I believe Rich Hill will land a three-year contract worth $45MM or more in free agency this winter. A year ago, that would’ve seemed insane. Today marks the one-year anniversary of Hill’s return to a Major League starting rotation after a five-year hiatus. That September spot start for the Red Sox turned into four, which led to a one-year, $6MM free agent deal from the Athletics in November. Hill’s success continued this season, albeit with significant time missed due to injuries. The lefty’s season culminated with seven perfect innings for the Dodgers against the Marlins Saturday night, though it’s not over yet. Here’s why I believe Hill will get $45MM or more this winter.
- His performance has been otherworldly. Over the last year, Hill has authored 124 innings of 1.74 ball – the best in baseball over that period. Hill has ridden his knee-buckling curveball to strike out more than 30% of batters faced (10.6 K/9) during that time. Even if you just look at pure, total value, Hill ranks 14th with 4.6 wins above replacement. Hill’s last 124 innings were worth roughly the same as Johnny Cueto’s last 229 2/3 frames. Hill has pitched 95 innings this year, and FanGraphs values his performance at $28MM.
- His age won’t stop him from getting three years. Hill will turn 37 in March. Three-year free agent deals are rare at that age, because teams are wary of injuries and decline. However, I expect Hill to get three years for the same reason Carlos Beltran did in his last contract: it’s the cost of doing business. If demand is strong enough for Hill’s services, teams will simply have to make three-year offers to have a chance to sign him, even if they don’t expect the contract to end well. Hill can also make the argument that he will age well, since he’s not reliant on fastball velocity and has less mileage on his arm than a typical pitcher his age.
- His injury history won’t stop him from getting three years. Rich Hill has an extensive injury history dating back to 2008. He endured shoulder and elbow surgery in his career, and he’s missed 79 days this season due to a groin injury and blisters on his throwing hand. I still think he can get a three-year deal, for the same “cost of doing business” reason stated above. It’s why Scott Kazmir got three years and Brandon McCarthy got four (albeit both from the Dodgers). It’s true that Hill brings issues of both age and injury history, but his performance has been far stronger than that of a Kazmir or McCarthy. Plus, many teams throw rationality out the window in free agency.
- Rich Hill can be a game-changer for under $50MM. Why did Dodgers manager Dave Roberts pull Hill in the midst of a perfect game, with 89 pitches thrown? It’s partially because they know what a huge weapon he can be for them in the postseason if they can keep him healthy. Simply by virtue of having Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill in a short series, the Dodgers will be a fearsome playoff opponent. So maybe you sign Hill to a three-year deal and can only count on 100 innings a year from him. Those 100 innings could be ace-caliber, and have a large impact on a team’s chance at winning the World Series. It’s akin to the way a reliever like Aroldis Chapman can have a high overall impact despite throwing only 60 regular season innings. A lot of teams don’t mind “overpaying” for relievers in free agency, because a Chapman or an Andrew Miller can make such a huge difference at crunch time. However, Chapman and Kenley Jansen will require contracts well beyond $45MM this winter. $45MM just isn’t a lot of money in MLB these days, and the upside makes Hill worth the risk.
- The free agent market for starting pitching is terrible. The 2016-17 free agent market for starting pitching is historically bad. Have a look. Would you rather throw $30-35MM at Jeremy Hellickson or Ivan Nova, or $45-50MM at Rich Hill? I don’t know whether the current draft pick compensation system will remain similar under a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, but if it does, Hill could come with the added bonus of not requiring compensation by virtue of his midseason trade.
The X factor in Hill’s future earnings is his own personal preference. Certainly, he could take less money to pitch in a certain part of the country, as players sometimes do. Let’s hear your thoughts in the poll below (direct link for mobile app users).