November 20, 2013
The Lineup Card
10 Free Agents Who Are Likely to Be Overpaid
1. Roy Halladay
2. Fernando Rodney
In other words, I’m expecting at least $7 million a year on the back of that one awesome season in 2012, a strong enough 2013 that nobody thinks he’s done yet, and a collection of 152 saves since 2008 when Detroit gave him the chance to close. In fact, the Tigers are a likely suitor and willing victim, given their failing in the playoffs, their ongoing bullpen issues, and their proclivity to solving holes with free agent deals. Keep your eyes out for a three-year deal paying out about $25 million and hope your favorite team’s owner isn’t the one signing the front of the checks. —Ben Murphy
3. Edward Mujica
4. Jacoby Ellsbury
Of course, if I landed on Ellsbury, I'd probably break his tibia. —Jason Wojciechowski
5. Ubaldo Jimenez
Much has been made of his 1.84 ERA during the second half, but his remarkable numbers didn't really start until late August—consider that he walked 5.2 batters per nine innings (13.2 percent of batters faced) in his first five starts following the All-Star break, in which nearly 20 percent of his runs allowed were of the unearned variety (his RA/9 was 3.34 during the span). Jimenez certainly turned things around for the final six weeks, including five games of nine or more strikeouts (he had one such outing in his first 24 starts of the season) and a mere 10 walks across 54 1/3 innings (only 1.7 BB/9, or 4.7 percent of batters). His velocity crept up a tick above his seasonal rate, averaging 93.6 mph during the home stretch, and he was able to repeat his delivery with better-than-usual consistency.
His shiny performance at the end of the season for a team with playoff aspirations drew attention on the baseball radar. Combine that well-timed run with his memorable 2010 season in the Colorado sun, and sprinkle in some four-year old radar readings in the high-90s, and you have the recipe for a player to be vastly overpaid. Even during his best stretch of 2013, Ubaldo's velocity was down three mph from his masthead 2010 season, and his average velo of 2013 reflected a continuation of his downward overall trend. His mechanics are a lesson in what not to do, and his saloon-door stride pattern contributes to haphazard positioning that adds to his complete inconsistency of timing and mechanical sequencing (explained in more detail here). Expecting him to showcase the same delivery that marked his brief stretch of dominance is a fool's errand, given such erratic mechanical baselines as well as a long-standing history of shaky deliveries. The more likely result is that Jimenez performs along the same downhill slope of his career-to-date, and whoever buys is in for a frustrating few years that are loaded with walks. —Doug Thorburn
6. Curtis Granderson
But take away the claustrophobic Yankee Stadium fences that helped him ding 40 homers a season and he's a 33-year-old center fielder coming off multiple injuries who rejected a qualifying offer and therefore will cost his new team a draft pick in addition to the $15 million or so per year he'll reap. He still has viable years left, but probably not at that list price. —Matt Sussman
7. Matt Garza
That being said, there’s plenty working against Garza and the prospect of giving him a five-year deal is downright scary. Garza has seen his K/9 fall in each of the past two seasons, has only been worth 2.0-plus WARP three times in his career, and hasn’t surpassed 200 innings since 2010 (although he missed that mark by just two innings in 2011). Garza has a history with arm issues and is seeing a modest decline in velocity, and he’s generally pitched more as a middle-of-the-rotation type rather than the frontline starter we saw in 2011.
Garza certainly might be productive on the front end of this deal, but there’s not much reason to assume he’ll regain velocity or stay healthier on the wrong side of 30. A five-year pact has the potential to look ugly halfway through the deal. —Ben Carsley
8. Corey Hart
A one-year deal for Hart is reasonable for both sides, as it's a way for a team to minimize its risk and Hart to try and rehabilitate his value in order to get that One Last Big Contract. Unfortunately, there's probably a team or two out there willing to give him a multi-year deal, and with the amount of money likely to be involved, it's bound to be full of buyer's remorse by the time it's over. Life is tough for an tall, aging slugger and one team is about to find that out the hard way. —Bret Sayre
9. Joe Nathan
The problem isn’t with what Nathan has done, but rather with what he might do going forward. Nathan will be 39 years old on Opening Day 2014. Conventional wisdom is pointing to a two-year deal for Nathan with a handful of analysts speculating that a three-year pact is possible. Since 1975, only five relievers have saved 50 or more games at age 39 or older:
Top 10 Relievers by Saves since 1975, Ages 39+
*Yes, I know, pitcher ERA is a terrible way to measure pitcher value, and reliever ERA is even worse.
While four relievers on the list saw their ERAs drop, two of these relievers (Fryman, Reed) were converted starters who were experiencing a lighter workload in the twilight of their careers. The other eight pitchers come closer to the modern definition of a closer and of those eight only Rivera excelled, while Hoffman and Timlin were very good. For the most part though, these pitchers declined. Even elite, Hall of Famer Eckersley ran out of gas.
The lack of data points to analyze bothers me more than the actual data. Maybe Nathan will become another one of the limited examples that continues to shine into his 40s. It’s possible, though, that he has one more good year in him and then falls off of the map. He’s also a reliever, and while good relievers are valuable, spending over $10 million per season to purchase the proven closer tag is a risky proposition. Unless you’re obtaining the rights to the one and only Mariano, you’re better off shifting your free agent dollars elsewhere. A one-year deal for Nathan is okay. But anything past that is chancy, and it’s highly unlikely that Nathan will sign for anything less than two years. —Mike Gianella
10. Raul Ibanez
Still: Ibanez will turn 42 in June, and he finished last season with a .203/.295/.345 second half. Barring an undisclosed injury, it’s hard to see how he could have gone from being one of baseball’s best power hitters to an easy out over the All-Star break, but a sudden decline in skill wouldn’t be much more mystifying than his lack of decline for a decade before that. (Maybe he should have left that painting alone.) Given that he was already a low-average/OBP guy, a liability against left-handers, and a GIF factory in the outfield, the disappearance of his power would remove most of his remaining value. Signing him won’t be anywhere near the worst mistake the market will make this winter—one-year deals don’t do that much damage, and Ibanez does have a reputation for being a positive clubhouse presence—but a team that pays for last year’s full-season stats won’t get its money’s worth. —Ben Lindbergh