Early Winners and Losers of 2014 MLB Free Agency

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistNovember 15, 2013

Early Winners and Losers of 2014 MLB Free Agency

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    John Sommers II/Getty Images

    For all 30 Major League Baseball teams and the free agents looking for a new home in 2014, this time of the year represents the calm before the storm. 

    The general manager and owner meetings just ended, with some player movement and new funding for a replay system that could be implemented as soon as next season. We are seeing and hearing more rumors about trades and teams finalizing their needs. 

    We are still about one month away from the winter meetings, which is where the free-agent floodgates will open. Big names like Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo are not likely to do anything before that time. 

    That doesn't mean it's too early to start looking at teams and players who have helped or hurt themselves by moves made or not made. A lot of these can, and probably will, change as more moves get made. 

    For now, here is a snapshot look at where things stand in the offseason so far. 

     

    Note: All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted. 

Winner: Marlon Byrd

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    David Maxwell/Getty Images

    Why Byrd is a Winner: Signed two-year, $16 million contract with Philadelphia (via MLB.com)

     

    Analysis

    Think of how far Marlon Byrd has come in two years. He ended the 2012 season having played just 47 games with a .210/.243/.245 line and getting suspended 50 games after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. 

    Byrd's 2013 season started with a minor league contract from the New York Mets, where he made the 25-man roster out of spring training and put together a surprising .285/.330/.518 line in 117 games before getting traded to Pittsburgh down the stretch. 

    Taking full advantage of Ruben Amaro Jr.'s overreaction and panic skills, Byrd parlayed his 2013 success into a guaranteed two-year contract. 

    A 35-year-old outfielder with a career slash line of .280/.336/.425 doesn't look that bad on paper, but you have to look at where Byrd was before 2013. 

    Good for Byrd to find one more nice contract before his career is over. 

Loser: Philadelphia Philies

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    Greg Fiume/Getty Images

    Why the Phillies are losers: Overpaying for Marlon Byrd

     

    Analysis

    Just when you think the Phillies and general manager Ruben Amaro will be forced into saving money because there are already too many big/bad contracts on the books, they go out and overpay Marlon Byrd based on a fluke 2013 season. 

    Byrd's .291/.336/.511 helped mask the fact he had a .353 batting average on balls in play, 28 points higher than his career mark, and highest strikeout rate of his career (24.9 percent). He was worth 4.1 FanGraphs wins above replacement, tying a career high set in 2010. 

    In 2009, 2011 and 2012, Byrd was never worth more than 1.8 wins above replacement. There is no reason that player, especially at the age of 36, should be signing a two-year contract to be a starting outfielder. 

    Can somone logically explain what Amaro is doing? There were reports the Phillies finally added an analytics guy to the front office, something the other 29 teams have been doing for a long time, to help with player evaluations. 

    Considering some of the other rumors out there, like Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports reporting they want to give a setup man three years and are interested in Edward Mujica, things are likely to get worse. 

    Source: Phillies strongly pursuing eighth-inning relievers, including Edward Mujica. Believed to be willing to go three years for setup man.

    — Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) November 15, 2013

    Good job by the Phillies for completely ignoring what the analytics community tells them about players like Byrd or, assuming they go three years, late-inning relievers. 

Winner: Ricky Nolasco

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Why Nolasco is a winner: Reportedly received multiple four-year contract offers (via Yahoo! Sports)

     

    Analysis

    Starting pitching is always in high demand on the open market. Every team needs it, yet only a select few are able to pay the top-tier guys and are forced to overpay second- and third-tier arms. 

    Ricky Nolasco is no one's definition of a No. 1 or 2 starter in a championship-caliber rotation. He's carved out a solid career with a 4.37 ERA and 1,076-306 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 1,312 innings. 

    He will turn 31 in December and will get a sizable contract because the market for starting pitchers dictates it. 

    Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported Nolasco was seeking a contract in the five-year, $80 million range. While he isn't going to reach that total sum on a four-year deal, an average annual salary in the $14-16 million range doesn't seem as outlandish as it once did. 

    If that's the kind of money Nolasco is going to get, imagine what the market for Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana will be. 

Loser: Mike Napoli

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Why Napoli is a loser: Red Sox have reportedly only offered FA 1B one-year contract (via Jen Royle, Boston Herald)

    Source: Red Sox have not offered Napoli a multi-year deal... Only a one-year deal worth more than the qualifying offer of $14.1M.

    — Jen Royle (@Jen_Royle) November 14, 2013

     

    Analysis

    There have been conflicting reports on what the Red Sox have offered Napoli. Jen Royle's report of a one-year offer opposes what Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports reported on November 8. 

    Mike Napoli's return to Boston is far from a certainty. Source says he wants to shop around after receiving a multi-year offer from Red Sox.

    — Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) November 8, 2013

    Assuming the latest news about Napoli is accurate, it could certainly hurt his market. He was a huge part of Boston's turnaround, yet the team doesn't feel comfortable right now going more than one year which could raise red flags around the league. 

    There is always going to be risk with Napoli, who was diagnosed with a degenerative hip condition after signing with the Red Sox last year, but he played in 139 games and hit .259/.360/.482 while playing excellent defense at first base. 

    Right-handed power is always in demand, so it is hard to imagine Napoli signing for less than two years. But you wonder if the Red Sox feel like they got the best version of the 32-year-old and don't want to risk a bigger investment. 

Winner: Scott Boras

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Why Boras is a winner: Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo, Stephen Drew

     

    Analysis

    Every offseason the story that seems to take over is Scott Boras. He would have had the top three free-agent position players this winter, but Robinson Cano decided to take his services to Jay-Z. 

    Instead, poor Boras will have to "settle" for representing, to me, the second (Ellsbury) and third (Choo) ranked free agents and the best shortstop in a market without another viable option. 

    Boras is reportedly telling teams he is looking for a Jayson Werth-type contract for Choo (via ESPN's Jerry Crasnick). 

    MLB teams say Scott Boras seeking a Shin-Soo Choo contract worth more than Jayson Werth's $126M deal with #nationals.

    — Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) November 9, 2013

    Ellsbury is a 30-year-old center fielder who plays outstanding defense with a .350 career on-base percentage and three seasons of at least 50 stolen bases. It's not going to be hard for Boras to market that kind of player to teams. 

    Then there is Drew, who is wildly underrated because of injury problems in 2011 and 2012. He hit 29 doubles, eight triples, 13 home runs and still plays above-average defense at a premium position. 

    You know how many shortstops in baseball hit at least 25 doubles, five triples and 10 home runs? Two—Drew and Atlanta's Andrelton Simmons. 

    Boras knows how to use every advantage out there to find the most money for his clients. This is going to be a very good winter for the best agent in baseball. 

     

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