The most important numbers involved in any free agent scenario are, obviously, the final deal terms. But the offers made by other clubs are not only interesting but also potentially tell us something about the market — both at the time of the signing and even moving forward.
We heard plenty of discussion today about how much cash was dangled in front of two of this year’s three biggest free agent pieces: Jason Heyward and Zack Greinke. Heyward reportedly agreed with the Cubs for eight years and $184MM, with a contract provision allowing him two separate opportunities to opt out of the deal and re-enter the market. Meanwhile, after exercising just such a clause to jump back into the free agent waters, Greinke inked a mind-blowing six-year, $206.5MM deal with the Diamondbacks (which included some very significant deferrals).
Before entering those arrangements, both players considered multiple other arrangements. For Heyward, the elusive $200MM barrier was reportedly met or exceeded by both the Nationals and the Cardinals. (Per Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch — here and here — and Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, on Twitter.) And at least one other team, possibly the Angels, also beat Chicago’s total guarantee with its bid. (That’s per Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, Twitter links; see here for the Halos’ late interest.)
Notably, though, we’ve not been told how many years Washington and St. Louis covered in their offers, and Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets that it seems neither met the $23MM AAV that Heyward will reportedly receive. And as Keith Law of ESPN.com stresses on Twitter, it’s even more important to bear in mind that the opt-out opportunities carry significant value and that Heyward will owe less in state taxes in Illinois than he would have in the other locales.
While acknowledging the opt-out value, Passan notes that it’s nevertheless “uncommon” for a player to turn down a greater overall guarantee, and that’s largely true in the abstract. But it’s important to remember, too, that Heyward’s unique market placement — he hasn’t even reached the halfway point between 26 and 27 years of age — makes his situation quite a bit different from that of most free agents.
For one thing, Heyward’s age arguably increases the worth of those bail-out clauses even further, since he’ll gain the right to re-enter the market in advance of his age-29 season. That’s still early for a free agent, and might give Heyward a chance not only to step up his AAV (if his performance increases and/or salary inflation continues) but also to tack on more years down the line. Greinke pulled exactly that trick despite turning 32 before signing his new deal, and the upside for Heyward is even greater.
Also, gaining two opt-out points will allow Heyward to assess his market timing while keeping the future guarantee in his back pocket. That not only adds to the value going to him in this deal but also increases the uncertainty and risk for the Cubs.
It’s worth noting, too, that even if Heyward does play out the full eight years in Chicago, he’ll stand to hit the market again before he turns 35. That’s exactly the point in his career that Ben Zobrist finds himself as he joins the Cubs on a four-year, $56MM contract. There’s good reason to believe that Heyward will be plenty capable of continuing to earn money on the open market at the end of his deal, which makes it much easier (and arguably wise) to forego another year (or two) of commitment for a relatively marginal bump in the overall guarantee — all at the cost of annual earning power.
Simply put, without knowing whether the other bidders were willing to include similar opt-out terms, and without knowing the length of their proposals, it’s impossible to compare the offers. From my perspective, though, the deal that Heyward ultimately agreed to is a better contract for him than the straight ten-year, $200MM deal that we at MLBTR thought Heyward could command (see here and here).
As for Greinke, the veteran righty said today in his introductory press conference that he was literally minutes away from signing with some unknown other club before Arizona swept in. ESPN’s Molly Knight tweeted that the Giants were actually the runners up, making Greinke a six-year, $195MM offer.
But San Francisco’s president of baseball operations Brian Sabean has said publicly that the club was not comfortable promising Greinke a sixth year. And both Alex Pavlovic of CSN Bay Area (Twitter link) and John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle (also on Twitter) strongly disputed the notion that the Giants had come anywhere near the D-Backs’ offer.
The Dodgers, too, are said to have balked at going to six years on Greinke, as MLB.com’s Mark Saxon was among those to note recently (Twitter link). It remains unclear how high the Los Angeles offer was, and whether it or another team was the one that nearly struck a deal with Greinke.
Looking at all of those reported offers, it seems clear that there are several clubs that have the capacity and willingness to spend much more money this winter than they have so far. That’s not to say that all will actually put that cash right back into free agency. But the potential is there, and it’s also notable that an unexpected team (the Diamondbacks) put so much cash onto the market.
All said, there’s plenty left to be spent. And that makes sense: more than half of MLBTR’s top fifty free agents — including six of the top ten — remain unsigned at present.