As you stare at the frozen-in-amber baseball offseason -- you poke it with a stick, like a child who does not realize his stuffed cat is a toy; "Move, won't you, move!" -- waiting for something to happen, it is worth thinking about how the home run, as a commodity, had its market flooded last season. There were more home runs hit in 2017 than any other season in baseball history, an occurrence that led to all sorts of discussion about whether it was good for the game, as if the game is a soufflé that will collapse and crumble if it is not attended to with the utmost attention to detail. The game will survive us all. It'll be fine.
Whatever your thoughts on the home run epidemic, the one thing the explosion did was decrease the value of each individual home run. The home run is the best thing you can do in any particular at-bat, but compared to other home runs, they just meant a little less than they have in the past. And as the free-agent season continues to stubbornly refuse to thaw, it is worth looking at how it is affecting the market.
This year, there are three players who finished in the top 10 in home runs who became free agents at the end of the 2017 season: J.D. Martinez, Logan Morrison and Mike Moustakas. None of them have been signed yet. Tellingly, two of them are in serious danger of having their market collapsing all together: While the Red Sox and Martinez continue to dance around each other, neither Morrison nor Moustakas has had much meaningful connection to any team. Morrison, in particular, has even been considered a potential one-year bargain pickup, or even half a platoon. That's sort of crazy, right? Morrison hit 38 homers last year! (To go along with a .353 OBP, his best since his rookie year, by the way.)
But that's the market for home runs this year: Flooded. At least it seems that way. So as an experiment, I thought I'd look back at the past five years of free agency and the top-10 home run leaders who hit the market the next season. How did they do? Let's take a look.
1. Mark Trumbo, 47 homers. Signed a three-year, $37.5 million deal with Baltimore.
3 (tie). Edwin Encarnacion, 42 homers. Signed a three-year, $60 million deal with Cleveland.
6 (tie). Chris Carter, 41 homers. Signed a one-year, $3.5 million deal with the Yankees.
Last year … looks suspiciously like this year, doesn't it? You've got one big-name free agent (Encarnacion in 2016, Martinez this year), one middle-tier guy (Moustakas/Trumbo) and one guy who is (fairly or not) seen as one-dimensional and gets left out in the cold (Morrison/Carter). Martinez should end up getting a lot more than Encarnacion did, but Moustakas may end up with a lot less than Trumbo. (The difference is that the Orioles were more willing to pay their own guy than the Royals seem to be.) And poor Chris Carter. The guy hits 41 homers in the bigs in 2016 and finishes '17 with Triple-A Nashville.
1. Chris Davis, 47 homers. Signed a seven-year, $161 million deal with Baltimore.
7 (tie). Jose Bautista, 40 homers. Signed a one-year, $14 million deal with Toronto.
Is it Davis who broke the market on this? Davis has hit .221 and .215 since signing the deal, and his home run totals have dropped each season, from 38 in 2016 to 26 last year. And the Orioles still have five more years to go. If anything, Davis' deal is potentially a cautionary one to Martinez suitors, though Martinez is obviously a better all-around hitter than Davis.
1. Nelson Cruz, 40 homers. Signed a four-year, $58 million deal with Seattle.
9. Victor Martinez, 32 homers. Signed a four-year, $68 million deal with Detroit.
Well, one of these deals worked out well. It turns out the age gap between the two players -- Martinez is two years older -- made all the difference. Cruz is still out there blasting 39 homers a year and getting on base at a .375 clip, which is actually the best single-season number of his career. Martinez, however, only hit 10 homers in 107 games in 2017 and has beat writers openly speculating whether or not he'll be cut in Spring Training. Both of them are on the final year of their deal. But only one of them is likely to get another one next year.
The biggest offseason contract was Robinson Cano's massive deal with Seattle, and the star second baseman hit 27 homers with the Yankees the season before. Interestingly, three of the top 10 home run hitters in 2013 -- Pedro Alvarez, Adam Dunn and Alfonso Soriano -- are now out of baseball.
2 (tie). Curtis Granderson, 43 homers. Signed a one-year, $15 million contract with the Yankees.
2 (tie). Josh Hamilton, 43 homers. Signed a five-year, $125 million contract with the Angels.
Granderson parlayed that contract into a four-year deal with the Mets that didn't end well but still turned out a lot better than the Hamilton deal. Hamilton's massive contract expired last season, which might have something to do with why the Angels are spending again.
So what have we learned? Well, if Morrison and Moustakas believe the fact that they both finished in the top 10 in home runs in 2017 is going to be a major selling point to teams, recent history is not necessarily on their side. They might both be a lot more like Carter than they think.
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