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Taking A Look Back at the 2014 Free Agent Class


With the final out of the World Series now behind us, the baseball fan’s attention is immediately shifting to the upcoming offseason fun. And it didn’t take long for the offseason transactions to begin, as the Mariners and Rays are already swapping players. What will take a little bit of time, however, is for the free agent dominoes to begin falling.

This year’s free agent class is considered a particularly strong one, especially for those interested in acquiring starting pitching. The depth of available starting pitching will likely have minimal impact on the high end talent available, such as David Price and Zack Greinke, but could drive down prices for middle tier starting pitchers.

Of course, regardless of the quality of any free agent class, there will always be hits and misses when it comes to free agency. One year is not enough time to fully assess the contracts given to players last year, but it’s a good reminder that free agent misses are not hard to find.

Looking at last year’s free agent class, these were the top ten contracts handed out by total dollar value:

Rank

Player

Age

New Team

Contract Years

Value

1

Max Scherzer

31

Nationals

7

$210,000,000

2

Jon Lester

31

Cubs

6

$155,000,000

3

Pablo Sandoval

29

Red Sox

5

$95,000,000

4

Hanley Ramirez

31

Red Sox

4

$88,000,000

5

Russell Martin

32

Blue Jays

5

$82,000,000

6

James Shields

33

Padres

4

$75,000,000

7

Yasmany Tomas

24

Diamondbacks

6

$68,500,000

8

Victor Martinez

36

Tigers

4

$68,000,000

9

Nelson Cruz

35

Mariners

4

$57,000,000

10

Ervin Santana

32

Twins

4

$55,000,000

Still looking at just these ten players, let’s re-rank these contracts:

1. Max Scherzer, 14-12, 2.79 ERA, 0.918 WHIP, 7.1 WAR (all statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference)

The Nationals 2015 season may have been a disappointment, but it sure wasn’t because of Scherzer.  He posted his lowest win total since 2010, but posted a career high Wins Above Replacement and threw two no-hitters.  While his contract was the most expensive on the list above, this so far has proven to be the best signing, in part because the actual dollar value is lower due to deferred money.

2. Jon Lester, 11-12, 2.92 ERA, 1.122 WHIP, 3.1 WAR

The Cubs didn’t sign Lester to be their second-best pitcher in 2015, but due to Jake Arrieta’s dominance Lester was just that. However, Lester was anything but a disappointment with the Cubs, helping them reach the Postseason for the first time in 7 years.  He took two losses in October, but the Cubs should hardly be considered disappointed with their 9 figure investment in Lester.

3. Russell Martin, .240 BA, 23 HR, 77 RBI, 3.3 WAR

Free agent catchers are always a risky signing, especially for those on the north side of 30.  While Martin’s batting average is not great, he more than made up for it in other aspects of his game, including hitting a career high 23 home runs. Martin was one of the many pieces brought in that moved the Blue Jays closer to respectability and to their first postseason appearance in 22 years.  While he won’t be the same player in the last year of his contract (2019) as he was this year, this was a wise signing by Toronto.

4. Nelson Cruz, .302 BA, 44 HR, 93 RBI, 5.2 WAR

Cruz is one of those players who is seemingly discredited by sabermatricians every year, though it’s hard to argue with his stat line the last few years.  2015 may have been his best year yet, and even if he’s league average for the last three years of his contract, his monster 2015 season made his contract worthwhile.

5. James Shields, 13-7, 3.91 ERA, 1.334 WHIP, 1.9 WAR

This is the part of the list where the signings could start to be described as regrettable by their teams.  Shields didn’t have a poor season, per se, but many expected his stat line to improve upon moving to the National League and especially Petco Park.  This wasn’t the case, and with the Padres as a team being a disappointment in 2015 it brought into question whether the Shields signing was a wise one.  Of course, Shields started 33 games for the 8th year in a row and there’s certainly value in that kind of consistency.

6. Ervin Santana, 7-5, 4.00 ERA, 1.296 WHIP, 1.6 WAR

The Twins surely didn’t expect their offseason signing to be suspended for the first half of the 2015 due a positive test for PEDs, but unfortunately that’s what happened to Santana before he could even make an appearance for Minnesota.  Once he took the mound in July he put together a solid, if unspectacular, half season for a Minnesota team that stayed in playoff contention longer than most expected.  Given there are just 3 more years on his contract this Santana doesn’t look like a bad one for the Twins, though they may have been better served by waiting until the current offseason to throw free agent money to a starting pitcher.

7. Yasmany Tomas, .273 BA, 9 HR, 48 RBI, -1.3 WAR

It could be argued that the latest Cuban import had the worst season of all players on this list, but he doesn’t rank as the worst signing among the top ten due to his age and more upside than the players below him.  Tomas didn’t excel in the field or with the bat, but more is expected of him going forward.

8. Victor Martinez, .245 BA, 11 HR, 64 RBI, -1.6 WAR

Few expected Martinez to match the totals from his MVP runner-up 2014 season, but just as few people expected him to hit so poorly as he did in 2015.  Given his age, a fair case could be made that he deserves to be at the bottom of this list, but some bounceback should be expected from Martinez in 2016. His BABIP dropped over 60 points, and key batting ratios such as line drive percentage were not terribly out of line with what he posted previously.  For 2016 the Tigers should take his 2014 and 2015 seasons and split the difference when it comes to expectations.

9. Pablo Sandoval, .245 BA, 10 HR, 45 RBI, -0.9 WAR

You can flip a coin between the 9th and 10th place spots on this list.  Sandoval “wins” by being two years younger than Hanley Ramirez, but that doesn’t say much for what to expect going forward.  Paying this much for Sandoval was likely an overreach by the Red Sox to begin with, especially for a player with Sandoval’s body type. The old Red Sox regime may have been blinded by his postseason heroics the previous season with the Giants (Sandoval has a postseason OPS of .935, compared to .791 in the regular season), which leads one to wonder how much a team could overpay for Daniel Murphy this offseason.

10. Hanley Ramirez, .249 BA, 19 HR, 53 RBI, -1.3 WAR

There is little in Ramirez’s portfolio to expect much out of him going forward.  He hasn’t played in more than 140 games since 2010, and appeared lost in front of the Green Monster for most of the year.  Entering his age 32 season it’s highly unlikely Ramirez is going to suddenly learn to play solid defense or manage to stay healthy for an entire season.



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