Checking in on last winter’s five biggest free-agent contracts (not pitchers)

Checking in on last winter’s five biggest free-agent contracts (not pitchers)

© Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports Last winter’s free-agent market was debated for years in advance. Its slow pace led to a long period of tension that has extended into early CBA negotiations. There is much at stake that goes beyond the bounds of the individual contracts. 

But those specific deals are also important standing alone — particularly those that involved significant, multi-year commitments.

We’ll take a look at the 13 players who signed for $30M or more in total guaranteed money to see how those contracts look now that we’re more than two-thirds through their first seasons. 

Here are the five position players who signed such deals:

Bryce Harper, OF, Phillies (13 years, $330M): Harper has turned his back on those ugly defensive metrics from a year ago. Much less encouraging: Harper is back-sliding in plate discipline (26.3 percent K rate vs. 15.6 percent BB rate) and power (.215 ISO). He’s swinging and missing more than ever (14.7 percent). Notably, his contact rate on pitches in the strike zone has stayed below 80 percent in each of the past two seasons, a notable downturn given that he had previously registered in the mid-80s. Statcast hints at some poor fortune (.355 wOBA vs. .374 xwOBA), and we might reasonably anticipate some movement back toward Harper’s career mean, but the overall results haven’t been terribly promising for a player who is owed a lot of money over an exceptionally lengthy period of time.

a baseball player holding a bat on a field © Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Manny Machado, 3B, Padres (10 years, $300M): Like Harper, Machado owns a good but hardly overwhelming 117 wRC+. The Padres third baseman just hasn’t stung the ball quite as often as he did in the two prior seasons. His strikeout rate sits at a career-high 20.2 percent. While Machado could end up setting a career high-mark in homers with 26 already (his prior high his is 37), he hasn’t been quite as good at the plate as one might have hoped in year one of a decade-long commitment.

A.J. Pollock, OF, Dodgers (four years, $55M): Another round of elbow issues has limited Pollock and he’s carrying a league-average .257/.319/.444 batting line. That’s not great at first glance, but the situation is more promising when you look more closely. The elbow surgery he had may finally have put an end to his long-running series of issues. And he has raked since returning from the injured list. It’d be foolish to say that this contract is working out perfectly, but it’s far too soon to label it a bust.

a baseball player swinging a bat at a ball © Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Andrew McCutchen, OF, Phillies (three years, $50M): This one was off to such a promising start. Cutch was walking like a maniac while delivering solid pop to open the season, but went down with a knee injury in his 59th game of action. He’ll have plenty of time to get ready for 2020, but the Phillies lost a big chunk of the anticipated production from the signing and will have to wait to see whether the ACL repair will cost the venerable veteran some of his athleticism.

Michael Brantley, OF, Astros (two years, $32M): The last position player on this list has outperformed all the others. Brantley is maintaining his typically exceptional contact rates while hitting for more power than ever before (.192 ISO, 16 home runs in 467 plate appearances). He’s also receiving strong marks for his glovework. This deal is working out swimmingly for the Astros.

We should give an honorable mention to the players who signed big one-year deals when they could have topped $30M in a multi-year scenario. Josh Donaldson ($23M) and Yasmani Grandal ($18.25M) have each been excellent. Ditto Nelson Cruz, though his $14.3M single-season salary suggests he didn’t quite have that level of earning power.

Related slideshow: Best of the 2019 MLB season (Provided by imagn)

a man wearing a uniform: After hitting a game winning two run walk off home run Detroit Tigers shortstop Jordy Mercer (7) has water thrown at him by pitchers Daniel Norris (44) and Matthew Boyd (48) as he comes to home plate against the Kansas City Royals during the ninth inning at Comerica Park.


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