MLB FREE AGENCY PREDICTIONS AND PROJECTIONS
As MLB free agency is under way, we wanted to make some predictions on what we think could happen over the course of free agency. We’ve identified the top 10 unrestricted free agents on the market according to MLB.com . For the free agents, we have given contract projections that we arrived at using our process the will be described below. All the team picks are our personal opinions with little statistical analysis to come to those predictions.
To start the process, we collected all data from 1980 and then filtered to each specific player depending on positions and throwing hand for pitchers. From there, we removed any outliers or players who had less than three seasons appear in the cluster. After we found all the comparable players, we constructed an aging curve, plotting age against WAR. We have shown an example below.
y = -0.0062x2 + 0.2977x + 0.6119
After establishing a curve, we make some proprietary adjustments to create an individualized aging function for our player, which allows us to project his WAR and subsequently a potential contract with the combination of Cost per War (CPW). To calculate Cost per War, we started by collecting every unrestricted free agent for the past five offseasons. Then we took a weighted average of each player’s performance for the last three years in terms of WAR and divided it by how many years their previous contract was to get their Cost per War. After finding each player’s CPW, we averaged the total CPWs to find what teams have been willing to pay in the open market for one WAR each of the past five seasons. We then projected CPW over the next ten years using an inflation rate of 10%. The year-by-year CPW is shown in the table below
|Cost Per WAR
After calculating the Cost per War for each of the next 10 years, we are now able to use the predicted WAR and multiply it by CPW to calculate the projected contract over a 10-year period. For example, below is a projected contract schedule for Bryce Harper.
We repeated this process for nine other top free agents. To determine which players we wanted to assess, we referenced ESPN’s MLB free agent tracker and below are listed the top 10 free agents.
2019 Free Agents:
- Manny Machado
- Bryce Harper
- Patrick Corbin
- Michael Brantley
- Dallas Keuchel
- A.J. Pollock
- Jed Lowrie
- Josh Donaldson
- Charlie Morton
- Yasmani Grandal
1. Manny Machado
Contract Prediction: $230.3M 8yrs — AAV $28.7M
Zack’s Pick: New York Yankees
With Machado going to the World Series and coming up empty I can’t see him settling for anything less this year. I think Machado would fit in perfect with Didi Gregorius having tommy john at the end of the season. He could also be put into the rotation between DH and 3B/SS later in the season. Also, with Machado only being 25, this contract allows the Yankees to have him during his prime but still will be able deal him later in his contract with some value considering how young he is. I also looked into who could afford him, where he would have the highest ballpark factor, and where his marquee value would be highest. For these three tests the Yankees tested out to be the top choice coming in with a marquee value of $15M. Along with the highest park factor score which you could assume because Yankee Stadium is very hitter friendly. When it comes to caps space the Yankees have the room but being the first year below the luxury tax threshold in many years, I think the move for Machado would be ideal.
Kyle’s Pick: Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies are going to make a big splash this offseason. Bryce Harper is definitely a possibility but I predicted him going to a different team. The Phillies’ got decent play on the left side of their infield but not at the level that Machado could provide. Zack picked the Yankees but I don’t see the Yankees adding another high priced bat this offseason, especially one who isn’t know as a contact hitter.
Contract Prediction: $328.4M 10yrs — AAV $32.8M
Zack’s Pick: Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies are my pick for Bryce Harper because I think that they are in desperate need of a superstar and willing to spend. I would argue that, with the pick-up of Harper the Phillies would be able to go from a middle of the road team to a potential playoff contender. Harper would be a good fit in Philadelphia because he would provide a great mentor for one of their top prospects in Rhys Hoskins.
Kyle’s Pick: Houston Astros
There always will be a surprising team that emerges for a big name free agent and this year I could see it being the Houston Astros. The team is already loaded with young talent and pitching and actually have salary room as many of their younger players are signed, restricted, or arbitration eligible. If my team prediction is correct, I would think the Astros might try to sign Harper to a short-term deal, which could benefit both parties as the Astros could be loaded with talent without sacrificing their long-term salary commitments and Harper should be able to put up monster numbers playing in a loaded Astros’ lineup, which would likely allow him to re-enter free agent soon and then sign his massive long-term contract.
3. Patrick Corbin
Contract Prediction: $ 84M 4yrs — $28.3 AAV
Zack’s Pick: New York Yankees
I think the Yankees are a great fit for Patrick Corbin, playing in Chase Field has made him used to pitching in a hitters park so Yankee Stadium shouldn’t faze him. I think with his 224 strikeouts in 200 innings will drive the Yankees to sign him because they are still looking for a big arm that can produce late in the season, something Luis Severino hasn’t been able to do. Even with my projected signing of Manny Machado the Yankees would sell have plenty of cap space to finish a long term deal. If Corbin was to sign, he could be the final piece of the puzzle for a Yankees World Series.
Kyle’s Pick: New York Yankees
The Yankees need another reliable starting pitcher and Corbin fits the bill. The Yankees were awfully close this year and their team is only on the rise. They need to keep pace with the Red Sox and I think the hitters that are available will only provide marginal upgrades. Corbin provides a massive upgrade and shouldn’t command anything near the price of Machado or Harper.
4. Michael Brantley
Contract Prediction: $60M 4yrs — AAV 15M
Zack’s Pick: Atlanta Braves
With Nick Markakis being a free agent, I think the Braves will make a move to pick up one of the best contact hitters in the league last year. There could be an idea that he would be the lead-off hitter allowing top prospect Ronald Acūa to drop into a run producing role with his dangerous bat. This pick up would really help the Braves because they could get him at a discount and save money to sign a big name starting pitcher.
Kyle’s Pick: Colorado Rockies
I really have no clue where Brantley will end up. I probably should predict him going to an American League team so he can play some as a designated hitter. Brantley was phenomenal at the plate but was a defensive liability. I see him as this year’s JD Martinez except as a contact hitter and not a power hitter. I chose the Rockies because a defensive liability will not be as much of an issue in the hitter friendly Coors Field and they are a team who is so close to competing in the National League and an established hitter could put them over the edge.
5. Dallas Keuchel
Contract Prediction:$69M 3Yrs — AAV 23M
Zack’s Pick: St. Louis Cardinals
For me this was the hardest pick to make, with Keuchel being a past CY Young winner you never know what time of market value he will have. I think he will end up in St.Louis because it is a very pitcher friendly park which will match up with his style of pitching very well. Keuchel is known as a contact pitcher that doesn’t get many strikeouts so he could potentially flourish once again. The Cardinals would also be a good fit because with the lack of production from Carlos Martinez they have been looking for another pitcher to step in as an ace who can produce right away.
Kyle’s Pick: Atlanta Braves
The Braves have arrived and showed this season that they are close but not quite there. Couple that with the arms race they and the Phillies will likely find themselves in this offseason and this seems like a logical pick to me. The Braves had some nice pitchers this year but don’t have the reliable stud at the top of their rotation. Keuchel is a former Cy Young winner who is coming off a poor season by his standards. There certainly would be some risk in betting he will get back to his Cy Young form but so do most free agents. The Braves are in a position to take some chances and they should as the overall talent in the National League last season was underwhelming and the addition of some serious talent coupled with the likely progression of their young stars and this team could surprise and emerge from the National League.
Contract Prediction:$35.3M 2yrs — AAV $17.6 M
Zack’s Pick: Arizona Diamondbacks
I honestly don’t see where else A.J. Pollock could go this offseason other than staying with the Diamondbacks. Even though he didn’t have his strongest year last season, he definitely was not the problem with the Diamondbacks last season. I think staying put where he is already established as a key piece would be Pollock’s best bet. This would give the Diamondbacks a chance to add pieces around him and eventually become competitive once again.
Kyle’s Pick: Arizona Diamondbacks
Pollock is crazy talented but also a crazy risk. I’m not sure there are many contenders who will be interested in adding a player with this level of risk involved. I also don’t think a team clearly out of the playoff conversation is going to want to risk adding a player who they might have to pay a substantial amount to with the risk of getting minimal production out of him. Ultimately, I think he will stay where he has been for his whole career.
Contract Prediction: $28M 2YR — AAV $14M
Zack’s Pick: Pittsburgh Pirates
Even with Jed Lowrie having his best season of his career last year, I don’t see any contending teams looking to sign him to a deal. With that being said I think his defensive skills along with his ability to switch hit he will still attract offers. The Pirates may seem like an odd ball choice but last season they put a lot of money into their pitching and I now think it is time for position players. Jed Lowrie would be a great pick up because it offers a veteran player who can still play at a high level but also gives a good locker room presence.
Kyle’s Pick: Oakland A’s
I frankly have no clue where Lowrie will go so I’ll default to him staying put with Oakland. Oakland had a really nice season and we don’t think Lowrie will break the bank this year so it would make sense for them to try to keep the band together. Lowrie gets to stay where he is comfortable as well. Maybe he goes to another contender to serve as a platoon type player.
Contract Prediction: $58.8 M 3yrs — $19.5M AAV
Zack’s Pick: Texas Rangers
I can see Josh Donaldson going to the Rangers for one reason, to prove that he can still produce. With Adrian Beltre retiring just last week, Donaldson has the opportunity to sign and walk in as the starting third baseman. Houston’s park will really help him produce better numbers than the past few years as it was ranked as the number one hitters park in 2018. I think Texas is the perfect fit and where Josh Donaldson will land.
Kyle’s Pick: New York Mets
So we’ve been working on this as the Donaldson official signing came down. We’re going to leave our predictions because that is the fair thing to do. I said the Mets because everyone knows they could use someone who will help them produce runs. David Wright has retired and Todd Frazier is playing 3B. Their options at 1B aren’t overly strong either. Donaldson could’ve provided them a potential power hitter to pair with Cespedes in the middle of the order. Instead, they will probably have to watch him hit bombs against them.
Contract Prediction: $49.5M 3yrs — AAV $16.5M
Zack’s Pick: Houston Astros
I think Charlie Morton will resign with the Astros and take a discount to allow the organization to make other moves. With Morton getting up there in age, I think he will sign a short term deal to make a couple last runs at the World Series and then could potentially be on his way out. This could be a key pick up for the Astros because having Morton deep into your rotation could be dangerous, plus he will really be needed with Dallas Keuchel more than likely on his way out.
Kyle’s Pick: Atlanta Braves
Another veteran arm for the Braves? I think its possible. See my reasoning above for Keuchel as much of the same applies to Morton. Morton also has come up clutch in the playoffs and that is definitely something the Braves need.
Contract Prediction: $109M 5yrs — $21.8M AAV
Zack’s Pick: Houston Astros
I think Grandal will land in Houston with them hoping he will fill the last piece they need to get back to winning the World Series. The Astros have not had an all-around catcher that can produce offensively and defensively in the recent years. This pickup would also help both the starting rotation and bullpen, Grandal would be able to handle the whole staff and get the most out of all their pitchers.
Kyle’s Pick: Boston Red Sox
Yes the Red Sox were over the luxury tax last season. Yes they won the World Series and should be able to return most of their key players. However, I’m not sure they can resist the urge to add a bat to the one weak spot in their lineup, catcher. If the Red Sox add Grandal, they would have one of the scariest batting orders from top to bottom in the history of baseball. Yes they would likely see a drop in the defensive ability behind the plate but they can always sub Grandal out late in games since they will likely be up big by that point in many of the games they will play next season.
Tweet your thoughts at us (@afpanalytics).
Statistics are courtesy of fangraphs.com and the Lahman database. Contract data is courtesy of ESPN free agent tracker. Image courtesy of SB Nation.
ZACK RYAN is an intern AFP Analytics. Zack is a junior at St. John Fisher College where he is working toward a degree in Sport Management and a minor in Data Science. He has been a part of the Fisher Analytics team the past three years and continues to gains experience in the analytics field.
KYLE STICH is the Director of AFP Analytics. In addition, Mr. Stich is a tax specialist and Director of Operations at AFP Consulting LLC, whose clientele include professional athletes performing services on three separate continents. Mr. Stich earned his Master of Science in Sport Management with a Concentration in Sport Analytics from Columbia University in 2017. He earned his undergraduate degrees in Accounting and Sport Management from St. John Fisher College in 2015, where he has served as an adjunct professor teaching Sport Finance and Baseball Analytics.