In each of the previous two offseasons, the top-ranked free-agent center fielder available inked a deal worth at least $80MM. The Cardinals made a five-year, $82.5MM commitment to Dexter Fowler heading into 2017, and the Brewers followed suit by awarding Lorenzo Cain a five-year, $80MM guarantee last offseason. If A.J. Pollock has his way, he’ll rake in a similar payday this winter. The longtime Diamondback is seeking a contract in the vicinity of the Fowler and Cain pacts, Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets.
It’s no surprise that Pollock is aiming high early in free agency, especially considering the lack of center field alternatives available on either the open or trade market. Nevertheless, Pollock’s asking price may be rather ambitious, with MLBTR predicting he’ll land a four-year, $60MM guarantee and FanGraphs projecting a three-year, $54MM deal.
It’s true that Pollock has generally been a good to excellent performer throughout his career, which began in earnest in 2013. However, injuries have been an all-too-common occurrence for Pollock, who missed 87 games in 2014, 150 in 2016, 50 in 2017 and 49 last season. Further, youth isn’t necessarily on Pollock’s side (he’ll turn 31 on Dec. 6), and because he rejected a qualifying offer from Arizona, signing him would cost a team more than just a truckload of cash. For their part, the Diamondbacks are likely rooting for Pollock to achieve his big-money goal if he doesn’t re-sign with them. Should Pollock go elsewhere for upward of $50MM, it would greatly increase the compensation the D-backs would receive.
To this point, only the Astros have been linked to Pollock on MLBTR’s pages since free agency opened, though Nightengale writes that he’s drawing “plenty of interest.” Aside from the Astros, potential fits could include the Giants, White Sox, Cubs, Mets, Indians and Phillies, among others.
The team that signs Pollock will be landing a valuable player who has totaled between 2.3 fWAR and 6.8 fWAR in five seasons, despite his injury woes. The right-handed hitter posted 2.5 fWAR in 460 plate appearances last season, when he slashed .257/.316/.484 (110 wRC+) with a career-high 21 home runs, a personal-best .228 ISO and 13 stolen bases on 15 tries. Those are impressive numbers, but they pale in comparison to Pollock’s offensive production from his 2014-15 heyday, and he’s now coming off a season in which he registered career-worst chase, swinging-strike, strikeout and contact rates. Meanwhile, Pollock did earn mostly solid marks in center field – which has been the case throughout his time in the majors – with six Defensive Runs Saved, six Outs Above Average and a minus-0.7 Ultimate Zone Rating.
On a per-PA basis, Pollock’s career has been better than Fowler’s when he got to the market and similar to Cain’s when he hit free agency. It’s easy to see why Pollock is likely to collect an appreciable raise in the coming weeks, then. Still, Pollock’s longstanding injury issues figure to prevent him from approaching the contracts Fowler and Cain received.