The 2019 Major League Baseball free agent list includes many who are past their prime. Only five hitters are in their best years and of them one, Jason Heyward, 29, would be foolish to opt out of a $106 million contract.
Bill James , the granddaddy of sabermetrics, developed the “Value Approximation Method” (VAM) to measure player performance. He found that the player-age of 27 had the highest total performance of any other age. “If you must assign a five-year peak period to all players regardless of description, the best shot would be 25 to 29,” he said.
Twenty-six-year-old Bryce Harper is thought to be the cream of the free agent crop. Rumors have had him seeking the biggest contract in major league history. In reality, the right fielder, who has the speed to play center, hit just .249 in 2018 with 13 stolen bases. On the plus side Harper clobbered 34 dingers and knocked in 100 runs. The outfielder is a .279 hitter with 184 homers, during his seven-year career. The most favorable stat for Harper is his .900 OPS. Harper has averaged .267 with 28 home runs over the past three seasons.
Owners getting smart?
By way of comparison JD Martinez, 2018’s top paid free agent, signed a five-year $110 million deal with the World Series champion Red Sox. Martinez hit .330, with 45 homers and s AL-leading 130 RBI. He hit .315 with 110 dingers in the past three seasons.
Last year owners were accused of collusion for avoiding long-term, expensive contracts. However, when one looks at the bad deals given to players in the past it a simple matter of economics. The Mets were scheduled to pay Yoenis Cepedes $29 million in 2018, but he only played in 38 games. He made an immediate impact after the Mets traded for him in 2015, but Cepedes only played half of 2017.
Similarly Miguel Cabrera was set to make $30 million from the Tigers last season, but injuries limited the 36-year-old to just 38 games. Miggy will be one expensive DH in ’19. Dare we mention Albert Pujols? The future Hall-of-Famer hit just .243 over the past two years, but it has cost the Angels $41 million.
Unlike Harper, Heyward had a couple of good contract years. The result was the Cubs signing Heyward to an eight-year $184 million deal in 2016. The right fielder has five Golden Gloves to his credit. Of course that is a whole lot of money for an average hitting outfielder who is challenged in the speed and power departments.
By the way, Cepedes, Heyward and Mike Trout were the highest paid outfielders at the start of 2018. Most baseball analysts say the Los Angles center fielder is “worth” his $32.3 million, but Trout’s contract expires in a couple of years. Giancarlo Stanton’s $25 million salary from the Yankees is another deal Harper-watchers should consider. The former Marlin inked a 13-year, $325 million deal before the Bronx Bombers acquired him. Stanton hit a MLB-leading 59 homer with an MLB-leading 132 RBI and won the MVP in his contract year.