Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Bailey deal weakens 2015 free agent class
By David Schoenfield
I'd say the baseball industry is doing pretty well if the Cincinnati Reds -- the small-market Reds, playing in a metro market smaller than Orlando or San Antonio or Sacramento -- can afford to sign a pitcher with a 4.25 career ERA to a $105 million contract, on top of the $225 million they have committed to Joey Votto.
Homer Bailey has been a good pitcher the past two seasons, posting a 3.58 ERA in a hitters' park while topping 200 innings in both seasons. He doesn't have to get better to justify the value of his contract, just stay healthy and make his 30-plus starts a season.
The big-picture issue is that this continues the trend of teams locking up their best young players before they reach the free-agent market. This offseason, the Braves signed Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel and Julio Teheran to long-term deals that extend past their initial free-agency year. The Dodgers extended two-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw. Stars like Votto, Andrew McCutchen, Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander, Evan Longoria, Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Chris Sale, Paul Goldschmidt, David Wright and Adam Wainwright all signed deals before hitting free agency.
Each year, fewer big names are out there. The younger players are taking the money. And why not? Sure, some of them are leaving money on the table. NL MVP McCutchen, for example, signed a six-year, $51.5 million deal two years ago that runs through 2017 (with a club option for 2018). He would have hit free agency after 2015. His salaries for 2016-2018 are $13 million, $14 million and the $14.5 million club option that I'm pretty sure the Pirates will pick up. If he had waited to sign, those first three years of free agency may have brought him salaries of $25 to $30 million per year. Still, you can live pretty well off $50 million.
Looking ahead to next winter, the best starting pitchers potentially available (not including those with a team option) are Max Scherzer, James Shields, Justin Masterson and Jon Lester. That's not bad. But it drops off significantly after those four to pitchers like Jake Peavy and Wandy Rodriguez. Among position players, the list is even thinner: Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, Chase Headley, David Ortiz and Brett Gardner lead the list, and only Sandoval is younger than 30. And of those names, it wouldn't be surprising to see Lester and Ramirez sign deals before the season begins.
There will always be older players available via free agency and the occasional Japanese pitcher. But with age comes risk. The Yankees bet big this winter on 30-year-old Jacoby Ellsbury, 30-year-old Brian McCann and 37-in-April Carlos Beltran (along with the younger Masahiro Tanaka). That's going to be the way of free agency in the future: Spend big money on older players and hope you spend it wisely (and get a little lucky).