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MLB free agent signings: Over or undervalued?

The MLB free agent deals have been massive so far this offseason. Which of these deals are undervalued? Overvalued? We take a look here.

Four years ago, baseball fans laughed at the idea of Phillies owner John Middleton getting “a little bit stupid” with his money. Nearly two months after winning the NL pennant, however, it seems every owner is following the stupid money template, handing out some of the most eye-popping free agent contracts we’ve ever seen.

This has made this offseason one of the most fun to follow for fans, especially fans of the Mets, Padres, Phillies, and Yankees. Stupid money is fun regardless of how it’s spent, but it’s also worth checking in on what teams are getting in return for their spending. Are these players really worth the price tag they’re commanding in the open market?

Let’s take a look at the top-five free agent signings by average annual value so far this offseason.

Justin Verlander, Mets – Two years, $86.6 million ($43.3 million AAV)

It must be nice to be Steve Cohen. Losing the best pitcher in the world to free agency meant nothing to the Mets, as they turned around and signed the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner to the co-richest AAV contract in MLB history (shared by his teammate Max Scherzer) and upgraded their rotation in the process. Easy stuff.

Giving that sort of money to a pitcher entering his age-40 season would be the epitome of stupid in most situations, but this isn’t one of them. Verlander has gone 39-10 in his past two full seasons while sporting a microscopic 1.75 ERA in 175 innings pitched in 2022. And with his move to a pitcher’s park from the bandbox in Houston, he’s sure to bring his dominating stuff with him to Queens. Having both Verlander and Scherzer on the roster extends the Mets’ World Series window for the next two years, and as hard as it might be to call the biggest contract in MLB history by AAV, this contract is UNDERVALUED.

Aaron Judge, Yankees – Nine years, $360 million ($40 million AAV)

In baseball terms, giving this much money to a player that has missed 50+ games in three of his six full seasons looks a bit reckless. Even if that player put up the greatest offensive season we’ve seen since Barry Bonds, it’s hard not to be skeptical that this will work out.

But the team involved is the Yankees, who have forever money and probably aren’t going to fret that a 39-year-old Judge might be a sub-average player in the last year of his contract. They are one of the most valuable sports franchises in the world, and they understand better than anyone that the face of their franchise is always worth the money. Judge will likely overplay the front half of his deal and then wear out his body with a few $40 million years left. But so what? It’s Aaron Judge. It’s the Yankees. This contract is PROPERLY VALUED.

Jacob deGrom, Rangers – Five years, $185 million ($37 million AAV)

Both of the following statements can be true:

  • Jacob deGrom is the best pitcher on the planet.
  • Jacob deGrom is not the most valuable pitcher on the planet.

deGrom has pitched a total of 224 innings over the past three seasons. Meanwhile, the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Sandy Alcantara pitched 228 innings just last year. And since the Mets won 101 games last year basically without the services of their best player, it makes sense why they weren’t willing to offer deGrom more than two or three years of service.

Maybe the Rangers think they can get the most from an oft-injured pitcher, or maybe they were just looking to find the biggest splash possible in the open market after their two big signings last year have panned out to mediocre results so far. Either way, five years of genius pitching comes at a high price, and it’s one the Rangers are probably going to regret. This contract is OVERVALUED.

Trea Turner, Phillies – Eleven years, $300 million ($27.2 AAV)

When Middleton said the Phillies were going to get a little bit stupid with their money, it came right before they signed Bryce Harper to a thirteen-year, $330 million deal. That deal is working out incredibly well for both sides, and it makes sense that the Phillies would try again after coming just a few wins short of a World Series win.

Because the thing about stupid money is that it starts to look real smart with the right investments, and there was probably no player more deserving of a $300 million deal this offseason than Trea Turner. As an offensive threat, Turner is the closest thing we have in today’s game to a prime Rickey Henderson: Someone who hits like a middle-of-the-order bat with top-of-the-order speed. And unlike Rickey, Turner plays a premium position very well. The fact that he’s getting less money than other shortstops like Francisco Lindor or Fernando Tatís Jr. is only a function of age, because he’s just as good as those players and will be for a very long time. This contract is UNDERVALUED.

Xander Bogaerts, Padres – Eleven years, $280 million ($25.4 million AAV)

Not many people expected Bogaerts to get this kind of money. While he has been a solid hitter for the Red Sox over his career, he’s not quite as good a hitter as Turner and impending megadeal recipient Carlos Correa. Even on his own team now, he’s the third-best hitting infielder after both Manny Machado and Tatís, though we’ll see what Tatís plays like post-steroids. Even if the Padres plan on pushing Tatís to the outfield and putting Xander at short, it’s at best a lateral move, and a very expensive one, at that.

Of course, this is a Padres team that was willing to give more than $400 million to Judge, so $280 million for a great middle infielder looks like a bargain in comparison. And though Xander is being paid like a franchise player, he won’t have to carry the offense with Machado, Tatís, and Juan Soto anchoring the lineup next season. It’s a great deal for Bogaerts. But for the Padres, paying nearly $300 million for someone who might turn out to be a role player feels a little steep. This contract is OVERVALUED.