Concerned about the money.
As we head into MLB free agency, some of baseball’s biggest stars are about to get huge paydays. But for various reasons, the money may be a tad too much.
In the case of our top-two free agents, we don’t know if the money will equal great success for the teams that pay up. In other cases, the injury history of the players is concerning. Whatever the reason, these free agents are likely candidates to get overpaid this offseason.
One thing that’s important is note is that saying someone will be overpaid is not the same as saying they’ll be bad. Some of these guys could well put up big numbers. We’re just concerned that the money they get won’t match what they actually bring their teams.
These are 10 MLB free agents most likely to be overpaid this winter.
Manny Machado, shortstop
Prior to getting traded at the All-Star break, Machado was having a brilliant season for the Baltimore Orioles. He was hitting .315/.387/.575 with 24 home runs. Unfortunately, the team was just 28-69. Don’t get it confused. We’re not blaming Machado for the team’s struggles. But it does go to show that a great player performing at his best guarantees very little from a team perspective.
For most teams, Machado’s contract (likely more than $300 million) will eat up a great portion of the payroll. That’s a lot to pay for a player who can’t do anything to guarantee team success.
Dallas Keuchel, starting pitcher
Keuchel is a two-time All-Star and a past Cy Young Award winner. What’s concerning is that since winning the AL Cy Young in 2015, he’s posted a 3.77 ERA and 1.25 WHIP. Those numbers aren’t bad, but they’re not exactly what we see from top-tier starters. But, as we saw in the playoffs, a number of good teams have starting pitching issues. A number of others (ie: the Cincinnati Reds and Texas Rangers) have good offenses, but don’t possess adequate pitching. The number of teams that will likely be in on Keuchel combined with his resume suggests he’ll get ace money. We just doubt he’ll produce like an ace any more.
Michael Brantley, left fielder
Brantley had a very nice season in a contract year. He made his third All-Star team, hitting .309/.364/.468. In fact, Brantley has always been a good player. His drawback has been the injuries. He did play in a decent 143 games in 2018. But that came on the heels of playing in 111 combined games over 2016 and 2017. He’ll also turn 32 in May. Injury problems don’t usually go away for players as they get deeper into their 30s. Brantley’s age may limit how many years he gets. But we do expect that he’ll get big money for the years he does get. And given his injury history, anything beyond two years is a real risk.
DJ LeMahieu, second baseman
On the surface, there’s a lot to like about LeMahieu. He’s a three-time Gold Glove winner at second base. He’s also a career .298/.350/.406 hitter. But Coors Field has had a lot to do with that. LeMahieu is a .329/.386/.447 hitter in Colorado, and a .266/.313/.364 hitter elsewhere. That’s not bad for a premium position. But it’s a far cry from being a star. The Colorado Rockies have Brendan Rodgers coming up hot through the system. As such, it’s unlikely that LeMahieu will return to the Rockies. Expect LeMahieu to get star money. But outside of Colorado, we doubt that he’ll produce like a star.
Jeurys Familia, relief pitcher
If the significance of a good bullpen wasn’t clear before the 2018 postseason, it is now. A guy like Familia is exactly what teams should want, right? He has closing experience, struck out 10.4 hitters per nine in 2018, and posted a solid 3.13 ERA and 1.22 WHIP. So, what could go wrong? The big issue is that his postseason track record. Between the 2015 World Series and the 2016 NL Wild Card Game, it’s ugly. So bad, in fact, that trusting Familia in a playoff game is nearly impossible. He will absolutely get paid. But a contending team signing him will epitomize a buyer beware situation.
Nathan Eovaldi, starting pitcher
Pitching-needy teams are going to love Eovaldi’s big arm. They’re also going to love seeing what he did in the playoffs and that he’ll only be 29 on Opening Day. And when we look at all that, who could blame them? There are some problems, though. One Eovaldi has a career 4.16 ERA and 1.35 WHIP. Big arm and strong postseason aside, that’s a mid-rotation starter. Two, Eovaldi has had Tommy John Surgery twice. He’s come back okay both times. But there’s real concern about his durability. Given the number of teams that need pitching, we’re confident that Eovaldi will get a big payday this offseason. But definite red flags exist.
A.J. Pollock, center fielder
Pollock will certainly be an effective player whenever he’s on the field. We just don’t know how often that’ll be. Pollock has only topped 150 games once in his career. Heck, he’s only topped 120 games twice. Over the last three seasons, he’s played 12, 112, and 113 games. This is obviously something that teams know. But Pollock declined his qualifying offer. He obviously has plans on making more than $17.9 million in 2019, signing a long-term deal, or both. When he’s on the field, we don’t doubt that Pollock will perform. It’s just doubtful that he’ll be out there enough for his new team to get its money’s worth.
Craig Kimbrel, closer
While we have concerns about a team signing Machado, it’s not really related to anything that we saw in October. With Kimbrel, though, it’s a different story. He had a 5.91 ERA and 1.59 WHIP over nine postseason outings. And this wasn’t a matter of a small sample size causing one or two bad outings to inflate his numbers. Kimbrel struggled nearly every time he took the mound in October. With Kimbrel’s track record, a big payday is coming. But a closer’s job is to finish off the big games. If we learned anything in the postseason, Kimbrel trotting into a playoff game nursing a one-run lead is a nail-biting experience.
Josh Donaldson, third baseman
Donaldson gets on base a lot and hits for a ton of power. That sounds like an ideal middle-of-the-order guy in any era of baseball, especially this one. But as is the case with so many other players, Donaldson’s durability (or lack thereof) has us spooked. It wasn’t much of an issue between 2013-2016. But in 2017, Donaldson played in only 113 games. In 2018, he played in only 52. For a younger player, we might be inclined to overlook that or pass it off as a fluky thing. But it’s harder to dismiss injuries with a 33-year-old. Donaldson’s skill set will attract big money. But teams need to be quite cautious about how much they give.
Bryce Harper, right fielder
There are multiple concerns with giving Harper more than $300 million. One is what we went over with Machado. Even if Harper thrives, there’s no guarantee that it will lead to team success. Look at Mike Trout. He’s been the best player in baseball for seven years and has one playoff appearance to show for it. Additionally with Harper, issues of consistency are concerning. The 2018 season was a perfect reflection of that. He hit .214/.365/.468 before the break and .300/.434/.538 after it. Over the next 10 years, which guy will we see more? That has to be a concerning question for whichever team signs him.