You don’t have to look very long and hard to figure out that teams are spending much less on free agents this year throughout baseball.
But that doesn’t mean teams are curtailing their spending, as much as the crop of players is very different from year to year. Last winter, 10 free agents signed for total dollars of $80 million or more. This winter, just four players have signed for $80 million or more.
Last winter, of the top 10 contracts, seven went to starting pitchers, including two that signed for over $200 million. So far this year, just one starting pitcher is among the players receiving the top 10 contracts. That was left-hander Rich Hill, signed by the Dodgers for three years and $48 million. He got an average annual value of $16 million per season, well under the AAV amounts last year for right-hander Zach Greinke of $34.4 million and lefty David Price of $31 million.
The biggest contracts of the post-2015 offseason:
$217 million, seven years - David Price with the Red Sox
$206.5 million, six years - Zach Greinke with the Diamondbacks
$184 million, eight years - Jason Heyward with the Cubs
$161 million, seven years - Chris Davis with the Orioles
$132.75 million, six years - Justin Upton with the Tigers
The biggest contracts of the post-2016 offseason:
$110 million, four years - Yoenis Cespedes with the Mets
$86 million, five years - Aroldis Chapman with the Yankees
$82.5 million five years - Dexter Fowler with the Cardinals
$80 million, five years - Kenley Jansen with the Dodgers
$70 million, five years - Ian Desmond with the Rockies
The top five players after the 2015 season signed for a combined 34 years for a total of $901.25 million. That is an average annual value of $26.5 million. The top five this winter signed for a combined 24 years and $428.5 million. That is an AAV of $17.85 million.
Again, the difference seems to be the much-reduced quantity and quality of starting pitchers, who signed the two deals for $200 million or more last winter. After Hill’s deal with the Dodgers, the second richest deal for a starting pitcher signed so far went to Ivan Nova, who returned to the Pirates for three years and a total of $26 million.
Top team spendors post-2015:
$289.25 million - Chicago Cubs
$271.75 million - Detroit Tigers
$251.00 million - San Francisco Giants
$235.55 million - Baltimore Orioles
Top spendors post-2016:
$192 million - Los Angeles Dodgers
$127.2 million - New York Mets
$113 million - St. Louis Cardinals
$99 million - New York Yankees
But I do think when you see Jason Heyward get $184 million one winter and Dexter Fowler get $82.5 million the next, we may be seeing some reigning in on spending. Of course as soon as we say that, clubs will soon start throwing around $200 million at a future free agent pitcher. But Heyward got $23 million per year and Fowler got $16.5 million.
The price of free agents never goes down? Does it?
But it did this year. That clearly seemed to be more about the crop of free agents, including much less starting pitching, than any changes in club philosophy. As usual, when it comes to players that can sign with any big league team, free is the last word to use.