The Winter Meetings saw a pair of high-profile trades, but also four free agent signings in excess of $60MM. Of the four teams to open their checkbooks, which made the best move?
Aroldis Chapman, five years, $86MM, Yankees. The Yankees brought back their former closer to rejoin Dellin Betances to form perhaps the best setup/closer tandems in baseball. There’s no questioning Chapman’s dominance, and a lefty with three-digit heat and a 15.5 K/9 is a unique asset indeed. But the Yankees also gave Chapman an opt-out after three years, one that presumably won’t require him to forgo his $11MM signing bonus. And they gave him a no-trade clause through the first three seasons as well, plus a limited no-trade through the last two. As Mike Axisa of River Ave Blues pointed out after the deal, it’s possible the opt-out will arrive just as the Yankees have assembled their best team in years. Then there’s also Chapman’s troubling personal history.
Dexter Fowler, five years, $82.5MM, Cardinals. The Cardinals filled their center field vacancy with Fowler, who batted .276/.393/.447 last season with the Cubs. In so doing, the Cardinals also avoided a trade market that’s been ugly for buyers, as the Nationals’ trade for Adam Eaton perhaps demonstrated. The Cards are buying Fowler’s age-31 through -35 seasons, years in which an athletic player might well remain productive. They did give up the 19th overall pick in the draft with the signing, though, and even the Cardinals have characterized the dollar figure required to land Fowler as “over the top.”
Ian Desmond, five years, $70MM, Rockies. In what was surely the most surprising of the four signings, the Rockies landed a veteran leader who reinvented himself as an outfielder in an excellent comeback season in Texas. Desmond’s defensive flexibility will give the Rockies options as they build their team for the years ahead, and his 20-homer offense should benefit from Coors Field. The Rockies did, however, give up the first protected pick of the draft — No. 11 overall — to make the signing, costing the team eight-figure value not already included in the contract. And the team didn’t look like a contender in 2016 and might or might not be one in 2017, raising questions about whether now was the right time for them to pursue this kind of veteran talent.
Mark Melancon, four years, $62MM, Giants. The Giants were expected to pursue a closer, and they dodged higher-dollar targets like Chapman or Kenley Jansen (and the loss of a draft pick Jansen would require) to sign the 31-year-old Melancon. Melancon’s results in the last four seasons are indisputably terrific — the highest ERA he’s had in that time has been 2.23. He also has terrific control (with a 1.5 BB/9 last season) and routinely posts great ground-ball numbers (54.2% last year). He doesn’t have a typical profile for a dominant closer, however, with only modest velocity (91.8 MPH average fastball velocity last year, down about a mile from 2013) and a strikeout rate that’s only a bit more than half of Chapman’s. Long-term reliever contracts have historically been dicey propositions, and it remains to be seen if Melancon can dodge the trends. Melancon’s deal also contains considerable value not included in the $62MM total in the form of a no-trade clause and an opt-out after the first two years.
What do you think? Which team’s new contract is the best of the four?