Free Agents Getting More AAV, Less Total Money Than Predicted

The process of tracking free agent contracts to offseason predictions has reached its mid-point. Twenty-five of the top 50 free agents — including 10 of the top 20 — have signed (with two more retiring). As such, we now have enough data to reach some conclusions.

As of post time, the average free agent has received $180,000 more in AAV but $1.92 million less in total dollars than crowdsourced predictions. The top 20 free agents did a little better and worse, receiving $1.3 million extra in AAV but almost $3 million less in total dollars. In other words, free agents are getting more money per year for fewer years.

The overall picture superficially mirrors that of the 2016 free agent market (i.e. the offseason preceding 2016). That year also featured positive Δ AAV but negative Δ $Total. Yet 2016 featured far more long-term deals. Twelve of the top 20 free agents of 2016 signed deals of four years or more, while only three out of 10 contracts signed by this year’s top 20 have similar length.

The apparent similarity between datasets is likely because crowdsourcing has factored in the new normal of shorter contracts. If FanGraphs had projected the 2019 free agent class three years earlier, I expect the total dollar predictions would have been much higher, making the free agent market look that much worse. For example, the still-unsigned Dallas Keuchel, a former Cy-Young winner, is predicted to earn $19.4 million AAV and $81 million total. The rather inferior (at the time) Jordan Zimmerman had a $21M/$126M prediction in 2016.

On the other hand, the $1.3 million extra in AAV is far higher than any year I previously examined, suggesting that either projections overcompensated on lowering salary expectations or that teams are willing to overpay in exchange for the lower risk of shorter contracts.

Bryce Harper and Manny Machado remain unsigned and the huge expected values of their contracts will inevitably significantly affect the final results. So I will reserve final judgment for the moment.

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