoon player, the star right fielder reached base more than enough to keep himself in the lineup every single day.
Furthermore, Choo's 2013 season was a bit of an aberration. Although he has not been a good offensive performer against lefties, his career .680 OPS against them is much more of an indicator of his skill level than the .612 mark that he posted in 2013.
If that doesn't convince you to stop fretting over a demise that's more fact than fiction, this should do the trick: Choo registered 712 plate appearances in 2013; of those, 491 (69 percent) came against right-handed pitching. There simply aren't enough left-handed pitchers in baseball to make Choo's demise anything more than a blemish in his game.
Curtis Granderson, OF
Demise: Leaving Yankee Stadium
Of all the offseason narratives, this one might be the strangest. After all, it's 2013, folks. Perception versus reality shouldn't be a difficult nut to crack for baseball fans. It literally takes seconds to research Curtis Granderson's splits since arriving to the Yankees before the 2010 season.
Yes, he did hit for more power in Yankee Stadium during his four years in the Bronx, but who wouldn't achieve that distinction? The park is built for left-handed hitters to launch the ball into the short right-field porch.
While there is some truth to this greatly exaggerated demise, it shouldn't be enough to scare teams off from signing the three-time All-Star outfielder, especially with power disappearing from the game on a yearly basis.
|Most Home Runs in Major League Baseball (2010-2013)|
Over the last four seasons, Granderson hit a total of 115 home runs for the Yankees. That figure puts him among the most prolific power-hitters in baseball since the start of the 2010 season. The fact that he reached those totals despite missing over 100 games due to injury in 2013 should be highlighted by his agents when discussing potential deals.
Now, on to the part that matters...
Of those 115 home runs, 63 came in the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium, while 52 were on the road. That split shouldn't be big enough to scare off potential suitors when put in this context: over the last four years, Curtis Granderson has hit more home runs away from Yankee Stadium than Marlon Byrd has hit anywhere. Just days ago, Marlon Byrd inked a contract worth $8 million per year with the Phillies.
Over the next three or four seasons, Granderson should be a consistent 25-plus home-run hitter, regardless of location.
Phil Hughes, SP
Demise: Fly balls
Unlike Curtis Granderson, Yankee Stadium wasn't friendly to Phil Hughes. As one of the most extreme fly-ball pitchers in the sport, per Fangraphs, the short porch in right field didn't do the Yankees starter any favors during a contract year that couldn't have turned out worse for both the team and the player.
Now, on the free-agent market for the first time, Hughes is barely talked about in terms of impact starting pitchers that are available this winter. Until a forward-thinking general manager separates fact from fiction in the current pitching market, big mistakes will be made.
The following is a comparison between Phil Hughes and another available free-agent starter, whose name will be given later. As you look at their numbers side-by-side over the last four seasons, it's not unreasonable to think that each pitcher should be garnering similar levels of interest and eventual earning power:
|Phil Hughes vs. Mystery FA Starter (2010-2013)|
While Hughes will struggle to overcome the notion that his career is trending downward, the mystery pitcher has an agency that is floating a five-year, $112 million figure, per Joel Sherman of The New York Post, at pitching needy teams.
Yes, the pitcher being referred to here is Ervin Santana.
To be fair, Santana had the much better year in 2013, developed his sinker enough to combat a fly-ball issues similar to Hughes and has pitched many more innings over the time period looked at above. Santana is the more accomplished pitcher, but the idea of him earning $80-90 million more than Hughes is insane.
At the age of 28, Hughes is young, has no history of major arm surgery and can easily turn his career around in a ballpark that is more conducive to his skill set.
Josh Johnson, SP
One year ago, the Blue Jays won the offseason after a blockbuster deal that sent Jose Reyes and Josh Johnson from Miami to Toronto. Along with R.A. Dickey and Melky Cabrera, Toronto added enough talent to potentially win the American League East.
Of course, it didn't work.
Cabrera was awful, Reyes missed a significant chunk of the season due to an ankle injury, Dickey gutted through a difficult season due to back and neck pain, and Josh Johnson might have been the worse member of the group.
Over 16 starts, Johnson posted a 6.20 ERA and allowed 11.6 hits per nine innings.
After undergoing elbow surgery to remove bone spurs in October, Johnson is on the free-agent market. Understandably, Toronto did not tender the 29-year-old a $14.1 million offer to come back in 2014.
Due to the inability to crack the 100-inning plateau—let alone the 200-inning benchmark for durable starters—in two of the last three years, Johnson has been saddled with the dreaded "injury prone" label. Any free-agent contract offered to him this winter will come with more incentives than guarantees due to an unpredictable future.
While there's no denying the injuries and surgeries that have limited Johnson to just one season of 200 innings over the course of an eight-year career, there's still evidence to show that he can dominate opposing batters when his arm is right.
|Top Strikeout Artists in 2013|
|Chris Sale||White Sox||9.49|
|Josh Johnson||Blue Jays||9.18|
As Bleacher Report's Adam Wells pointed out in this piece about Johnson's potential as a free-agent steal, the big righty can still miss bats. In fact, Johnson's K/9 of 9.2 in 2013 should endear him to many free-agent suitors. Considering that he struck out batters at a higher rate than most healthy pitchers, a return to form could be in order if the October surgery fixed what was ailing the former top-five finisher in the NL Cy Young vote.
If Johnson receives a long-term offer, questions surrounding his injury past and future are fair. But if a general manager sees the potential in his right arm, a one- or two-year deal could be a boon for both Johnson and his new employer.
Agree? Disagree? Which player is most likely to overcome their fatal flaw?
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