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A glimpse at the early free agency returns

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More deals have been signed compared to 2017, and AAVs have outshot predictions

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Chicago White Sox
Damn Your Eyes: The biggest contract boost so far this offseason belongs to Garrett Richards — a guy who won’t pitch until 2020.
Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images

This year’s offseason has proven more robust than last year’s. Of course, last year’s offseason was dead on arrival, so don’t break out the party hats quite yet.

Drilling down to the details of deals so far, 13 of the Top 50 free agents have signed for contracts different than those predicted by MLBTR before the burners on the Hot Stove were lit.

The sample size is too small to help forecast whether the Chicago White Sox are going to have to dig deeper into pockets to secure more assistance for the 2019 club. And even if more numbers were already in, it’s doubtful that any trends would impact on once-in-a-lifetime, outlier contracts like the offers that will arrive in the mailboxes of Bryce Harper or Manny Machado.

(Early word on those megadeals is that in the cases of both players, a “record-setting” deal may not be in the works. Ten years, $300 million might indeed be the max either guy will get. We’ll see.)

Overall, the 13 deals signed so far came at an average annual value (AAV) rate of 4.3% higher than predicted by MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes.

The biggest AAV increase landed in the lap of a guy who won’t even play in 2019, Garrett Richards. Richards, rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, got a $7.5 million AAV deal from the San Diego Padres, 50% more than the $5 million anticipated.

On the flip side, Wilson Ramos’ deal with the New York Mets came in at a $9.5 million AAV, when he was predicted to pull in $12 million — a 21% shortfall.

Again, while it’s hard to string together much based on a baker’s dozen of deals, there are a few trends emerging.

The reliever market is rough, as none of the three contracts sign have favored the free agent:

  • Jeurys Familia, Mets (-9%) (between Ramos and Familia, maybe Brodie Van Wagenen knows what he’s doing ...)
  • Joe Kelly, Los Angeles Dodgers (-8%)
  • Jesse Chavez, Texas Rangers (-20%)

Starting pitchers, on the other hand, have mostly overshot estimates:

With an eye toward outfielder trends (whether talking about white whale Harper, or a more modest, post-Bryce White Sox target, like Adam Jones), two outfielders have signed, both of whom could have been (or were) on the White Sox wish list. Both players did OK for themselves, vs. predicted outcomes:

With an eye toward Machado and the third baseman/shortstop market, there’s just one guy who’s signed, Josh Donaldson. And that’s a weird deal, as 2019 will be Donaldson’s push for 150 games played, and a juicy, multiyear deal in 2020. Still, Donaldson got 15% more than anticipated.

Finally, if indeed the White Sox are still in the market for (Yonder’s bud) Yasmani Grandal, the catcher market has been weird. Ramos taking a “lowball” offer really throws things off. But Kurt Suzuki — certainly no Grandal comp, either — got 20% more than anticipated, with his $5 million AAV deal.