Would-Be Free Agents

Remember free agents?  Like good, under-30 ones without any major warts?  With the proliferation of long-term extensions prior to free agency, the 2013-14 class is looking fairly weak, especially if Robinson Cano signs a new deal with the Yankees.  It doesn't have to be this way.  Free agency could be interesting again if more players adopted the Boras approach, which generally means reaching free agency after you accumulate six years of big league service.  For the sheer offseason excitement of it, I'm rooting for Bryce Harper to bet on himself, avoid extension offers, and reach free agency as a 26-year-old.  If all players took that approach, look who would be part of the upcoming free agent class:

  • Corner infielders: Joey Votto, Martin Prado, Alberto Callaspo.  Votto is signed through at least 2023, Prado through 2016, and Callaspo through 2014.  Prado and Callaspo, both on the eve of free agency, signed extensions this year.  Votto signed a year ago, receiving a ten-year, $225MM extension with a full no-trade clause.  He made the right call in taking that deal.
  • Middle infielders: Asdrubal Cabrera, Alexei Ramirez, Yunel Escobar.  Cabrera is signed through 2014, Ramirez through at least 2015, and Escobar has an affordable club option in the upcoming offseason.  Signing as a four-plus player, I'm not sure why Cabrera was willing to give up one free agent year.       
  • Outfielders: Ryan Braun, Justin Upton, Adam Jones, Alex Gordon, Ben Zobrist, Carlos Gomez.  Upton, Gordon, and Braun all went within the first five picks in the 2005 draft, and they could have been coveted free agents together.  Instead, Upton is signed through 2015, Gordon through '15 (or '16 if he prefers), and Braun through 2020.  Braun's initial eight-year, $45MM extension with the Brewers was quite team-friendly and ran through 2015, but with five years remaining on it, the team put another five years and $105MM on top.  Braun will earn $18.5MM for what would have been his three arbitration years, an amount he certainly could have doubled going year-to-year.  He's getting $117MM over seven free agent years, which would seem extremely light if not for the PED cloud following him.  From this impressive bunch, Zobrist's deal is probably the most team-friendly: a four-year, $18MM contract with a pair of club options. 
  • Designated hitters: Billy Butler.  The Royals will likely control Butler through 2015, snagging a pair of free agent seasons by guaranteeing him $30MM overall when he had three years service time.  Even as a bat-only player, free agency would have smiled upon him at age 27.
  • Starting pitchers: Johnny Cueto, Yovani Gallardo, Brandon Morrow.  Cueto signed a four-year deal with a club option when he had three years of service, getting the same total guarantee has Gallardo, who had less than three years.  Morrow signed with four years of service, potentially giving up two free agent years, but to that point had a 4.37 career ERA and had never reached 180 innings in a season.  I think the tradeoff made sense in that case.
  • Relievers: Glen Perkins, Jared Burton.  The Twins have some stability in their bullpen, with Perkins and Burton under control at least through 2015.

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