Bryce Harper got his record contract with the Phillies, a week or so after Manny Machado got his record contract with the Padres. But even with them off the board, there are still several free agents to be had, two weeks and counting after spring training camps opened.
Just because the top two players on the market each reached $300 million plateau doesn’t mean the free agent market is fine and dandy. When 26-year-old stars with the pedigree of Machado and Harper can each only get less than a handful of teams vying for the services, something is amiss.
Both Harper and Machado were on the open market for over 100 days, and both signed deals after spring training began. We are now less than four weeks from opening day, and several big names remain available for any team to sign.
The left-hander has a Cy Young Award (2015) on his resume, and though he hasn’t put up Cy numbers since Keuchel has still been a steady rotation starter. Over the last three years he averaged 28 starts, 173 innings, and a 3.77 ERA that when adjusted for park and league factors was six percent above average.
Any contending team would benefit by adding the 31-year-old to their rotation. The Braves, for instance, have a young starting staff and Mike Foltynewicz is dealing with elbow soreness this spring. The veteran Keuchel would give Atlanta the boost they need in an increasingly-competitive National League East if they have designs on winning a second straight division.
Keuchel summed up his thoughts on the overall market earlier this week, and why the offers haven’t been rolling in.
Dallas Keuchel (@Kidkeuchy) on free agency: "As a professional I'd like to get stuff done, but at the same time there's got to be a common ground between us, the players, and the teams. With what's going on out there is not necessarily fair & competition level is not very high." pic.twitter.com/3qGgYKI2SW— Mark Berman (@MarkBermanFox26) February 25, 2019
In a year that Mariano Rivera is the first Hall of Fame inductee to receive 100 percent of the Baseball Writers Association of America vote, the only closer with a reasonable argument to be even mentioned alongside Rivera in the “greatest relief pitcher ever” conversation is still without a team in March.
Among pitchers in the live ball era (1920-present) with at least 500 innings, Kimbrel ranks as the best in ERA (1.91), FIP (1.96), strikeout rate (41.6 percent), batting average allowed (.153) and OPS allowed (.485). Kimbrel’s adjusted ERA+ of 211 is also best, ahead of Rivera’s career mark of 205.
Kimbrel is historically great, and at 30 remains one of the best relievers in the sport, over the last three seasons leading all pitchers (minimum 150 innings) in strikeout rate (42.3 percent) while ranking seventh in ERA (2.44) and sixth in FIP (2.43). Yet he remains unsigned.
Sure it might be because Kimbrel hasn’t wavered much in his own valuation. A reunion with the Red Sox seems unlikely as well, at least with general manager Dave Dombrowski telling reporters this week, “As far as signings are concerned, I would say we’re through at this point.”
Kimbrel’s market got to a point where Jim Bowden reported that Kimbrel would consider sitting out the 2019 season, that was quickly denied by Kimbrel’s agent.
Craig Kimbrel’s agent, David Meter, on the report that Kimbrel is considering sitting out the season: “The report is wholly inaccurate and Craig looks forward to signing a new contract in the near future. Any report pertaining to his not playing this season is utterly false.”— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) February 23, 2019
Kimbrel and Keuchel are the marquee names still out there on the market, ranked sixth and eighth respectively in Grant Brisbee’s offseason free agent rankings, and ranking third and fourth in the MLB Trade Rumors top 50 free agents as well. But there are still others out there who, while they likely won’t get a multi-year contract, at least deserve a major league deal somewhere. Anywhere.
The veteran left-hander had a 4.21 ERA in 32 starts for the Nationals and Brewers last season, including a 2.13 ERA in five starts in September for Milwaukee, who finished with the best record in the NL. Gonzalez has started 30 games in eight of the last nine years, and never fewer than 27 starts in a season during that span. He posted a 2.0 Wins Above Replacement per FanGraphs in 2018, the only time in the last nine years he didn’t reach at least 3 WAR.
Like Gonzalez, Jones is 33 years old, which has been a death knell for free agents the last few years, at least for multi-year deals. Of the 31 players to sign contracts of three or more years in the 2018 and 2019 offseasons, only one player (Tony Watson) was heading into his age-33 season or older.
Jones hit .281/.313/.419 with 15 home runs last year for the Orioles, and is still a basically league average hitter — he had a 98 wRC+ last year, and Steamer projects him for a 98 wRC+ in 2019 — who can play corner outfield. I’m not saying Jones should be fielding several multi-year offers, but his body of work is good enough to earn a one-year guaranteed contract.
The real question is with NFL free agency starting on March 13, which Adam Jones will sign a contract first: the longtime Orioles outfielder, or Pacman?