MLB Free Agents Who May Be Screwed in Search for Big Paydays

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistJanuary 3, 2018

MLB Free Agents Who May Be Screwed in Search for Big Paydays

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    The 2017-18 MLB offseason has yet to yield a nine-figure contract. Most of the top free agents remain on the board. Big deals are coming, make no mistake, but not for everyone.

    Inevitably, some free agents will get screwed in their quest for Brink's truck paydays. Recent performance, injury concerns and the reality of supply and demand impact a handful of players' bank accounts every winter. With the hot stove sputtering into the new year, this winter will be no exception.

    Let's take a look at five free agents who may end up signing for less than they'd hoped while keeping in mind they will all be paid handsomely relative to the rest of us.

C Jonathan Lucroy

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    Not so long ago, Jonathan Lucroy was neck-and-neck with the San Francisco Giants' Buster Posey for the title of best catcher in baseball. He was an All-Star as recently as 2016 and a top-five National League MVP finisher in 2014 with the Milwaukee Brewers.

    Now, after a mediocre 2017, Lucroy could be forced to accept a middling, short-term deal in free agency.

    The 31-year-old posted his lowest OPS (.716) since 2011, though his offensive numbers did improve after the Texas Rangers sent him to the Colorado Rockies at the trade deadline.

    More damningly, Lucroy went from one of the game's better pitch framers to the sixth-worst, per StatCorner. As The Ringer's Ben Lindbergh noted: "It's rare for a catcher to suffer a significant decline as a receiver and then bounce all the way back. In other words, the elite Lucroy, and even the average Lucroy, may be gone for good."

    Someone will pay for the possibility of a Lucroy comeback, but it won't be anywhere close to a premium rate, especially with top-tier backstops such as the Miami Marlins' J.T. Realmuto and Los Angeles Dodgers' Yasmani Grandal potentially available via trade.

RF Carlos Gonzalez

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Carlos Gonzalez's overall resume is sterling. He's made three NL All-Star teams and won a trio of Gold Gloves. In the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately department, CarGo is hosed.

    Gonzalez posted a .262 average and .762 OPS for the Colorado Rockies in 2017 but hit a paltry .203 with a .606 OPS away from the hitter-friendly confines of Coors Field. As home runs exploded across MLB, he hit only 14.

    His once-stellar defense took a dive, too, as he posted minus-three defensive runs saved in right field.

    "I know what it feels like to be the best player in the game and the worst player in the game," Gonzalez said in July, per MLB.com's Thomas Harding. "Right now, I feel like I'm the worst player [in] the game."

    Gonzalez turned 32 in October and could have been in line for a handsome multiyear pact if he'd played up to his career averages.

    Instead, he might be forced to take a one-year show-me contract and hope 2017 was more of an anomaly and less the beginning of a steep, irreversible decline.

1B Logan Morrison

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Logan Morrison is going to get a raise this winter. But, with the first base market dwindling, he may not get paid in accordance with his 2017 production.

    After signing a one-year, $2.5 million deal with the Tampa Bay Rays last offseason, Morrison posted career highs in hits (126), home runs (38) and OPS (.868).

    After that level of output, it was reasonable for the 30-year-old to get dollar signs in his eyes.

    A few obvious landing spots are off the board, however, as the Philadelphia Phillies signed Carlos Santana (three years, $60 million), the Boston Red Sox re-upped Mitch Moreland (two years, $13 million) and the Cleveland Indians inked Yonder Alonso (two years, $16 million).

    Additionally, Eric Hosmer is still on the market, which gives any remaining clubs with a need at first base a premium option.

    Morrison might be able to get a deal similar to Alonso's. The Rockies are a possible fit. But any hopes he had of parlaying his career year into an eye-popping, long-term payday appear to have been dashed.

3B Todd Frazier

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Todd Frazier is a curious case. On one hand, he's a noted veteran leader who hit 27 home runs last season and 40 in 2016. On the other hand, he hit .213 and .225 in those campaigns, respectively, and will turn 32 in February.

    The New York Yankees, who acquired Frazier from the Chicago White Sox at the 2017 deadline, may be unwilling to meet his asking price because of their desire to stay under the luxury tax threshold, per Brendan Kuty of NJ Advance Media.

    The Yankees won't be Frazier's only suitor, obviously, but the demand for third basemen isn't sky-high this winter. Other, arguably preferable, options such as the 29-year-old Mike Moustakas and the speedy, versatile Eduardo Nunez remain on the market.

    Frazier's power will get him a deal. Whether it'll be for the years and dollars the two-time All-Star would like is another matter.

RHP Jake Arrieta

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Jake Arrieta was an All-Star in 2016 and won the NL Cy Young Award in 2015. He's represented by superagent Scott Boras. That sounds like a recipe for a budget-straining contract.

    It might be. There are red flags, however, that could significantly diminish Arrieta's payday.

    The right-hander's ERA has climbed and his velocity has dipped in each of the last two seasons, and he had a hamstring issue in 2017 while logging only 168.1 innings, his lowest total since 2014. He'll turn 32 in March, which means a return to his Cy Young apex is unlikely.

    Boras is pushing Arrieta hard, but his infamous deal-making powers may be waning, according to ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick.

    "A big league general manager, who ... requested anonymity, questioned whether Boras' approach is as effective as it once was with owners," Crasnick wrote.

    That doesn't mean Arrieta will settle for peanuts. Other than Yu Darvish, he's the closest thing to an ace on the free-agent market. The presumption that he'll receive five-plus years and $100-plus million is debatable, however.

    "Owners are concerned about durability and performance levels and, 'What am I paying for?'" Boras said while making his case for Arrieta, per Crasnick.

    On that count, he's 100 percent correct.

       

    All statistics and contract information courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.