The Reported Price Tags on Lefties Andrew Chafin, Matt Moore, and Zack Britton Could Explain Their Continued Free Agency
It’s the last major group of free agents to sort out, and the only group that is tending toward the “frozen” free agent track of the last five-ish years. Thankfully for most of the free agent market, things were back to something more normal this offseason, with a real heat-up in late-November and through December. I think that’s preferable not only for us as fans to follow, but also for the teams and players.
Unfortunately for many of the top lefty free agent relievers (plus Michael Fulmer, for whatever reason), their market did not move after Matt Strahm got a surprising two-year, $15 million deal from the Phillies in early December. Per multiple reports, that created a floor for several other relievers – Andrew Chafin, Matt Moore, and Zack Britton chief among them – and teams have been in a holding pattern with them since.
I can make a strong argument for each of those three over Strahm (and Fulmer, too, though he’s a righty), so I understand why they feel they should be able to top his deal. But I also understand, in a more abstract sense, why teams would feel like Strahm’s deal was an outlying overpay, and they are willing to keep waiting, especially as budgets and suitors dry up.
We are following this closely because we know, for whatever other teams are involved or not, the Chicago Cubs are in. They want one of these guys. If not Chafin, Moore, Britton, or Fulmer, then at least Brad Hand or Will Smith, each of whom might not sign until the others find a home.
Like a lot of other teams, though, the Cubs have spent most of what they’re willing to commit in 2023 dollars to this point, and if they want to (1) stay under the first tier of the luxury tax, and (2) leave open some funds for midseason additions – we suspect both of those things for the Cubs – then they’re going to have to get one of these guys to sign for well below the $12-ish million they have remaining below the $233 million luxury tax.
Connect those dots and you have the primary question: if Strahm got two years and a $7.5 million AAV, how much more are the other guys seeking annually? And does it leave enough room under the luxury tax for a team like the Cubs?
Well, I think Bob Nightengale today reports the reason the Cubs haven’t finalized one of these deals yet: each of Chafin, Moore, and Britton are looking to get AAVs around $9 million.
If Strahm’s real market value was $7.5 million annually, then, hey, these guys are absolutely right to seek $9 million, if not more. Comps are part of the game. I totally get it, and they’ll receive no criticism from me for holding out for their payday.
It’s January 30. Pitchers and catchers report in about two weeks. At some point, the market is the market, as frustrating as it might be in relation to a deal some other guy got earlier in the offseason. Teams will use up their budgets, will set their rosters in place for the spring, and they will be out on these guys other than a pricey minor league deal with an early opt out and a good big league rate.
If I’m an agent for one of these three (plus Fulmer), I’m starting to think about being the first to jump so I can lock down a Strahm-like deal (even if not topping it), or even a big-dollar one-year deal, lest I be the one left holding the bag come mid-February. At that point, you might have only one or two suitors left, and they’re going to squeeze you for a one-year deal BELOW Strahm’s price tag. We’ve seen it many times before. The Cubs, with their patience in landing reliever options at the margins, have gotten bargains this way before.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there’s a two-year, $16+ million deal still out there for each of those guys if they’re just patient enough. Per Nightengale, it sounds like they’re seeking about two years and $18 million. I’m just not sure those dollars are still out there, especially when you start reading things about how even the Mets are “longshots” to sign Chafin or Britton.