How Many Good Players Are Going Year-To-Year?

More than ever, baseball's best players are choosing the security of a multiyear deal as opposed to the higher risk and reward of going year-to-year.  But exactly how many of the game's best players are currently on one-year deals?

In 2012, 115 players accumulated at least 3.0 wins above replacement, according to FanGraphs.  82 of them (71%) are on multi-year contracts.  Some of these players have expiring multiyear deals, like Robinson Cano, and some are on short two-year deals covering just a pair of arbitration seasons, like Clayton Kershaw.  But most of them are locked up, like Ryan Braun, Buster Posey, David Wright, Justin Verlander, Andrew McCutchen, and Adrian Beltre.  Of these 82 good players on multiyear deals, only 26 of them (32%) signed as free agents (counting Yu Darvish but excluding Jake Peavy and C.C. Sabathia).  Of the 25 players worth at least five wins in 2012, only four of them (Beltre, Michael Bourn, Aramis Ramirez, and Torii Hunter) are signed to free agent contracts.

Only 33 players who were worth three wins or more in 2012 are currently going year-to-year, including the two such free agents who signed one-year deals (Hiroki Kuroda and A.J. Pierzynski).  Taking out the two free agents (but including Aroldis Chapman since he can opt for arbitration when he has the service time), we're left with 31 young, good players who are currently going year-to-year.  The top 15 by 2012 WAR:

  1. Mike Trout
  2. Chase Headley
  3. Jason Heyward
  4. Giancarlo Stanton
  5. Austin Jackson
  6. Ian Desmond
  7. David Price
  8. Josh Reddick
  9. Bryce Harper
  10. Max Scherzer
  11. Wade Miley
  12. Stephen Strasburg
  13. David Freese
  14. Matt Wieters
  15. David Murphy 

Why aren't these 31 players under multiyear contracts yet?  Nine of them have less than two years of big league service.  While players at that service level do sign multiyear deals, teams don't have a ton of urgency since arbitration is not looming.  Also, nine of the 31 players (and five of the top 14) are clients of the Boras Corporation.  Boras is playing a major role in advising top young players against signing multiyear deals before free agency.  Arbitration and free agency are on the decline, but not if Boras can help it.

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