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Free Agent Contract Projections Run a REALLY Wide Range of Price Tags

Chicago Cubs

Have you heard the good news? This offseason, the Cubs can sign free agents Trevor Story and Nick Castellanos to bolster their lineup, before grabbing Kevin Gausman and Carlos Rodon for the rotation, and STILL have a payroll at just $164 million in 2022! And the best part? Those two position players would come off the books after just three years, one year after Jason Heyward and Kyle Hendricks are done, preserving plenty of financial flexibility for the future.

Totally plausible, right? I’ve never wanted to believe in one man’s projections so bad

At ESPN, Kiley McDaniel projected contracts for the top-50 MLB free agents in this very deep class and the results are somewhat shocking(ly low).

To illustrate just how low these projections are, let’s take a look at those four players above, all of whom are theoretical Cubs targets this offseason.

Trevor Story: 5 years, $115M ($23M AAV)
Kevin Gausman: 5 years, $105M ($21M AAV)
Nick Castellanos: 3 years, $54M ($18M AAV)
Carlos Rodon: 3 years, $51M ($17M AAV)

Are those deals a little longer than ideal for Story and Gausman? Yeah, a little. I’d be more comfortable with four years for Gausman, even at a higher AAV, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Story prefers a one-year deal to 5/$115M right now, because with one good season, he could crush that guarantee next winter. But three years for Castellanos and Rodon? Average annual values under $23 million for all of them? Yeah, sign me up. That would give the rotation enough of a floor to legitimately compete, and the lineup would – at least – be in a position to surprise. Though I doubt any of this happens. Or, at least, I’d be surprised if these four players sign for this low, regardless of which teams they join.

But McDaniel is nothing if not consistent. Despite reporting “firsthand accounts from multiple big-market clubs that said they are awash in cash …” after strong gate numbers, deep playoff runs, and tightened finances, the projected deals this offseason are all quite reasonable.

He’s got Michael Conforto on a 3 year, $51M deal (yes, please). Ditto Eduardo Rodriguez. Heck, he’s got Marcus Stroman at just three years and $48 million and Kris Bryant at five years and $90 million. If most of these projections come true*, there’s going to be some very happy fan bases out there this winter. (If Bryant ACTUALLY signs with another team for 5/$90M, Cubs fans will lose their minds …. )

*There are a few that feel just about right (or even high), including Carlos Correa at just about $300M, Marcus Semien at five years and $110M, Max Scherzer at three years and $90 million, Javy Báez at one year and $25M, etc. But overall, these are light projections, much of which I’d be thrilled to find accurate as a team like the Cubs with so many holes (and seats) to fill next season. 

It’s not just projections, either. McDaniel has a writeup on each player/situation, if you’re curious.

But before you get out your shopping list, you might want to check out Jim Bowden’s projections at The Athletic. For however conservative you find McDaniel, Bowden is the opposite in the extreme. Ten years and $320 million for Corey Seager? I doubt it (that’s $110M more than McDaniel projected). And $50 million PER YEAR for Max Scherzer over three years? I’ll eat my hat. Seven years and $204 million for Story after his worst season? No, I don’t think so.

Like McDaniel, Bowden has some reasonable picks – Bryant at six years and $150M feels like it’s in the range, albeit at a high AAV, Stroman at five years and $110 million is a little high, but his relative position as arguably the top young pitcher is an advantage, and so on.

But, yes, on the whole, this is as high as McDaniel is low. So my advice? Maybe shoot for something in between when you start picking out players. Oh, and, don’t forget, the new CBA might make this all seem pretty silly pretty soon … perhaps in either direction.



Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami