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

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistJanuary 3, 2019

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

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    Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

    The closer we get to the start of spring training, the less leverage players still looking for work have at the negotiating table.

    Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are going to cash in whenever they make a decision on where to sign.

    And while guys like Dallas Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel and A.J. Pollock might not find a team willing to meet their current asking prices, there's still a good chance all three will walk away happy and considerably richer by the end of the offseason.

    The same can't be said with any certainty for the six free agents who follow.

RP Cody Allen

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    Tim Warner/Getty Images

    2018 Stats: 93 ERA+, 70 G, 27/32 SV, 4.70 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 33/80 BB/K, 67.0 IP

    2018 WAR: 0.0

    2018 Salary: $10.6 million

    Since the start of the 2014 season when he first took over as the closer in Cleveland, Cody Allen ranks fifth in the majors with 147 saves in 167 chances.

    The 30-year-old was an integral part of the team's run to the World Series in 2016, working 13.2 scoreless innings in October and converting all six of his save chances while striking out batters at a 15.8 K/9 clip.

    However, a troubling decline last season has sent his stock tumbling.

    His command faltered and his walk rate spiked from 2.8 to 4.4 BB/9. He also induced fewer groundballs (33.5 to 30.0 percent) and allowed significantly more hard contact (28.1 to 38.4 percent).

    At least partially to blame was a less effective curveball—a crucial weapon for a guy with a two-pitch repertoire:

    • 2017 CB43.5% Usage, .174 BAA, .000 ISO, 56 K
    • 2018 CB40.0% Usage, .202 BAA, .128 ISO, 42 K

    Based on market rumblings, teams looking for late-inning help seem to prefer the likes of Craig Kimbrel, David Robertson, Adam Ottavino, Zach Britton and Shawn Kelley among remaining free agents. Jeurys Familia, Joe Kelly, Joakim Soria and Andrew Miller have already signed.

    In the end, Allen might have to wait out the market and settle for a short-term deal with a pay cut and a setup role if he hopes to join a contender.

2B Brian Dozier

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    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    2018 Stats: 88 OPS+, .215/.305/.391, 53 XBH (21 HR), 72 RBI, 81 R

    2018 WAR: 1.0

    2018 Salary: $9 million

    Brian Dozier picked the worst possible time to stall out offensively.

    After posting a 130 OPS+ and averaging 38 home runs and 96 RBI in 2016 and 2017, his numbers dropped across the board in his contract year. His production truly bottomed out after a trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he hit just .182/.300/.350 over 170 plate appearances.

    A bone bruise in his right knee suffered in April played a part in his struggles, as Dozier explained to Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register in September:

    "You go through things throughout the year. It’s been a little struggle since pretty much, I don’t know, middle of May, I guess. I’m just trying to grind through it. But that’s by no means trying to make an excuse. It feels great right now. You just develop bad habits in your swing when stuff like that happens. You try to find ways around it. I’ve never made excuses I just try to go out there and play."

    An offseason of rest and rehab might be all the 31-year-old needs to return to his previous level.

    Unfortunately, he hits free agency at a time when the market is flush with second base options. DJ LeMahieu, Jed Lowrie and Josh Harrison are also still looking for work, while Daniel Murphy and Jonathan Schoop have already signed.

    A one-year pillow contract could now be the end result for a guy who racked up 10.8 WAR between 2016 and 2017.

SP Gio Gonzalez

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    2018 Stats: 100 ERA+, 32 GS, 10-11, 4.21 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 80/148 BB/K, 171.0 IP

    2018 WAR: 2.2

    2018 Salary: $12 million

    There's a lot to like about Gio Gonzalez.

    He pitched at least 170 innings in eight of the past nine seasons, he's a year removed from a sixth-place finish in NL Cy Young voting and he pitched extremely well down the stretch following an August trade to the Milwaukee Brewers.

    So why is he still looking for work in a starting pitching market that has been picked clean aside from Dallas Keuchel?

    Despite going 3-0 with a 2.13 ERA and 0.95 WHIP in five starts with the Brewers to close out the year, the 2018 season as a whole was one of the worst of the 33-year-old's career.

    His FIP (4.16), SIERA (4.73), WHIP (1.44) and BB/9 (4.2) were all at their worst level since 2009—the year before his first full season as a starter.

    He also pitched 30 fewer innings last year compared to 2017, despite making 32 starts in each season, so he's not the same workhorse he was in his prime.

    At this point in his career, Gonzalez is best suited as a No. 4/5 starter who is capable of making 30 starts at a league-average level.

    He doesn't offer the same intriguing upside of Matt Harvey (1/$11M) and is a bit safer option than Trevor Cahill (1/$9M), so a one-year, $10 million deal could be his eventual price tag.

C Yasmani Grandal

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    2018 Stats: 121 OPS+, .241/.349/.466, 49 XBH (24 HR), 68 RBI, 65 R

    2018 WAR: 3.3

    2018 Salary: $7.9 million

    Yasmani Grandal has turned down a significant payday twice already this offseason.

    Jorge Castillo of the Los Angeles Times wrote: "Grandal, who turned down the Dodgers' $17.9 million qualifying offer, remains a free agent after declining a four-year, $60-million offer from the New York Mets, according to a person with knowledge of the situation."

    The Mets have since pivoted to fellow free-agent Wilson Ramos, who signed a two-year, $19 million deal.

    A return to the Dodgers on a one-year deal is still a possibility, with a stopgap option needed before prospects Keibert Ruiz and Will Smith are ready to make the jump. They might be willing to offer the same $17.9 million contract he turned down at the start of the offseason.

    It's hard to see him matching or exceeding the four-year, $60 million offer he turned down, though.

    Grandal posted a 113 OPS+ while averaging 22 home runs and 2.4 WAR in his four seasons as the Dodgers' starting catcher. He's also a solid pitch-framer and was right at the league average with a 28 percent caught stealing rate.

    However, he had a brutal postseason, going 4-for-29 (.138 BA) with 15 strikeouts while making a number of defensive miscues.

    The list of catcher-needy teams has dwindled as the offseason has progressed, and it's starting to look like Grandal overplayed his hand when he turned down the Mets' offer.

RF Nick Markakis

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    2018 Stats: 117 OPS+, .297/.366/.440, 59 XBH (14 HR), 93 RBI, 78 R

    2018 WAR: 2.6

    2018 Salary: $10.6 million

    The silence has been deafening as far as a market for Nick Markakis is concerned, despite the fact the 35-year-old enjoyed one of his best seasons in 2018.

    His 117 OPS+ was his best showing since 2012, he finished in the top 10 in the NL in batting average (.297, ninth), hits (185, third) and doubles (43, third), and he was named to the All-Star team for the first time in his 13-year career.

    Advanced age and a lack of home run power have likely played a role in limiting his market.

    That said, his plus on-base skills (.366 OBP, 10.2 BB%) and solid defense in right field (2 DRS, 1.1 UZR/150) provide plenty of supplemental value to his high batting average and gap power.

    He could wind up being a consolation prize for teams that miss out on signing Bryce Harper, and a return to Atlanta is also still a possibility with the right-field vacancy unfilled to this point.

    The four-year, $44 million deal he signed last time he hit the open market is almost certainly out of reach.

    Instead, he might have to settle for a one-year deal from a contender that is looking for short-term help in the outfield.

3B Mike Moustakas

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    2018 Stats: 108 OPS+, .251/.315/.459, 62 XBH (28 HR), 95 RBI, 66 R

    2018 WAR: 2.5

    2018 Salary: $7.7 million

    Mike Moustakas turned down a $17.4 million qualifying offer last offseason, only to return to the Kansas City Royals on a one-year, $5.5 million deal that earned him another $2.2 million in incentives.

    The same shortcomings that limited his market last winter are again limiting his earning potential.

    First and foremost, his lack of on-base ability.

    After posting a .314 on-base percentage during his 38-homer season in 2017, he logged a nearly identical .315 OBP this past season.

    The other is his middling defense at third base.

    His 2 DRS and 1.0 UZR/150 were an improvement over his 2017 metrics (-8 DRS, -4.6 UZR/150), but he's not going to win a Gold Glove anytime soon.

    Moustakas declined his end of a $15 million mutual option at the start of the offseason, and he may wind up leaving money on the table again in a scenario that's beginning to feel like deja vu.


    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted. Pitch data comes from Brooks Baseball, while contract information comes via Spotrac.