MLB Free Agency

Predicting Boom or Bust with the Biggest MLB Offseason Contracts

Karl BuscheckContributor IIIJanuary 15, 2014

Predicting Boom or Bust with the Biggest MLB Offseason Contracts

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    Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

    When it comes to the biggest MLB offseason contracts, there's really only two ways they can work out. 

    These types of deals either end up looking brilliant or go sideways fast. Looking back at recent history, the Los Angeles Dodgers are perfectly happy with the club's six-year, $147 million pact with Zack Greinke, while the Chicago Cubs wouldn't hesitate to take back that four-year, $52 million deal the team gave to Edwin Jackson.

    Of course, even the deals that start out well can morph into disasters overnight. With these considerations in mind, here are some predictions for which of the biggest MLB offseason contracts will be a boom and which will be a bust. 

     

    Note: Stats via Baseball-Reference.com. All contract information courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts on BaseballProspectus.com.

Jose Abreu

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    Contract Details: Six years, $68 million

    The Chicago White Sox took a big gamble in dishing out a six-year, $68 million contract to Jose Abreu. 

    Based on the outlandish stats that the first baseman/designated hitter posted in Cuba, though, the deal should prove to be a shrewd investment for the White Sox. 

    Abreu's 2010-11 campaign was one of the "greatest seasons" ever in the history of the Serie Nacional, according to Ben Badler of Baseball America. That year, the slugger hit .453/.597/.986 with 33 home runs in 293 plate appearances. 

    While Abreu won't be posting those video game numbers in the big leagues, there's reason to believe that his power will translate to MLB. As Badler points out, Yoenis Cespedes also hit 33 home runs that year but needed 133 more plate appearances to reach that total.

    Prediction: Boom

Jhonny Peralta

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    Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

    Contract Details: Four years, $53 million

    The St. Louis Cardinals absolutely needed to upgrade the shortstop position. 

    There's no question that Jhonny Peralta will be a major improvement over Pete Kozma and his .548 OPS from 2013. There are concerns, though, whether Peralta will be able to live up to his $53 million price tag.

    Despite his 50-game ban for use of performance-enhancing drugs, Peralta clearly boosted his stock last season as he hit .303/.358/.457 for the Detroit Tigers. Of course, Peralta's $53 million payout is also a market-driven deal.

    Outside of Stephen Drew, who is attached to draft-pick compensation, Peralta was the only starting-caliber shortstop available on the free-agent front. 

    This deal will be just fine for the first couple of seasons, but it will become seriously problematic by seasons three and four.

    Prediction: Bust

Mike Napoli

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    Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

    Contract Details: Two years, $32 million

    The Boston Red Sox deal with Mike Napoli makes perfect sense for both sides. 

    Napoli earns a healthy $16 million per year, while the Red Sox are only on the hook for two seasons. Part of the credit goes to Napoli, who turned down three-year offers in order to remain with the reigning World Series champions, as Alex Speier of WEEI.com reported

    With the team once again positioned to make an October run, the compromise should pay off for both Napoli and the Red Sox.

    Prediction: Boom

Jacoby Ellsbury

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    Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY

    Contract Details: Seven years, $153 million (plus a $21 million club option for 2021)

    The New York Yankees needed to make some big moves after a disappointing third-place finish in the AL East last season.

    That explains why the club splashed out a combined $238 million to bring in Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann. Ellsbury's $153 million megadeal is particularly notable as it's just one of three contracts this offseason to surpass the $90 million plateau. 

    As Peter Gammons of GammonsDaily.com observed back at the beginning of the offseason, that $90 million figure has proven to be a magic number: "Just in case you're scoring along, in the last five off-seasons, nine players have switched teams for contracts of more than $90M. None have won a World Series ring with his new team."

    That's not good. Sure, there's no reason why Ellsbury and the Yankees can't break that trend. Still, the fact that not one of those nine has won a ring underscores just how challenging it is to build a World Series winner on the free-agent market. 

    Prediction: Bust

Brian McCann

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Contract Details: Five years, $85 million (plus a $15 million option for 2019)

    It's easy to critique the Yankees' signing of McCann.

    After all, he's a catcher who will be 30 years old by Opening Day 2014. For good reason, there will be plenty of questions as to just how long McCann will stick behind the plate. While the seven-time All-Star will lose substantial defensive value with his inevitable shift to first base/DH, he'll also gain a ton of at-bats.

    McCann has clubbed at least 20 home runs in each of the past six campaigns despite the fact that's he's only totaled 500 at-bats during two of those seasons.

    The combination of more time in the lineup and the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium means that streak isn't in jeopardy of ending anytime soon. 

    Prediction: Boom

Shin-Soo Choo

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    Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

    Contract Details: Seven years, $130 million

    The Texas Rangers' seven-year, $130 million agreement with Shin-Soo Choo is a textbook example of how team's value big-money free agents. 

    The club appears to be hoping that Choo's contributions in the early years of the contract will be so massive that they will cancel out what is likely to be an ugly final couple of years in Texas. However, according to Dan Szymborski of ESPN (subscription required), the numbers simply don't add up. 

    Szymborski's ZiPS projection system calculates that Choo will be worth $70-80 million over the duration of his seven-year deal. That's not just an overpay, but a shortfall of $50-60 million.

    Prediction: Bust

Robinson Cano

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    Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

    Contract Details: 10 years, $240 million

    As Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports puts it, the Seattle Mariners' 10-year, $240 million contract with Robinson Cano is destined to become a "complete disaster." 

    That's a harsh assessment, but it's hard to disagree with Passan's take.

    From a baseball perspective, Cano's 10-year pact makes zero sense. There's a chance that Cano will only be worth the $24 million per year for the first three seasons of the agreement. Of course, there's also the possibility that he'll be worth the money for seven seasons. But all 10? There's no chance. 

    The deal isn't much better from a public relations standpoint either. Sure, the move briefly revitalizes a franchise that has suffered through four straight losing seasons.

    But what happens if the squad gets out on the field and can't keep up with the furious pace of the AL West? Based on the current roster, there's a very real chance of that happening. 

    Prediction: Bust

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