Now that the calendar officially says March and spring training games are in full swing, I thought this would be an appropriate time to reflect on this past offseason and analyze the best and worst free agent signings of the winter. As we have seen in recent years, teams are wisely more reluctant to spend extravagant money on good but not elite players, making it more challenging to find obvious poor decisions.
That said, the 2014 Hot Stove season will be remembered for the massive contracts awarded to Robinson Cano, Shin-Soo Choo, and Jacoby Ellsbury, along with international free agents Jose Daniel Abreu and Masahiro Tanaka, not to mention the curious signings of Nelson Cruz and Jhonny Peralta. With just a few players still available, most notably Type-A free agents Stephen Drew, Kendrys Morales, and Ervin Santana, these are my choices for the Best and Worst Free Agent Signings of this past offseason.
Honorable Mention: Jose Daniel Abreu signs with Chicago White Sox 6-years $68 million, John Axford signs with Cleveland 1-year $4.5 million, Tim Hudson signs with San Francisco 2-years $23 million, Brian McCann signs with New York Yankees 5-years $85 million, Edward Mujica signs with Boston Red Sox 2-years $9.5 million
3) Nelson Cruz signs with Baltimore, 1-year $8 million.
Sure the forfeiture of their 2nd round pick stings, but a motivated Nelson Cruz batting behind Chris Davis and Manny Machado could post massive offensive numbers in Camden Yards in 2014. The Orioles plan to use him as their designated hitter, eliminating his negative impact defensively, making him even more valuable overall. In a market where Marlon Byrd can sign for 2-yrs $16 million, and David Murphy for 2-yrs $12 million, Cruz appears to be a fantastic value for Baltimore.
2) Paul Maholm signs with the Los Angeles Dodgers, 1-year $1.5 million.
Maholm is not an elite pitcher, but he is an effective starter who has pitched 150+ innings 8 years in a row and 162+ innings the 7 seasons prior to 2013, with a career 4.28 ERA and 4.18 FIP. A consistent back-end starting pitcher, Maholm is a bargain signing in a market where comparable or lesser pitchers such as Edinson Volquez (1-yr $5million), Mike Pelfrey (2-yrs $11million), and Jason Vargas (4-yrs $32 million) signed for significantly greater money.
1) Jarrod Saltalamacchia signs with Miami, 3-years $21 million.
An underrated catcher with above-average skills both offensively and defensively, Saltalamacchia has produced 7+ wins in the past three seasons, has improved each year, and is signed for his age 29-31 seasons like a 1+ win player annually. When comparing this contract to Carlos Ruiz (3yrs $26million) or even Brian McCann (5yrs $85million), Saltalamacchia looks like a rare bargain free agent signing.
Honorable Mention: A.J. Burnett signs with Philadelphia 1-year $16 million, Mike Pelfrey signs with Minnesota, 2-years $11 million, Juan Uribe signs with Los Angeles 2-years $15 million, Edinson Volquez signs with Pittsburgh 1-year $5 million, Brian Wilson signs with Los Angeles Dodgers 1-year $10 million,
3) Robinson Cano signs with Seattle, 10-years $240 million
Cano is an outstanding player who should have numerous All-Star level seasons remaining, but the track record thus far of 8-year or longer contracts is generally awful. In addition, Seattle failed to pair another superstar or two with Cano this offseason, only signing Corey Hart and trading for Logan Morrison, which makes this a rather puzzling, and questionable, move.
2) Boone Logan signs with Colorado, 3-years $16.5 million
Logan is a quality reliever, and especially proficient against left-handed hitters with a career .243/.312/.378 line, but for a rebuilding team such as the Rockies to guarantee a specialist 3-years and $5+ million per year is difficult to rationalize. Furthermore, when similar lefty relievers like Scott Downs (1-year $4 million), J.P. Howell (2-years $11 million, Oliver Perez (Unsigned), and Matt Thornton (2-years $7 million) signed for far less this winter, this contract looks like a poor allocation of resources and a severe overpay.
1) Jason Vargas signs with Kansas City, 4-years $32 million
The annual salary is not particularly awful, but making a four year commitment to a very average 31-year-old starting pitcher when so many other, cheaper options were available this winter like Roberto Hernandez (1-year $4.5 million), Paul Maholm (1-year $1.5 million), or Joe Saunders (Unsigned) makes this signing difficult to explain. In an offseason filled with a healthy amount of discretion used by major league front offices, this Vargas contract is easily the worst free agent signing this winter.