By: Patrick Harrel
MLB Free Agency is upon us and with that comes players moving teams, crazy contracts, and MLB writers scrambling to get the latest rumors out of team executives. In the coming weeks, teams will start signing players, and as salary figures are tossed out, heads will spin.
Overpaying is sometimes just the cost of doing business in the MLB, a league without a salary cap, but often, that overpaying can be a killer blow to a franchise. In 2006, as the Astros were trying to put together another team that could go deep into the playoffs after reaching the World Series in 2005, they spent $13 million on Woody Williams and $100 million on Carlos Lee. Williams was released in spring training the following year, Lee hamstrung the Astros payroll for the next six seasons, and the Astros bottomed out to be the worst team in baseball for three seasons in a row.
Today, we discuss a pair of veteran free agents that teams should stay away from if they want to avoid the fate the Astros fell victim to in the winter of 2006.
A somewhat superfluous piece on the Angels a year ago, Kendrys Morales was sent to Seattle last offseason in a deal that netted the Angels Jason Vargas to plug a hole in their rotation. For the Mariners, Morales was brought in to do one thing, hit, and he did that fairly well. In his first season with the Mariners, he managed a .277/.336/.449 slash line, hitting 23 home runs and managing a .785 OPS. Outside of hitting, however, he was positively mediocre. He was a below average baserunner and fielder, and when you factor in his position (1B/DH), it takes the shine off those numbers just a bit.
On the season, he amassed 1.2 wins above replacement (WAR), which when compared to average contract values makes him worth roughly $6.2 million. For his $5.2 million salary last year, that was a good value. However, as he is now a free agent, he is due to be dramatically overpaid.
Even if you assume he maintains his performance or even improves it a small bit, there is no way he is going to justify his salary in 2014 or going forward. He recently turned down a $14.1 million qualifying offer from the Angels, so he obviously believes he can receive more than that, but $14.1 million is more than double what he should truly be worth. If I were a GM in the market for a hitter, I’d pass Morales by and let some other team give up too much money over too many years for a very average first baseman.
Everybody likes Shin-Soo Choo. He’s a solid, fundamentally sound baseball player who gets on base a ton and can be a great leadoff guy. But lost in all of the Shin-Soo Choo hype is that he is aging and seeking a contract that far outpaces what he will bring on the field for the foreseeable future. Before I discuss him, I leave you this note from The Crawfish Boxes:
Lest we fall victim to extremely short-term memory, here is a comparison of two 30-year-old baseball players, during the previous season prior to their free agency:
Player A: .300/.355/.540, Age 30, -4.3 UZR/150 at primary position for previous 5 seasons
Player B: .285/.423/.462, Age 30, -19.6 UZR/150 at primary position for previous 5 seasons
Player A is Carlos Lee during the season before signing a contract with the Astros worth an annual average of $16.7 M/season (defensive stats are for Left Field). Player B is Shin Soo Choo last season (defensive stats are for Right Field).
Shin-Soo Choo has produced for a long time and is a good bet to reward a team signing him with a couple of solid seasons, but as he seeks a deal in the Jayson Werth range, I don’t see a team getting a good value by signing him.
Steamer, one of the premier baseball projection systems, projects Choo for roughly a 3 WAR season next year, a season that would be worth $16 million to the team that signs him. That is in the first year of a deal that will take him to the age of 36 or 37. Given that the average annual value of a deal to Choo will likely be even more than $16 million, it’s hard to envision a scenario where he exceeds his contract, even if he shockingly maintains his performance into his thirties.