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Two of the best players in the championship series represent last year’s slow-moving offseason

Lorenzo Cain, J.D. Martinez, and many other free agents waited too long to ink their deals.

Divisional Round - Boston Red Sox v New York Yankees - Game Four Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Last offseason was weird. And not like an entertaining weird, more like a “watch disaster strike before your eyes” kind of weird. Let’s go back and recount to some of the odd happenings.

We saw...

  • Talk of collusion
  • Little-to-no market activity before February
  • Players that were thought to have received large, multi-year deals sign at a highly reduced cost
  • But then Eric Hosmer got $144 million?
  • Oh yeah, and 115 wRC+ hitter Neil Walker was offered a minor league deal

The main storyline of last offseason was obviously the notable free agents that waited out for larger contracts, didn’t receive them, and took deals much less than what they were thought to have received. The trend of a diminished money in free agency actually dates back to 2016 though. As the 2018 season approached us back in March, I took data from FanGraphs annual free agency crowdsourcing project and matched every free agent from 2013 on with their actual deals. Adding all the figures up on both sides, I found the accuracy of these crowdsourcing projects for each offseason. The findings went as followed...

In the 2013-14 offseason, the actual money was only 0.49 percent lower than the predicted money. In the 2016-17 offseason it was 23.13 percent lower. Last offseason it was 24.3 percent lower.

The victims of this to no surprise were the actual free agents. Mike Moustakas was predicted to receive 80.7 million, but got six million. Neil Walker was projected to get 35.7 million, but ended up with five million. Among others, Logan Morrison, Jonathan Lucroy, and Carlos Gomez all received less than a third of what their crowdsourced contracts said they would get.

Ironically, the two biggest deals given out last offseason (eight years, 144 million to Eric Hosmer and six years, 126 million to Yu Darvish) did not yield the best early returns, as Darvish continued his injury concerns, pitching in only eight games, and Hosmer put up a -0.1 fWAR in 677 plate appearances.

Right in between those small one-year deals and the two mega-deals given out were two contracts that are currently showing dividends in postseason play. Lorenzo Cain, the would be Brewers leader in fWAR if it weren’t for NL MVP candidate Christian Yelich, and J.D. Martinez, the would be Red Sox leader in fWAR if it weren’t for AL MVP candidate Mookie Betts.

Cain, who many (including myself) thought to be the best free agent available, was projected to receive 73.2 million. Going against my current narrative, he actually received more money than that (though his actual AAV was lower than his crowdsourced AAV), inking a five-year, 80 million dollar deal with the Brewers in late January. But his signing does fit my narrative in the sense that he had to wait so long for a deal. In years past, most major free agents are getting their deals closer to the Winter Meetings, as we usually see activity peak throughout December. That wasn’t the case this offseason though, as a lot of the top players available signed past the new year. Teams sat on their hands for months before Cain was signed. Teams that could have used Cain, as several contending teams ranked in the bottom half of center field fWAR this season (Athletics, Cubs, Rockies, Phillies, Mariners, Indians to name a few). It isn’t crazy to think his MVP-caliber season could have made a major difference for a few of these clubs.

Meanwhile, the Brewers added 5.4 fWAR at center field from 2017, jumping 25th to fourth in that department. The Cain signing played a major role in their rise to World Series contention.

Jumping to the Martinez signing, he too didn’t get far off his predicted contract (22.2 million AAV predicted vs 22 million AAV actual). But like Cain, he waited way longer than expected to sign, inking his deal around the time pitchers and catchers were reporting to Spring Training. Name a contending team and you would find that it wouldn’t be too hard to find a place for a 170 wRC+ bat in the lineup.

Last offseason was a unique type of chaos— an uneventful chaos that was frustrating to watch. Now with the ALCS and NLCS upon us, we get to watch the effects of a sedated offseason play out right in front of us.

Patrick Brennan loves to research pitchers and minor leaguers with data. You can find additional work of his at Royals Review and Royals Farm Report. You can also find him on Twitter @paintingcorner.