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Thoughts on current free agent bonanza

The deals mostly seemed like deals to avoid, in this writer’s opinion.

Baltimore Orioles v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images

The rest of the offseason is going to suck. That’s my takeaway from the flurry of moves yesterday. I don’t mean that as a Cardinals fan, I mean there will be genuinely nothing happening. And maybe the spending frenzy lasts a few more days, I’m not real sure. It’s clear there’s some deadline teams and agents are using to get locked in with a team prior to a potential lockout from the CBA negotiations.

In the meantime, a lot of players signed yesterday! A lot. Most of which, personally, I think will not look great fairly soon. Which is what I want to talk about today actually. I want to look at who signed and for what and if it’s a good deal or not. I will not cover every player signed - but I’ll try to cover the big ones.

Marcus Semien - 7 years, $175 million

Gut feeling - Okay this seems like an awful deal. Semien is one of those players I just instinctively do not trust to be great, because he has been mediocre for most of his career.

What do the numbers say? Dan Szymborski has helpfully written an article about the deal, which I note to say that he has also published his ZiPS projections for the duration of the deal! Wohoo! And my gut feeling seems to be correct. ZiPS has him worth 17.6 WAR over the course of the deal, which makes his “should be contract” 7 years, $158 million. That’s a decent overpay.

It’s an absolutely ridiculous deal for the Rangers to sign him, which Dan notes still only project for 75 wins next year with Semien. At best, this should be signed by a team who is on the verge of making the playoffs. Anything could happen, but.... that doesn’t look like the Rangers.

Avisail Garcia - 4 years, $53 million

Gut feeling: This seems like another stupid deal for exactly the same reasons as Semien: I don’t remotely trust Garcia. Unlike Semien, Garcia’s problem is that he’s been outright bad (as opposed to mediocre) in more seasons than he’s been good.

What do the numbers say? Steamer project Garcia for 554 plate appearances, which he actually hasn’t done since 2017. That’s because he’s not that great against right-handed pitchers. He has good numbers pretty much exclusively because he hits left-handed pitchers. He has a career 97 wRC+ against RHP, 122 against LHP. For whatever reason, it’s literally due to him just not walking at all against RHP. 9.3 BB% against LHP (and a higher BABIP), just 5.2% against RHP. And whether you think his 2021 is for real or not, his 4.7% BB rate against RHP suggests he’s the same as he ever was.

His 2021 also seems like an anomaly because UZR was absurdly high on his defense, saying he was a +13 fielder. Statcast has him at -2. And his career UZR of +1 suggests to expect Statcast’s number, not the +13. Even considering everything I’ve said, Steamer has him as a 2.2 WAR player. Which lands this contract at pretty much dead on: 4 years, $52.2 million is the number I have. But I think I’ve expressed why I do not trust that 2.2 figure. I would never sign this guy to a four year deal.

And again, I have to express this is the wrong team to be signing him! Garcia is a nothing contract for a team like the Angels, but he’s the highest paid player on the Marlins. When that team spends, it really has to be more wisely than this.

Jon Gray - 4 years, $56 million

Gut feeling - A completely reasonable deal

What do the numbers say? Now correct me if I’m wrong, but I keep staring at his numbers and despite my preconceived belief that Jon Gray was a better pitcher than he was, I keep coming to this conclusion:

Jon Gray is basically Steven Matz.

He’s more reliable perhaps and he carries some potential getting away from Coors, but he had a slightly worse 2021 than Matz balanced by the fact that he has a greater history of sustaining his 2021. He also had an awful 2020. He actually has a worse projection than Matz, with 2.4 WAR in 169 IP. Like Matz, the innings are a little optimistic (in five non-2020 seasons, he has pitched 168 and 172 inning seasons, but the other three are at least 20 innings less).

But this is another deal that’s pretty much dead on. If you at all believe in the projections on Matz (and I’ll wait for ZiPS before I believe Steamer), the Cardinals definitely got a bargain. Gray is very similar to Matz and needed $12 million more. So to me, this just makes the Matz deal look better.

Kevin Gausman - 5 years, $110 million

Gut feeling - My gut feeling is maybe Stroman maybe actually will be affordable enough to sign with the Cardinals actually. Feels like we all assumed Gausman was getting more than Stroman and if that’s true, Stroman might not get $100 million. I have no actual feelings on this deal strangely on a gut level.

What do the numbers say? Is it weird that I kind of thought similar things about him and Jon Gray, that I genuinely thought they were better than they were - I mean Orioles Gausman - so that when I looked at Gausman’s history, I was surprised how little of his career he has actually been the Gausman that the Blue Jays are paying for.

Anyway, Gausman is projected for 3.6 WAR by Steamer and once again I feel compelled to dock a little of that because Steamer just does not account for playing time much. Just kind of assumes every player will reach their max amount of playing time and not bake in potential injuries. Gausman threw as little as 102 innings as recently as 2019.

Taking that into account, I actually think Gausman’s deal is a minor overpay. At least based on Steamer. For all I know, ZiPS is going to think Gausman is a 4 WAR pitcher in 175 innings. But based on the information I have now, over five years, Gausman “should” have gotten about $104 million.

Starling Marte - 4 years, $78 million

Gut feeling: Seems like a horrible deal.

What do the numbers say? Imma need ZiPS on this one. When it comes to players in their mid-30s, ZiPS has more accurate numbers than “knock off 0.5 WAR.” Remember that Semien projection? It was as follows: 4.7, 4.1, 3.3, 2.5, 1.9, 1, 0.1. If you take the knock off 0.5 method, Semien would reportedly be projected for 22.4 WAR over the next 7 years. That’s a lot more than 17.6 WAR!

So Starling Marte’s deal operates under the “knock off 0.5 method” and it makes sense on those terms. I just doubt, right now, that 35-year-old Marte is projecting for 2 WAR. So with that disclaimer out of the way, the “knock off 0.5 method” produces 4 years, $81 million. Which means theoretically, this is not a horrible deal. It’s the Mets though so we all agree with my initial gut feeling I hope.

And this may be out by the time this is posted but

Gut feeling: Insane. Utterly insane. I almost feel bad because Max Scherzer immediately getting hurt would be so incredibly Mets and it feels destined to happen.

What do the numbers say? They still say it’s insane. That deal is paying him to be a 4.7 WAR pitcher for every year of that deal. Steamer does not have him projected for that in 2022 even. I don’t know what ZiPS will be, but at best, at the absolute best, he’s at 4.7 WAR or slightly above for 2022 and then easily below it in Year 2.

Him not pitching in Game 6 when the Dodgers absolutely needed him is a very bad sign to me. Do or die game, you have the best pitcher on the planet and... he’s not healthy enough to pitch. They say he would have pitched Game 7, but really we don’t know that. Would one day really change that much? Anyway, as I said, it would be almost too on the nose for him to get hurt with the Mets, but well the Mets have a reputation for a reason.

As a final thought, a mystifying thing happened in reaction to the signings and in particular Scherzer it seemed. Multiple people expressed disappointment and “ugh here go the Cardinals again with a boring offseason.” This is confusing because... nothing that happened yesterday should specifically make you change your opinion on what the Cardinals will do. We already kind of knew they weren’t getting Scherzer and all the other names were not connected to the Cardinals. Nothing has changed. There is no reason to be annoyed after yesterday’s events. I would at least understand it if Marcus Stroman had signed, but well he didn’t. Neither did Zack Greinke. Or Nick Martinez. You get the picture.

I’m not saying they’ll make another move. I’m saying we don’t actually know what the Cardinals budget is for 2022. There is some indication it’s returning to pre-pandemic levels and if that truly is the case, I would be kind of shocked if they don’t sign one other starter. Just my opinion. I’m skeptical the budget will return though. But I just think nothing that happened yesterday should make you feel differently than the day after they signed Matz.

If today is anything like yesterday, today will surely function as a news breaking thread too. So, maybe I can write another post like this in three days.