As the MLBTR team put together this year’s ranking of the top fifty free agents, it became clear that there were a few bunchings of multiple players in similar market positions. That’s apparent most obviously at the top, where Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are both trying to push the bounds of what a 26-year-old star can earn (albeit at different positions), and in the sub-elite tier of the relief market, where there are a variety of very good pitchers who possess at least one or two obvious limitations on value.
It may be, though, that the tightest race between any two players — at least, in terms of ink spilled in relation to the level of contract we were debating — was between Andrew McCutchen and Michael Brantley. Proof? Tim Dierkes wrote Steve Adams and me an email on October 25th entitled, “Brantley vs Cutch revisited.”
In such situations, at some point, you’re forced to pick between the players — unless you take the easy way out (as I often do in our summer trade ranking list!) by grouping multiple players at one spot. Since Tim is made of sterner stuff than I, he was determined to put one ahead of the other — even if they ended up at the same predicted contract, as ultimately proved to be the case. I thought it’d be interesting to look back at some of our lengthy debate on the topic, and use it as a jumping-off point for a poll now that we’ve seen both players agree to deals.
It was something of an upset that Tim decided to place Brantley first. After all, he led off that aforementioned email with a series of power arguments that’d make Cutch’s agents blush: McCutchen has more power, doesn’t have platoon issues, “is indestructible,” and is a more versatile defender. Pop, offensive balance, durability, flexibility … seemed like a closed case.
Of course, there are counter-arguments in favor of Brantley, and Steve was happy to provide them in exhaustive detail. He summed up the main thrust of his viewpoint thusly: “Even if you look at their last three seasons, the only thing Cutch has on Brantley is volume of games played. Brantley has been a better hitter (same wRC+, but I’ll take the one that comes with a .300 average and half the strikeout rate) and a wildly better baserunner and defender.” With a slight age advantage to boot, there was quite a bit to like about Brantley.
It was a lively debate — and one that I was glad mostly to sit out while making observations that would keep me in the good graces of both of the warring MLBTR factions. Pro-Brantley: “He doesn’t walk. But he has super-elite contact ability that has allowed him to be a steadily outstanding producer of OBP.” Pro-Cutch: “.360+ OBP the past two years and still above-average power (which might play up in a smaller park). Plate discipline is as good as ever. Durability is a very fair point as well. Lack of platoon splits is nice.”
Ultimately, we predicted three-year, $45MM deals for both players. But that’s not how it has turned out. McCutchen secured a surprisingly hefty $50MM guarantee from the Phillies, who’ll bank on him as a steady and reliable (if not literally “indestructible”) asset for at least the next three seasons. That left us feeling optimistic about Brantley’s market, but word emerged this evening that he will not secure a third guaranteed season, reportedly agreeing to a two-year, $32MM-ish deal with the Astros. Though Houston wants to get the bat in the lineup as much as possible, it wasn’t forced to take on extra injury risk with another promised campaign in order to lure Brantley.
All that being said … how do you view the predictions and signings? (Response order randomized; poll link for app users.)