2016 MLB Offseason: Five Best & Five Worst Free Agent Signings

Looking back, 2016 was a historical and magical season fans will surely remember for years to come. Seven World Series games weren’t enough as the Chicago Cubs needed extra innings to break their 108 season drought, winning in epic fashion over the Cleveland Indians after a ridiculous rain delay. These long winter months provide plenty of time for reflection and shape how the upcoming season will develop. Before shifting attention to the new season, it’s time to rate the best and worst for the 2016 offseason. Starting with the jaw-droppers, when I heard about these, I let out an audible, “Really?”. The best signings elicited a more stoic reaction, perhaps with a slight nod of approval. Here they are:

Five Worst Free Agent Signings:

  1. Rangers: Andrew Cashner, SP – What were the Rangers thinking guaranteeing Cashner $10 million dollars?  The guy gets kudos for his facial hair, but combined between two spacious ballparks he posted a 5-11 record with a 5.25 ERA. Seeing him get $10 million guaranteed made me want to put the spikes back on.
  2. Rockies: Mike Dunn, RP – The former Yankee draft pick has carved out a respectable career as a lefty specialist, but lacks year-to-year consistency making his guaranteed 3 yrs/$19M a risky proposition. He’s also a fly ball pitcher, and the air at Coors Field isn’t like the air in Miami.
  3. Cardinals: Brett Cecil, RP – I’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for the Cardinals organization, but how do you give a mediocre lefty whose averaged 48 IP over the past three seasons and went 1-7 last year a guaranteed 4 yrs/$30.5M? For perspective, two years ago Andrew Miller got 4 yrs/$36M. Cecil’s SO/9 rate has decreased the past three years, but his HR’s allowed have increased each of the past three seasons. Cardinals would have been better off bringing back 41 year old Randy Choate!
  4. Astros: Josh Reddick, RF – The Astros absolutely jumped the gun by signing Reddick before allowing the free-agent market to develop. Their impatience let him cash in on a 4 yr/$52 million deal, despite surpassing 398 AB’s only once out of the last four years. The injury-prone Reddick has averaged 13 HR and 56 RBI over the past four years and may see a small increase hitting in Minute Maid Park, but it still doesn’t justify the money or guaranteeing four years.
  5. Dodgers: Rich Hill, SP – I’ve always been a fan of Hill’s, following him all the way back to his days as a Cubs minor leaguer. He’s largely bounced around as a lefty journeyman, playing on eight teams in the past nine years. Hill’s the benefactor of a career year followed by an extremely thin free agent pitching market – a textbook example of timing being everything. I’m happy his persistence finally paid off at age 37, but can’t see him living up to his 3 yr/$48M deal.

Five Best Free Agent Signings:

 

  1. Indians: Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/DH – He reportedly turned down a 4 yr/$80M deal from the Jays before understanding the impact the new collective bargaining agreement would have on the luxury tax and teams payroll flexibility. Wild Card Game - Baltimore Orioles v Toronto Blue Jays Despite being the best power hitter on the market, Encarnacion had to settle for a 3 yr/$60M deal. Taking full advantage, the defending AL Champs upgraded from Mike Napoli to a player who averaged over 38 HR and 110 RBI the past five seasons with a SLG% that didn’t dip below .529. He’ll play his final season of the guaranteed deal at 36, still making him a good bet to be productive, and making this contract an excellent deal for Cleveland – playoff bound again.
  2. Orioles: Mark Trumbo, 1B/DH/RF – Another casualty of the new collective bargaining agreement and 1B/DH free agent glut, Trumbo also reportedly turned down a larger offer before settling for a 3 yr/$37.5M deal last month. The 2016 AL HR Leader should continue to rake for the Birds.
  3. Dodgers: Kenley Jansen, RP – It was a thin free agent market, but despite the $80M the Dodgers coughed up to re-sign their closer, it’s hard to argue they won’t receive value in return. Over his career, Jansen has posted a miniscule 0.89 WHIP, to go along with a dominating 13.9 K/9 and 2.20 ERA. He’ll be 33 in the final year of his deal, putting him in line for another multi-year deal as long as his cutter keeps cutting. He’ll play an integral part in the Dodgers postseason success.
  4. Red Sox: Mitch Moreland, 1B – While Moreland didn’t land the multi-year deal that his peers ahead of him did, he’s a Gold Glove 1B who solidifies the Red Sox infield. Their lineup is stacked, so they don’t need him to tear the cover off the ball but he’s also got some pop, hitting 22 or more taters in three of the past four seasons. I think he’ll take advantage of peppering the Green Monster, ala former Red Sox lefties, while playing Gold Glove defense for only 1yr/$5.5M. The Red Sox barely dented their payroll by signing Moreland who provides great upside and a shrewd signing by Dave Dombrowski.
  5. TBD: Pedro Alvarez, 1B/DH – I realize there was a glut of 1B/DH’s on the market, but how is Pedro Alvarez still a free-agent?
    pedro-alvarez-hr-derby
    Alvarez at the Home Run Derby

    At this point, he’s the best bang for your buck this offseason, and only ranks 5th because he’s still unsigned. Each year there seems to be a bargain lingering on the market, think, Nelson Cruz two years ago, or Dexter Fowler for the World Champion Cubs last year. Alvarez posted a .504 SLG % last year and simply hits bombs. He posted the highest OPS+ of his career in 2016, and had he collected 558 AB’s like he did in 2013, he projected to hit 36 long balls. At this point, signing “El Toro” won’t cost more than $3-4 million considering the Yankees signed Chris Carter for 1-year at $3.5 million. I’d much rather have Alvarez than Carter if I were the Yankees, especially with that short porch in right, but Cashman preferred a righty as the team is light on right-handed power. I say get the better player and playing time will figure itself out – it’s a long 162 game season.

Five Sleeper Free Agent Signings:

  1. Orioles: Welington Castillo, C – Quality catching is hard to come by, especially catchers who can hit for power. Castillo does both, and with a move to Camden Yards he could easily hit 20 HR next season. Signed for 1yr/$6M, the Birds have the luxury of having Castillo until their top prospect, Chance Sisco, is ready for the big show.
  2. Angels: Luis Valbuena, 3B – Valbuena is intriguing, as he’s got plenty of power and seems primed to put it all together. Two years ago he hit 25 HR, and although he’s not a high average hitter, he takes some walks and posted a 124 OPS+ before getting hurt. For comparison, perennial All-Star 3B Adrian Beltre posted a 128 OPS+ last year. If he can stay healthy, Valbuena is due for a big year hitting in a lineup headlined by Mike Trout, and a good deal for the Halos at 2 yr/$15M.
  3. A’s: Trevor Ploufe, 3B – Having played his entire career in Minnesota, Ploufe has generally flown under the radar. However, the Moneyball A’s took notice and picked him up at 1 yr/$5.25M. He’s a low-risk pickup with decent power highlighted by: 24 HR in 2012, 40 doubles in 2014, and 22 HR with 86 RBI in 2015. With the loss of Josh Reddick’s bat, the A’s are hoping he can help fill that void.
  4. Royals: Jason Hammel, SP – Given the money that’s been thrown at pitchers the past couple off seasons, signing Hammel to a 2 yr/$16M deal seems like a bargain. He’ll consistently give you 170 IP and start around 30 games with a sub 4.00 ERA. While these aren’t front of the rotation numbers, he’ll be counted on to alleviate the tragic passing of, ace Yordano Ventura.
  5. Angels: Ben Revere, CF/LF – The Angeles make the list again, taking a flyer on the speedy outfielder coming off his worst season. Revere is a career .285 hitter who led the NL with 184 hits in 2014, and also swiped 49 bags. At 29, he still should have plenty left in the tank to score some runs ahead of Mike Trout. For 1 yr/$4M, Revere has a chance to re-establish his value and hit the market again in 2017.

Compared to the 2015 free agent class, 2016 pales in comparison. However, there are still plenty of deals that can be analyzed and scrutinized as time goes by. There were some obvious significant signings, like the Yankees signing Aroldis Chapman to a 5yr/$86M deal, and some more under-the-radar signings I’ve noted above.

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