Not all free agents are created equal.
Some cost a lot, others cost very little. Some produce as expected, while others bust or boom seemingly at random.
And although the free agents who cost the most tend to produce the best, the relationship is far from one-to-one.
Obviously, teams want to acquire as much production as they can in free agency for the lowest possible price, so identifying the best value is at least as, if not more, important than identifying the best overall talent.
Identifying that value, however, is both difficult and risky. You can spend a lot on the top players to try to mitigate the risk of a bust, but that increases the damage if a bust does happen. Of course, you can decrease the potential impact of a bust by focusing solely on low-cost players, but if you do, you’re far less likely to get the type of production you need. Difficult stuff, right?
Well fortunately, Dave Cameron has created something of a cheat sheet along these lines to help us identify the best and the worst of the current crop of free agents.
In a two–part series at FanGraphs, Dave Cameron takes a look at the bargains and landmines of the 2017 free-agent class. And, as you can imagine, there are a couple of bits relevant to the Cubs (who may have as much spending flexibility as anyone). Cameron includes a ton of analysis and explanation in each piece, so I’ll encourage you to check both out for yourself. The names, together with crowd-sourced median contract expectations:
- Justin Turner, 3B – 4 years, $68 million
- Rich Hill, LHP – 3 years, $51 million
- Neil Walker, 2B – 4 years, $56 million (Walker ultimately accepted a qualifying offer after back surgery)
- Brett Cecil, LHP – 3 years, $21 million
- Matt Holliday, OF – 2 years, $24 million
Among the bargains of free agency, according to Cameron, you can find two infielders, an outfielder, a starter, and a reliever. That’s a whole lot of options for some potentially great deals. Unfortunately for Cubs fans, I doubt any of the names above wind up with the team next year. To be sure, Brett Cecil could be of potential interest to the Cubs, but he’s reportedly already received a three-year offer from the Blue Jays, where he might well stay. Otherwise, even if there’s value to be had from the three remaining names above, I’m not sure the Cubs will be in a position to take advantage of it.
- Mark Trumbo, OF – 4 years, $64 million
- Mark Melancon, RHP – 3 years, $42 million
- Edwin Encarnacion, DH – 4 years, $88 million
- Kendrys Morales, DH – 2 years, $20 million (Morales actually wound up getting 3/$33M from the Blue Jays)
- Matt Wieters, C – 3 years, $36 million
With one notable exception, I don’t foresee the Cubs getting involved with four out of the five potential free agent landmines, either. The National League doesn’t have a DH, so Encarnacion is not going to wind up on the North Side of Chicago. The catcher spot is likely going to be locked down by Willson Contreras and Miguel Montero in 2017, so Matt Wieters is probably a non-factor. And although the Cubs could arguably use some outfield depth, it isn’t going to come in the form of a hulking slugger, so Mark Trumbo won’t be a target, either.
That said, Mark Melancon is probably going to be someone the Cubs at least check in on. I don’t think there’s any reason to believe the Cubs won’t be bolstering their bullpen this offseason, after potentially losing all of Travis Wood, Aroldis Chapman, and Trevor Cahill to free agency (and maybe Mike Montgomery to the rotation (plus the questions surrounding Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop)), and Melancon is one of the big three available relievers.
There haven’t been any direct rumors tying Melancon to the Cubs just yet (while there have been rumors/speculation connecting both Kenley Jansen and Greg Holland to Chicago, and of course Chapman is connected to the Cubs by virtue of having been one), but Melancon has been previously considered a good value alternative to the expectedly record-high contracts for Chapman and Jansen. On Melancon, Cameron is worried that his reliance on weak contact and lack of a dominant strikeout pitch could sink him quickly – a reasonable concern. We’re going to take a closer look at Melancon in an upcoming piece, though, so I’ll save most of my analysis for that.
It’s important to keep in mind, however, that at least one bright baseball mind is making a case for some caution on Melancon.
So keep an eye on the Cubs and the rumors they’re connected to this offseason. What may seem like a great deal at the time could be a disaster in disguise. And, of course, be thoughtful in your reaction to an unexpected signing. You never know where some hidden value can be found.