2018 MLB Free Agency: Worst Values Sure to Be Overpaid

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistOctober 8, 2018

2018 MLB Free Agency: Worst Values Sure to Be Overpaid

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are the marquee names on this year's free-agent market, and both players could wind up signing record-breaking deals.

    They're not the only ones about to cash in, and for every excellent under-the-radar bargain signing, there's a player who winds up being massively overpaid.

    From unsustainable breakout performances to aging stars headed for a decline, free agency can be a minefield of financial pitfalls.

    Ahead is a closer look at six prime candidates to be overpaid this winter.

SP Anibal Sanchez

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    Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    2018 Standard: 24 GS, 7-6, 2.83 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 42 BB, 135 K, 136.2 IP

    2018 Advanced: 143 ERA+, 3.62 FIP, 3.85 SIERA, .255 BABIP, 26.3 Soft%

    WAR: 3.0

         

    Outlook

    What a find Anibal Sanchez has been for the Atlanta Braves.

    The 34-year-old pitched to an atrocious 6.41 ERA and 1.60 WHIP in 105.1 innings with the Detroit Tigers in 2017, wrapping up a five-year, $80 million deal in disastrous fashion.

    Not surprisingly, he generated little interest on the free-agent market, and after the Minnesota Twins released him from a minor league deal on March 11, he caught on with the Braves five days later.

    After nursing a hamstring injury early on, he returned from the disabled list May 29 and provided a consistent presence alongside breakout ace Mike Foltynewicz at the top of the rotation.

    While his 3.62 FIP lends credibility to his strong performance, there's little doubt he was the beneficiary of some good luck, as his .255 batting average on balls in play was the 10th-lowest mark among pitchers who threw at least 120 innings.

    Signing him to anything longer than a one-year deal would be a major risk.

    Buying low and betting on a bounce-back season from someone like Marco Estrada or Lance Lynn is a far better approach than buying high on Sanchez.

2B Asdrubal Cabrera

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    Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    2018 Offensive: 112 OPS+, .262/.316/.458, 60 XBH (23 HR), 75 RBI, 68 R

    2018 Defensive: -17 DRS, -10.1 UZR/150

    WAR: 0.7

         

    Outlook

    Point: Asdrubal Cabrera is still a major threat offensively after posting a 112 OPS+ and cranking out 60 extra-base hits last year.

    Counterpoint: Those numbers came amid deteriorating plate discipline, as his walk rate plummeted (9.3 to 6.9 percent) and his on-base percentage (.351 to .316) followed. He also hit just .228/.286/.392 for an 80 OPS+ in 185 plate appearances following his trade to the Philadelphia Phillies.

    Point: His defensive versatility adds to his value.

    Counterpoint: There's nothing valuable about playing multiple positions poorly. His minus-17 DRS and minus-10.1 UZR/150 at second base made him one of the worst defensive players in baseball, and he combined for minus-6.0 DRS in limited action at shortstop and third base.

    Final thoughts: For teams looking to add an impact utility player, Marwin Gonzalez and Eduardo Escobar will be infinitely better options. If you whiff on those two, you'll get more bang for your buck out of someone like Daniel Descalso or Logan Forsythe, and they'll likely both come cheaper than Cabrera.

RP Zach Britton

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    Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    2018 Standard: 41 G, 7 SV, 9 HLD, 3.10 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 21 BB, 34 K, 40.2 IP

    2018 Advanced: 140 ERA+, 4.22 FIP, 3.57 SIERA, .241 BABIP, 20.7 Soft%

    WAR: 0.7

         

    Outlook

    Zach Britton has dealt with some significant injury issues since turning in a Cy Young-caliber season in 2016.

    A left forearm issue sent him to the disabled list twice during a less-than-stellar 2017 season, and then he suffered a ruptured Achilles during the offseason.

    When he finally returned to action this past June, it took him some time to shake off the rust, but that didn't stop the New York Yankees from trading for him in July.

    The 30-year-old ended up pitching to a 2.88 ERA and 1.16 WHIP with three saves and eight holds in 25 appearances with the Yankees, and that surface-level resurgence should be enough to fuel his first foray into free agency.

    However, those seemingly strong numbers came with a 4.08 FIP, and even as he started to get a better feel for his stuff, he was still walking batters at a 4.0 BB/9 clip.

    In a market where Brett Cecil inked a four-year, $30.5 million contract two offseasons ago, there's a good chance Britton is massively overpaid. For teams in search of lefty relief help, aiming lower and signing someone like Jorge De La Rosa could yield similar results at a fraction of the price.

SP J.A. Happ

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    2018 Standard: 31 GS, 17-6, 3.65 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 51 BB, 193 K, 177.2 IP

    2018 Advanced: 117 ERA+, 3.98 FIP, 3.64 SIERA, .272 BABIP, 20.5 Soft%

    WAR: 1.6

         

    Outlook

    Veteran J.A. Happ was a game-changing addition for the New York Yankees at the trade deadline.

    In 11 starts after coming over from the Toronto Blue Jays on July 26, he went 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 63 strikeouts in 63.2 innings.

    He can be an excellent addition this offseason at the right price.

    The 35-year-old just wrapped up a three-year, $36 million deal, and continuing on at that $12 million price point gives him a chance to provide some positive value.

    However, signing him to anything beyond a two-year deal is risky given his age, and anything beyond that salary could wind up being a massive overpay.

    As good as he was during his two months with the Yankees, he was pitching to a good-not-great 4.18 ERA in 20 starts prior to the trade, and that level of production is probably a safer bet going forward.

CF A.J. Pollock

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    Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    2018 Offensive: 106 OPS+, .257/.316/.484, 47 XBH (21 HR), 65 RBI, 61 R, 13 SB

    2018 Defensive: 6 DRS, -1.6 UZR/150

    WAR: 2.5

         

    Outlook

    A.J. Pollock was one of the most dynamic players in baseball during the 2015 season.

    He showed an impressive mix of contact, power and speed with a .315/.367/.498 line that included 39 doubles, 20 home runs and 39 stolen bases, also racking up 14 DRS in center field to win his first Gold Glove.

    Unfortunately, he's never been able to match that level of production.

    In the three seasons since that monster performance, he's played in 12, 112 and 113 games, missing time once again this season with a fractured thumb.

    It's more than just injuries, though.

    His walk rate has dropped from 7.9 percent in 2015 to 6.7 percent this season, and his strikeout rate has moved in the opposite direction from 13.2 to 21.7 percent. His defensive metrics have also never returned to that elite level.

    He's still the best center field option on the market and was a 2.5-WAR player this season, even with time missed to injury. Teams just need to make sure they're paying for what he is, and not what he used to be, or they could wind up massively overpaying.

RP Andrew Miller

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    2018 Standard Stats

    37 G, 2 SV, 10 HLD, 4.24 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 16 BB, 45 K, 34.0 IP, 0.2 WAR

    2018 Advanced Stats

    104 ERA+, 3.51 FIP, 3.29 SIERA, .329 BABIP, 14.9 Soft%

         

    Outlook

    Last time Andrew Miller was a free agent, he signed a landscape-altering four-year, $36 million deal with the New York Yankees.

    That was an unprecedented figure for a non-closer reliever, and his performance during the 2016 postseason helped usher in a new era of bullpen usage.

    For the first three years of that deal, he was absolutely in the conversation for best reliever in baseball. Serving a number of different roles, he posted a 1.63 ERA, 0.79 WHIP and 14.4 K/9 with 17 wins, 50 saves and 52 holds in 187 appearances.

    However, a nagging shoulder injury cost him significant time this year, and he hasn't been his usual dominant self. Most notably, his signature slider has been far more hittable:

    • 2017642 sliders, 56.97% usage, .099 BAA, .053 ISO, 3 XBH, 76 K
    • 2018320 sliders, 56.84% usage, .260 BAA, .208 ISO, 10 XBH, 26 K

    At 33 years old, there's no guarantee he returns to his pre-2018 form.

    He's still capable of being an excellent addition to any bullpen, especially in a thin market for lefty relievers. There's a good chance someone trying to win it all in 2019 will overpay in both years and dollars and wind up regretting it on the back end.

         

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted.

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