MLB's Offseason Mega-Contract Power Rankings, January Edition
The heavy lifting of the MLB offseason is done with spring training less than a month away. By mid-February, pitchers and catchers around the league will be in Arizona and Florida, respectively, getting tuned up with position players not far behind.
Looking at the remaining free agents, pitchers Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez figure to have the best chance of securing a contract worth at least $50 million. Otherwise, we've most likely seen the last of any blockbuster signings this offseason.
Here's a ranking of the players who have signed deals of at least $50 million so far this offseason—an offseason that's been marked by some big-spending baseball teams.
1. LHP Clayton Kershaw
Contract Terms: Seven years, $215 million with the Los Angeles Dodgers (Re-signing)
It seems like the wallet of this Los Angeles ownership is bottomless.
By re-signing Kershaw this offseason, the club wisely inked the sublime southpaw to an extension before he hit free agency following the 2014 season. At an average annual value of $30.7 million, Kershaw deserves to be paid like the game's top player.
What makes this such a good deal for Kershaw is that can opt out following the 2018 season, when he'll be 30 years old and likely poised for another huge payday. If not, he can stick around in L.A. for the final two years of his contract at a rate of $65 million.
As big as this deal is, Kershaw has never been on the disabled list throughout his career, making it a great investment by the Dodgers. For Los Angeles to sign him for three years and $25 million less than Robinson Cano is also great for the club.
Kershaw's career numbers are off the charts and have him headed to Cooperstown if he keeps it up. The 2013 season was his best year yet, as he went 16-9 with a 1.83 ERA, 194 ERA+, 0.92 WHIP and 232 strikeouts. He's won two of the past three NL Cy Young Awards and figures to secure a few more in the future.
2. C Brian McCann
Contract Terms: Five years, $85 million with the New York Yankees
This winter, the Yankees restored their image as big spenders in free agency by going all out for batters and pitchers alike. Of all their signings, Brian McCann appears to have the best chance of panning out.
McCann figures to provide some major offense at a premium defensive position. He'll be 30 by the time spring training rolls around, so there are questions about his durability going forward, but the team also has some long-term options at the position in the minors just in case.
Aside from playing designated hitter down the road, it's worth noting that Mark Teixeira's deal expires following the 2016 season, and McCann could possibly make the switch to first base if need be. But that's a long ways away.
In 2014, McCann's home run totals and offensive production should climb due to the short fence in right field at Yankee Stadium. The left-handed hitter has been very consistent throughout his career, posting a .277/.350/.477 slash line and 118 OPS+ with yearly averages of 21 home runs and 80 RBI.
It's a big investment for the Yankees, but they were able to reel in the best available player this offseason at a huge position of need.
3. RHP Matt Garza
Contract Terms: Four years, $50 million with the Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers snatched up one of the top remaining arms on the market this past week when they signed Garza to a complicated deal that could potentially be worth $67 million over five years, per Tom Hardicourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
If healthy, Garza would be a great value at this price point, given the rate that other starting pitchers signed for this offseason. The Minnesota Twins signed Ricky Nolasco to a four-year, $49 million contract earlier this winter, and Garza has a much higher ceiling.
What makes Nolasco attractive, though, is his durability. Garza has made just 42 combined starts the past two seasons, going 15-13 with a 3.86 ERA, 105 ERA+, 1.21 WHIP, 8.1 K/9 ratio and a 2.6 BB/9 ratio in that span. Those are solid numbers for the 30-year-old righty, but recent elbow problems and a 2013 back muscle issue clearly drove down his market value.
After essentially standing pat and letting players like Corey Hart leave this offseason, Milwaukee made a smart move to bolster its rotation that's also led by Kyle Lohse and Yovani Gallardo. Not only did the Brewers get a solid player, but they didn't have to surrender a draft pick to do it.
4. SS Jhonny Peralta
Contract Terms: Four years, $53 million with the St. Louis Cardinals
The Cards are poised to be championship contenders again in 2014 after addressing their biggest hole via free agency.
Jhonny Peralta separated himself as the top available shortstop during the offseason process and signed a big contract, while Stephen Drew—the other starting option at the position on the market—is still looking for a new team. This deal was met with scrutiny, as it appears Peralta was rewarded despite being banned 50 games last year for his role with the Biogenesis scandal.
With that, there come some doubts as to whether or not Peralta will be able to sustain his production at this point of his career, but St. Louis is clearly confident. The club was smart to front-load the deal, as it will pay him $15.5 million in 2014, followed by decreasing values in 2015 ($15 million), 2016 ($12.5 million) and 2017 ($10 million).
Peralta has never made a trip to disabled list since 2003 and has proven to be a solid force with the bat. In 107 contests before his suspension last year, Peralta batted .303/.358/.457 with a 119 OPS+, 11 homers and 55 RBI. At 31 years old, Peralta should still have a few more solid seasons left, especially when surrounded by a quality lineup like the one in St. Louis.
5. RHP Masahiro Tanaka
Contract Terms: Seven years, $155 million with the New York Yankees
The Steinbrenners put their stamp on the MLB offseason by winning the bidding war for prized Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka.
After going 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA for the Japan Series champion Rakuten Golden Eagles this past year, Tanaka finally became posted by his team after a drawn-out process. When including the $20 million New York spent just to negotiate with Tanaka, the grand total for his services comes to $175 million.
That's a huge risk to take, but if you're going to do it, Tanaka is a prime candidate to gamble on. At the age of 25, he's much younger than the other top arms in free agency, and he didn't cost the Yankees a high draft pick in return. Hank Steinbrenner also told Ronald Blum of the Associated Press that the team's payroll would be $300 million if it weren't for revenue sharing, so it appears that money isn't an issue in the Bronx.
It will be hard for Tanaka to live up to the terms of this deal unless he's one of baseball's best pitchers, but with his mix of reported poise, pitch control and a nasty split-finger, Tanaka seems like a worthwhile gamble.
6. OF Curtis Granderson
Contract Terms: Four years, $60 million with the New York Mets
David Wright has a new partner in crime in the middle of the Mets lineup. Last year was something of a lost cause for Granderson, who was sidelined by two separate hit-by-pitch injuries that limited him to just 61 games.
During the 2011-12 seasons with the New York Yankees, however, Granderson batted .247/.342/.522 with a 128 OPS+ and yearly averages of 42 home runs and 112 RBI. Though he's evolved as an elite left-handed power hitter in his career, it's also come at the expense of a declining on-base percentage.
Without the benefit of a short fence in right field, Granderson' greatest asset may be diminished greatly. At $15 million annually, New York can ill-afford a low-average, high-strikeout guy who doesn't hit dingers, making this a considerable risk.
7. OF Shin-Soo Choo
Contract Terms: Seven years, $130 million with the Texas Rangers
Shin-Soo Choo figures to work wonders with Elvis Andrus atop the revamped Texas lineup in 2014 that will feature Prince Fielder, Adrian Beltre and Alex Rios in the heart of the order.
Choo was a revelation for the Cincinnati Reds last year, posting an impressive .423 on-base percentage while reinventing himself as an efficient leadoff man after a slugging start to his career. Choo finished the year with a .285/.423/.462 slash line, 21 homers, 54 RBI and 112 walks against 133 strikeouts.
But virtually all of his production came against righties, as the left-handed hitter struggled mightily against southpaws, batting .215/.347/.265 with no home runs and eight RBI in 221 plate appearances. As much as he killed right-handed pitching, Choo has the makeup of baseball's most expensive platoon man.
He isn't much of a defensive wizard either, which makes this deal worrisome down the road for the Rangers, but Choo should at least be able to provide significant short-term impact for this robust lineup.
8. OF Jacoby Ellsbury
Contract Terms: Seven years, $153 million with New York Yankees
When discussing Jacoby Ellsbury's mega contract with the Yankees this offseason, one word inevitably comes up in the conversation: injuries.
There is no doubting Ellsbury's talent as an explosive leadoff man and outfielder, but he's had trouble staying on the field over the past few years. Granted, most of his missed time has been due to collisions in the field, but injury-prone is injury-prone.
Now, if you could count on Ellsbury to produce his 2011 numbers (.321/.376/.552, 146 OPS+, 32 HR, 105 RBI, 39 SB) on an annual basis with a Gold Glove to match, you could argue that he is worth $21.9 million per year.
But those are unrealistic expectations for someone that has missed an average of 66 games over the past four seasons. Chances are this contract will become a huge albatross for the Yankees for years to come.
9. 2B Robinson Cano
Contract Terms: 10 years, $240 million with the Seattle Mariners
Robinson Cano conquered this offseason by earning the biggest deal for any free agent—with some help from his agent Jay-Z, of course. You can't fault Cano for chasing the money to leave the Bronx, but you can fault Seattle for overpaying.
Cano is a bona fide star in today's game. He's durable, has a sweet swing, and he can also field with the best of them. In 2013, the second baseman batted .314/.383/.516 with a 145 OPS+, 27 homers, 107 RBI, 65 walks and 85 strikeouts.
As long as he keeps posting numbers like that, the 31-year-old Cano is worth $24 million annually. But to expect him to sustain that type of production for another decade is unreasonable.
What's worse is that Cano's signing hasn't led to any other seismic shifts for the Mariners, and now they're reportedly strapped for cash, per Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. Unless the team makes a late signing of Nelson Cruz or brings back Kendrys Morales, the 2014 offense could actually regress despite Cano being on the team.
As good as he is, Cano will have a hard time making up for the runs created by Morales and departed free agent Raul Ibanez. In the end, this massive deal could have little to no impact on the win column while handcuffing the team for the future.
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