This year’s free agent class is strong in the outfield and unremarkable in most other areas. It didn’t have to be that way though. Until quite recently it appeared that the free agent class would include many more star players. Instead, some of those players signed extensions that will keep them in place for 2013 and beyond.
MLBTR's Extension Tracker offers a look at some players who came close to hitting free agency before deciding to re-sign with their current teams. These players would have joined Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke in free agency this coming offseason if they hadn’t signed long-term deals earlier in 2012 (minimum $20MM):
- Cole Hamels, Phillies – The Phillies signed Hamels to a $144MM extension in July instead of letting him reach free agency. The left-hander would have been the top pitcher available following another tremendous season: a 3.05 ERA and 202 strikeouts in 203 1/3 innings.
- Matt Cain, Giants – Cain signed for $112.5MM before the season began. It represented a record contract for right-handed pitchers, but Cain would have obtained more on the open market following yet another season with an ERA under 3.00 and 200-plus innings.
- Andre Ethier, Dodgers – Ethier signed a five-year, $85MM contract in June, before it became fully apparent that the Dodgers are willing to spend aggressively under their new ownership group. Ethier has turned in a characteristically strong season: 19 homers and a .285/.350/.459 batting line.
- Yadier Molina, Cardinals – Molina, who signed a five-year, $75MM contract in February, is an MVP candidate this year. He's hitting .319/.376/.503 with 20 homers and elite defense behind the plate. The Cardinals have reason to be thrilled with the early results of this contract.
- Brandon Phillips, Reds – Phillips remains one of the game's top second basemen. If the 31-year-old hadn't signed a six-year, $72.5MM contract in April, he would've been a welcome addition to a free agent market that lacks star-caliber infielders.
- Erick Aybar, Angels – This four-year, $35MM contract keeps the 28-year-old in Anaheim following a very good season (3.7 wins above replacement, according to Baseball-Reference and 3.1 wins above replacement, according to FanGraphs).
- Howie Kendrick, Angels – Kendrick signed a four-year, $33.5MM contract in January and has gone on to put together a respectable season. He has a .279/.317/.388 batting line in 563 plate appearances and would likely have drawn lots of interest as a free agent.
- Carlos Quentin, Padres – Quentin's three-year, $30MM contract keeps him off of the open market, where he would have generated interest after hitting .263/.373/.509 while playing half of his games at Petco Park.
- Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays – Encarnacion obtained a three-year, $29MM contract from the Blue Jays midway through his breakout season. In the two-plus months since signing the deal, Encarnacion has added 17 home runs with more walks than strikeouts.