You might know Jim Bowden as a former G.M. of the Reds and Nationals, a Segway early-adopter, and a contributor to the out-of-context-GIF arts, but his day job is as a wizard. Consider his predictions for the top free agents last offseason, as published on ESPN:
|Player||Bowden's prediction||Actual contract|
|Albert Pujols||nine years, $243 million||10 years, $254 million|
|Prince Fielder||eight years, $192 million||nine years, $214 million|
|Jose Reyes||six years, $108 million||six years, $111 million|
|Mark Buehrle||four years, $64 million||four years, $58 million|
|C.J. Wilson||five years, $75 million||five years, $77.5 million|
|Carlos Beltran||three years, $45 million||two years, $26 million|
|Aramis Ramirez||three years, $42 million||three years, $35 million|
|Jonathan Papelbon||four years, $52 million||four years, $50 million|
|Jimmy Rollins||three years, $39 million||three years, $38 million|
|David Ortiz||two years, $25 million||n/a (accepted arbitration)|
|Hiroki Kuroda||one year, $12 million||one year, $10 million|
|Ryan Madson||four years, $40 million||one year, $8.5 million|
|Heath Bell||three years, $30 million||three years, $27 million|
|Michael Cuddyer||three years, $30 million||three years, $31.5 million|
|Edwin Jackson||three years, $30 million||one year, $11 million|
|Roy Oswalt||one year, $10 million||one year, $5 million (midseason)|
|Carlos Pena||two years, $17 million||one year, $7.25 million|
|Francisco Rodriguez||two years, $17 million||n/a (accepted arbitration)|
|Francisco Cordero||one year, $8.5 million||one year, $4.5 million|
|Joe Nathan||one year, $7.5 million||two years, $14.5 million|
There were a couple of misses, sure, but for the most part, it was an impressive set of predictions. It's almost like he had some sort of inside knowledge about free-agent negotiations and valuations that was built over decades of experience, whereas we're all peons trying to do the best we can with the limited information available. I mean, that's almost what it seems like! Crazy, I know.
Long story short: You should probably pay attention to Jim Bowden's new batch of free-agent predictions. They're Insider-only, so I can't post a fancy table of the top 20 like the one up there, but I can give you three of the highlights.
The bargain-if-true award
That would be Nick Swisher at three years, $33 million. His postseason stats are becoming the stuff of legend -- .169/.283/.305 in 154 at-bats over 11 different playoff series -- but he's been one of the most consistent players in baseball over the last decade:
That's one dog of a year -- it only cost the White Sox one Gio Gonzalez, don't worry -- and six mostly healthy, mostly productive seasons. It was enough to make Dave Cameron want him on a seven year, $100 million contract. For a third of that, Swisher offers an offensive consistency that a lot of the other outfield free agents (Angel Pagan, Shane Victorino, Michael Bourn) can't. He's something of a clomper in the outfield, but the three-year deal wouldn't keep him around until he was forced to be a DH.
The GAAAAAHH-RUN-AWAY-RUN-AWAY award
So many to choose from! Adam LaRoche was excellent last year, but at three years and more than $10 million per, he would make me nervous. So would Kyle Lohse for just under $40 million and three years. It's been three years and a reconstructed ankle since Stephen Drew's last outstanding season, so $30 million seems like a hefty commitment.
But when it comes to expected value and best/worst-case scenarios, nothing beats an overpaid reliever. And a team that signs Rafael Soriano for three years, $40.5 million, like Bowden predicts, would be insane. Soriano started the year as third in line for the Yankees, and there was just about no way that he was going to opt out of his already-expensive deal. But injuries to Mariano Rivera and David Robertson either a) made him a better pitcher, or b) artificially inflated his asking price.
I'll go with the latter. The moral of the story when a third-string closer has a first-string year isn't, "Say, we need that guy!" It's that a third-string closer can often do a comparable job to the first-string closer when pressed into service.
Put it this way: Teams could guarantee about the same amount of total money to the next four relievers on the list for the price of Soriano, and one of those relievers is Mariano Rivera.
The ಠ_ಠ award
I'm not sure exactly what that means, but it goes to Kevin Correia, whom Bowden predicts to get one year and $5 million. It's certainly possible. It's hard to find innings, and according to FanGraphs, Correia was worth $4 million last year. If the Angels lose out on Greinke, they'll have to scramble for innings after losing three-fifths of their rotation, for example. Maybe there would be a couple of teams thinking the same thing, but if a team signs Correia for something like ten times the major-league minimum, there will be a lot of ಠ_ಠ reactions from the fans of that team.
Free agency is never a good place to find bargains, but no one's expecting to. If Bowden is right -- and he probably is -- there will be a lot of pitfalls for teams to avoid. If you have ESPN Insider, keep a close eye on the list as the offseason progresses. Josh Hamilton for five years, $115 million? That's almost reasonable for a team that's focusing on the short-term, and now it's the mental price I have in my head for Hamilton because Bowden hath spoken.