The hot stove season has started off lukewarm, and we might not see a true rush of activity until the rumors surrounding NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton and Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani finally lead to resolutions of some kind. But when the dominoes start falling, we’re highly likely to see a few free agents sign nine-figure deals.
MLBTR released our annual Top 50 Free Agents With Predictions article early this month, and right-hander Yu Darvish sits atop the list with a predicted $160MM guarantee. Despite a career-low strikeout rate (and a well-documented implosion in the playoffs), Darvish remains an elite arm with a great track record of success, including an average of 3.80 fWAR across his five full MLB seasons. Though he hasn’t been quite the same since returning from Tommy John surgery last year, the Dodgers free agent starter still managed double-digit strikeouts per nine innings this past season while allowing only 2.80 walks per nine. In case there was any doubt about his durability following a major surgery, Darvish threw 186 2/3 innings in 2017, and added several more during L.A.’s playoff run. Of course, his famously horrific World Series performance leaves a stain on an otherwise solid campaign. That, along with a steady decline in his full-season ERA and xFIP across the past four campaigns, could potentially leave some of his suitors uneasy about signing him to a lengthy contract.
Even though J.D. Martinez didn’t qualify for the batting title in 2017, he still finished 44th in MLB with 3.8 fWAR. His .690 slugging percentage was the highest in baseball among players with at least 300 plate appearances, and a full 59 points higher than second-place Stanton. Since joining the Tigers in 2014, Martinez has mashed 128 homers, good for 10th in all of baseball across the past four years. He also ranks in the top ten in slugging percentage (2) and wRC+ (5) during that span. Agent Scott Boras is reportedly seeking a $210MM guarantee for Martinez, dubbing him “King Kong” and referencing his power and batting average numbers. Of course, Martinez comes with plenty of negatives as well. He’s only topped 500 plate appearances twice in his career. He’s also a defensive liability; Martinez has posted absolutely deplorable UZR, DRS and Inside Edge Fielding numbers over the past two years.
Eric Hosmer is the youngest of this group, having just turned 28 in October. He’s never logged fewer than 547 plate appearances in a full season, either. His relative youth and durability means he’s almost certain to get the longest contract, though that doesn’t mean the largest total guarantee. Interestingly, agent Scott Boras is trying to work his intangibles, such as clubhouse presence and media skills, into teams’ valuations of Hosmer. In 2017, Hosmer posted a career-high 4.1 fWAR and tied last year’s personal best with 25 homers. That he’s entering the free agent market following the best season of his career bodes well for him. However, his value could get dragged down by the fact that the free agent first base crop is particularly deep this year. If other first basemen sign quickly, Hosmer could lose suitors (and leverage) in a hurry, which could drive down his price.
What do you think? (Poll link for app users)