Now that Nori Aoki has landed with the San Francisco Giants, all of the most desirable corner outfielders are off the free-agent market.
The White Sox invested heavily in this department with Melky Cabrera, offering the third-largest contract in terms of total dollars, and the second-largest in annual salary. At least you can see where the money is going when stacking them up with their Steamer projections for 2015:
|Melky Cabrera||White Sox||3/$42M||.288/.341/.432||1.8|
It's rather incredible just how well these guys match up despite the fact that none of them really resemble another guy on the list. At the top, you have baseball's home run champ. At the bottom, you have a slap-hitting random event generator. Steamer says they have just about the same to offer, and while I'm not a huge fan of that particular system, it's the best we have at the moments.
Throw out the projections, and the Cabrera investment still strikes me as the soundest multi-year deal. He covers both sides of the plate with a good mix of contact and extra-base power, and while he's a liability in left, not to the extent of Cruz, Morse and maybe even Hunter. On top of that, the Mariners, Giants and Royals also wanted him, and supposedly another team offered him a four-year deal, but Cabrera didn't want to set up shop on the West Coast.
Cabrera's market was competitive enough that it seemed like the Sox could've really injured themselves lunging for his services. Operating under the assumption that free agency is an inherently inefficient way to spend, the Sox came out of this in OK shape, especially since Cabrera didn't need a fourth year.
About the others...
Aoki: In a vacuum, he might be the steal of the offseason, signing a deal that is worth as much as $12.5 million over two years. Like Cabrera, he could have signed for more money, but he liked the Giants' combination of location, recent success and playing time.
The lone drawback: The Giants now look like the least powerful team in baseball. If you can overlook Aoki's unique outfield routes and trust the metrics, that might not matter. But if he slips any, the Giants might have a hard time overcoming the major loss of dingers they've suffered this winter.
Cruz: The Mariners' blockbuster signing of Cruz contrasted the Aoki signing in practically every way, as they struck early and spared no expense to address their own power deficit. But they might be able to stash him at DH after trading for a right-field platoon of Seth Smith and Justin Ruggiano, which of course means he can't let up offensively.
Markakis: I wasn't enthusiastic about Markakis for four years, mostly because I didn't see him outproducing the front end of the contract enough to make up for a back-half decline. Still, a team that needed an adequate corner outfielder immediately might be able to live with the risk.
The Braves aren't that team. Sometimes deals are panned early, then understood better later (like the White Sox's signing of Adam LaRoche and Zach Duke). In this case, hindsight only makes the Markakis-Braves match more confusing.
Morse: He posted a really sneaky 130 OPS+ last year, and if you believe in his ability to repeat, then this deal looks relatively reasonable. He pretty much needs to, considering he'll have to wear a glove every day.
Hunter: ZiPS is far less enthusiastic about Hunter than Steamer, projecting a significantly lower OBP (.308) and terrible defense that makes him nearly replacement level (0.4 WAR). However, if the primary objective was to allow Hunter to return to the womb, then it really doesn't matter what he does.
Rios: It's kinda like the Hunter signing in terms of dollars and projections. It differs from the Hunter signing in that Rios has no previous Kansas City ties, and the Royals need him to turn it around. He was Dayton Moore's consolation prize, joining the Royals a week after the Sox finalized the deal with Cabrera. If both players repeat their 2015, that's bad news for KC. And if Cabrera's signing pushed the Royals to pursue a bad alternative, that gives the Sox even a little more bang for their buck.