Last winter’s free-agent market was debated for years in advance. Its slow pace led to a long period of tension that has extended into early CBA negotiations. There was and is much at stake that goes beyond the bounds of the individual contracts that were negotiated. But those specific deals are also interesting and important standing alone — particularly those that involved significant, multi-year commitments.
We’ll take a look in at the thirteen players who signed for $30MM or more in total guaranteed money to see how those contracts look now that we’re more than two-thirds of the way through their first seasons. Here are the five position players who inked such deals:
Bryce Harper, OF, Phillies (13 years, $330MM): Harper has turned his back on those ugly defensive metrics from a year ago. So, that’s nice. Much less encouraging: Harper is back-sliding in plate discipline (26.3% K rate vs. 15.6% BB rate) and power (.215 ISO). He’s swinging and missing more than ever (14.7%). Notably, his contact rate on pitches in the strike zone has stayed below 80% in each of the past two seasons, a rather notable downturn given that he had previously registered in the mid-eighties. Statcast hints at some poor fortune (.355 wOBA vs. .374 xwOBA), and we might reasonably anticipate some movement back towards Harper’s career mean, but the overall results haven’t been terribly promising for a player who is owed a lot of money over an exceptionally lengthy period of time.
Manny Machado, 3B, Padres (10 years, $300MM): Like Harper, Machado owns a good but hardly overwhelming 117 wRC+. The Friars third bagger just hasn’t stung the ball quite as often as he did in the two prior seasons. And his strikeout rate sits at a career-high 20.2%. While Machado could end up setting a career high-water mark in long balls with 26 already in the bag (his prior his is 37), he hasn’t been quite as good at the plate as one might have hoped in year one of a decade-long commitment.
A.J. Pollock, OF, Dodgers (4 years, $55MM): Another round of elbow issues has limited Pollock and he’s carrying a league-average .257/.319/.444 batting line. That’s not great at first glance, but the situation is more promising when you look more closely. The elbow surgery he underwent may finally have put an end to his long-running series of issues in that joint. And he has raked since returning from the injured list. It’d be foolish to say that this contract is working out perfectly, but it’s far too soon to label it a bust.
Andrew McCutchen, OF, Phillies (3 years, $50MM): This one was off to such a promising start. Cutch was walking like a maniac while delivering solid pop to open the season, but went down with a devastating knee injury in his 59th game of action. He’ll have plenty of time to get ready for 2020, but the Phillies lost a big chunk of the anticipated early production from the signing and will have to wait to see whether the ACL repair will cost the venerable veteran some of his athleticism.
Michael Brantley, OF, Astros (2 years, $32MM): The last position player on this list has outperformed all the others. Brantley is maintaining his typically exceptional contact rates while hitting for more power than ever before (.192 ISO, 16 home runs in 467 plate appearances). He’s also receiving strong marks for his glovework. This deal is working out swimmingly for the ’Stros.
We ought to give an honorable mention to the players who signed big one-year deals when they could have topped $30MM in a multi-year scenario. Josh Donaldson ($23MM) and Yasmani Grandal ($18.25MM) have each been excellent. (Ditto Nelson Cruz, though the long-in-the-tooth DH’s $14.3MM single-season salary suggests he didn’t quite have that level of earning power.)