Last offseason, Scott Boras’ top client, Bryce Harper, waited until February 28th to sign with the Phillies. Therefore, with him representing the top three free agents this offseason, many expected an extremely long, and tedious, negotiating period. Instead, Boras did the opposite- he manipulated the free agency market to negotiate three contracts worth at least $35 million per year. In total, Boras’ three top clients signed for $814 million; the teams that signed these players made quite the commitment. In other words, this was certainly a historic winter meetings for the game’s top agent, and certainly, it’ll have huge effects on baseball; not only will the teams that signed these free agents be affected, but so will teams competing with these teams that had similar needs as well. What are those ramifications? Let’s take a closer look.
It all started on Monday, December 10th, when the World Series MVP was brought back by his former team:
Nationals Re-Sign SP Stephen Strasburg
It was widely anticipated that Strasburg, a former #1 pick coming off of an incredible postseason, would remain a National. The question was for how much, and one thing is for certain- he didn’t take a hometown discount. Washington re-signed the 31-year-old to a seven-year contract worth $245 million, which at the time, was the largest contract ever for a starting pitcher. To his credit, he’s certainly a top-ten starting pitcher, as he’s consistently posted xFIPs in the low 3.00s, and eclipsed 200 innings pitched for the second time in his career. Yet, at the same time, it’s a huge risk for the Nationals, considering that Strasburg comes with durability questions, will be under contract through his age-38 season, and saw his fastball velocity decrease by 1 MPH next season. Undoubtedly, this appears to be the most lopsided deal in favor of Boras and his client; not only does Strasburg come with the type of red flags that don’t warrant such a lofty commitment, but it also prevented the Nationals from keeping a different franchise-icon, who fit their needs much better.
I mentioned that Strasburg’s contract was at the time a historic contract. Well, that changed about a day later, as Boras was able to control the starting pitching market to land a massive contract for arguably the game’s top starting pitcher:
Yankees Sign SP Gerrit Cole
Because Strasburg signed for $245 million, Boras set a high price for Cole, who is two years younger and a superior player. That, as well as the Yankees’ desperation to sign him, led to the former UCLA Bruin inking a nine-year, $324 million deal with New York. Unlike Strasburg, Cole comes with zero concerns- he’s the epitome of the “perfect free agent”. He’s just 29-years-old, has had back-to-back seasons of elite performance with the Astros, and improved his K-BB ratio to 6.79, an amazing clip. Need more convincing? Cole’s expected weighted on-base average allowed (xwOBA) of .238 was actually lower than his actual wOBA of .246, so in essence, he actually should have posted even better numbers last season. Obviously, giving a nine-year contract to a starting pitcher is certainly perilous, no matter who the pitcher is, but Cole’s clean mechanics, easy velocity, an extreme openness to improving through analytics should allow him to age very well; if he’s the ace New York believes they’re getting as well, he transforms them into a World Series favorite for the front-end of the contract as well. Consequently, he may have the best chance of living up to his contract out of these three players, and although the Yankees have limited financial flexibility at the moment, they’re the Yankees- they’ll definitely be able to work this contract in to their budget for the next nine years, especially since he and Luis Severino will headline a stacked rotation for years to come.
Alas, one free agent remained, but because of the Nationals’ decision to sign Strasburg and Cole signing with the Yankees, Boras paved the way for one of the game’s most consistently productive players to sign with a team that felt like they had to do everything in their power to acquire his services:
Angels Sign 3B Anthony Rendon
The Angels came up short in their pursuit of Cole, who was a logical fit for them considering that only Trevor Cahill pitched 100 innings for them last year, but they didn’t come out empty-handed- they were able to bring in superstar third baseman Anthony Rendon on a contract worth the same amount as Strasburg (7/$245M). Considering that the 29-year-old has been worth 19.9 WAR over the past three seasons, Rendon is quite the consolation prize. What can he not do? His walk rate is nearly the same as his strikeout rate, he ranks in the 98th percentile in xwOBA and xSLG (per Baseball Savant), and he’s even a slightly above-average defender at third base. Paired with Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, Rendon completes an impressive trio of superstars for the Angels, though the team’s ability to build around those three is in question. Essentially, this is a fair deal for the team and player; Rendon received his worth on the open market and it’s likely that all sides come out as a winner.
So, what’s next for these teams three teams? At least for this offseason, it’s pretty obvious:
- The Nationals will need to replace Rendon and add depth to their bullpen; a four-year contract to the 34-year-old Josh Donaldson would be very risky, however.
- The Yankees will try to dump starting pitcher JA Happ’s $17 million contract for next season, and will try to add some bullpen depth and position player depth.
- The Angels will need to add pitching, more pitching, and even more pitching.
However, what about some other teams that didn’t land these three players?
- The Rangers, after missing out on Rendon, have already responded, acquiring starting pitcher Corey Kluber from the Indians. It’s also likely they’ll add a new third baseman, a few relievers, and another power bat.
- The Dodgers didn’t land Rendon or Cole, and as a result, are looking into trading for superstars Francisco Lindor, Mike Clevinger, and Mookie Betts
- The Braves and Twins (as well as the Nationals) likely will have to go to a fourth year to sign Donaldson after Rendon’s contract.
- The White Sox paid Dallas Keuchel $55.5 million to add some rotation stability, the Diamondbacks signed Madison Bumgarner to an $85 contract, and now Hyun-Jin Ryu will receive a big contract; the Blue Jays, Angels, Padres, Dodgers, Phillies, and Braves are all in the bidding for him
- Even outfielders Marcell Ozuna and Nicholas Castellanos, a Boras client, should earn higher contracts than expected
- Third basemen Nolan Arenado and Kris Bryant are even likelier to be traded with Rendon signing with an unexpected suitor for a third baseman.
Scott Boras has established himself as the best agent in baseball, and he proved that by taking over the winter meetings with three contracts worth $814 million. In a way, these three contracts can be described as the good (Rendon), the better (Cole), and the potentially ugly (Strasburg), but either way, the Nationals, Yankees, and Angels are taking massive risks with these contracts, and it’s almost impossible to know how they’ll turn out. Will Cole lead the Yankees to a 28th championship? Will Strasburg allow the Nationals to repeat? Can Rendon provide Trout with the help he needs? All of a sudden, next season has three new intriguing storylines, and that’s all thanks to Boras, who completely manipulated the free agency market.
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