As Opening Day draws closer, we’re beginning to see the unfortunate penalties for players who overestimated their markets at the offseason’s outset. A number of our top-50-ranked free agents have fallen well short of the expectations we had for them, including three players ranked in our top five (Masahiro Tanaka excluded) who’ve been guaranteed at least $35MM less than we predicted.
That group includes Mike Moustakas, who so far seems to be the abnormal offseason’s biggest victim. We thought “Moose” would receive a guarantee in the $85MM range, but he ended up settling for a contract with the Royals that’ll pay him just $6.5MM, including a buyout of a mutual option for 2019. Logan Morrison and Jonathan Lucroy have also signed deals that guarantee them that exact same amount, despite the fact that they were widely expected to earn far more money. It should be noted that Moustakas has $2.2MM in available incentives in 2018 based on plate appearances, while Morrison can earn an extra $1.5 MM in similar fashion and can increase the base value of his 2019 option (or even cause it to vest) based on his 2018 plate appearances. However, these are excruciatingly small consolation prizes compared to the money they hoped to earn at the start of the winter.
The biggest subject of the offseason of course, has been why it’s been so unusual. But one of the more obvious answers is that the league-wide home run surge has likely resulted in a league-wide devaluation of power. That would certainly explain cooler-than-expected demand for players like Moustakas and Morrison, both of whom slugged 38 homers last season but had notable flaws elsewhere in their game. That Lucroy’s power mysteriously evaporated entirely might have contributed to the evaporation of the market for his services.
Regardless, these players are all likely to provide excess value on their respective contracts. bWAR and fWAR generally agree on their values in relation to replacement level last season; Moustakas was worth somewhere around 2 WAR, Morrison close to 3.5 WAR, and Lucroy about 1 WAR. And even though Lucroy rated the least valuable of the three, it’s worth noting that he plays a premium position and been an immensely valuable player in the past (both offensively and defensively). Even a modest bounceback from the outgoing Rockies catcher could result in a solid season for the A’s.
Below are the Steamer and ZiPS projections for these players, taken from Fangraphs.com. As with any projections, they should be taken with a grain of salt.
Steamer: .273/.347/.427, 11.8 Defense Rating, 2.9 fWAR
ZiPS: .298/.365/.449, 3.6 Defense Rating, 1.7 fWAR
Steamer: .268/.328/.494, 2.1 Defense Rating, 2.7 fWAR
ZiPS: .267/.318/.485, 1.5 Defense Rating, 1.5 fWAR
Steamer: .249/.340/.461, -11.6 Defense Rating, 0.7 fWAR
ZiPS: .255/.345/.477, -10.8 Defense Rating, 1.9 fWAR
Who do you think will provide the most value on his $6.5MM contract? Here’s a poll link for app users.