This year’s New Year’s Eve party was just way too crowded. A total mess. Chris Davis bumped into me and spilled my drink nearly as soon as I got there. He didn’t even apologize because he hadn’t realized he’d done it, due to the fact that he couldn’t hear anything over the way-too-loud, awful music Justin Upton was DJ’ing. The food ran out way too quick, no thanks to Yoenis Cespedes eating all the bacon-wrapped chicken bites, and I don’t even want to guess what was in that casserole Alex Gordon brought. Yovani Gallardo told me the same story like a dozen times. Doug Fister took it way too far with the noisemakers. Denard Span and Ian Desmond wore the same outfit, Juan Uribe got sick all over Howie Kendrick, and I don’t know who thought it was a good idea to invite Mat Latos and Ian Kennedy to the same party, but of course they got into it over Jessica again. I feel bad for the host, Wei-Yin Chen. He had so much running around to do, I don’t think he ever got a chance to enjoy himself.
The one redeeming quality was that everyone at the party (myself excluded — I don’t know why I was invited) had something in common, in that they were all major league baseball players. Not only that, but when the clock struck midnight and the ball dropped to take us into the new year, every player was still a free agent. It was the most crowded Still a Free Agent New Year’s Party in years.
It felt like it, at least. But was that really the case? There were certainly more people there than Max Scherzer‘s dud of a party last year, but how did it compare to the banger Mark Teixeira threw in 2009?
Most of the guests of this year’s party were listed above. But when those guys aren’t all cooped up in Wei-Yin Chen’s apartment for an awkward, crowded New Year’s party, they’re playing baseball. This is where the NYE party metaphor ends, by the way. This is all interesting to us because of baseball, so let’s see what a baseball team made up only of unsigned free agents looks like.
In the interest of brevity, I stopped short of a full bullpen or bench, because this is good enough. But, look! You can still field a whole team! It’s not the greatest rotation in the world — Chen isn’t the ace of any realistic playoff contender — but it’s five major league-caliber starters who are all either likely or have a chance to be an above-average starter next year. The bullpen could use some work, but look at that lineup. The outfield is killer, and that’s with Dexter Fowler coming off the bench. Gordon-Upton-Cespedes-Davis at the top’s gonna score you some runs.
These 17 guys are projected to be worth nearly 32 combined wins next year. Add in a couple extra wins from the bench and the bullpen, and this is a ballclub that would be projected to finish with a record of at least .500. Not bad for January 5. And that payroll! There’s still some 200-odd million dollars to be shelled out in AAV yet this offseason. Of course, the further we get into the offseason, the higher our crowdsourced contract estimates are likely to be, so you can probably mentally knock down that payroll number a bit. But, still. We’re already into the New Year, nearly a month removed from the Winter Meetings, and you can still make a .500-or-better ballclub with a near-$200 million payroll out of the remaining free agents.
That feels sort of unprecedented. So, is it? There’s this neat little tool over on MLBTradeRumors called the Transaction Tracker that allows you to search for different kind of transactions, filtered by team, position, agent, date, and all other sorts of fun stuff. In this instance, the filtering by date feature really came in handy. They’ve got what appears to be pretty complete post-New Year contract data going back at least half a decade. Let’s use that to create similar rosters as the one used for 2016 above.
Even after adjusting for inflation and factoring in some regression in our estimated contract AAVs, this year’s post-New Year free agent class looks like it’s going to blow any from recent memory out of the water. It could come close to doubling last year’s $109 million payroll, nearly a third of which was given to Max Scherzer. And that rotation, after Scherzer and James Shields, fell off pretty hard with Kyle Kendrick, Aaron Harang and Ryan Vogelsong making up the back end. The infield of Rickie Weeks, Everth Cabrera, Stephen Drew and Gordon Beckham is pretty brutal, as well.
The 2014 team finds Grady Sizemore manning center field, Robertses Brian and Ryan in the infield and Bronson Arroyo as the No. 3 starter. The year before that, and Edwin Jackson is your ace. You’ve gotta go back to 2009, when Mark Teixeira and Manny Ramirez were given $22.5 million AAVs and Derek Lowe $15 million to even come within $50 million of this year’s projected post-New Year payroll.
But what does any of this mean? It means that January 1 is an arbitrary endpoint, first of all, so probably not much. It means that this is a pretty deep free agent class, especially in the outfield, and that’s probably holding things up a bit. It means that qualifying offers are still holding down players’ markets, especially in the case of guys like Desmond, Gallardo, Kennedy, and maybe even Fowler. It means, on a smaller scale, that the World Series ran into November, which doesn’t usually happen, and there’s just been less offseason than there’s usually been by now. It means that teams like the Angels, Dodgers and Yankees who, in years past, we could’ve expected to make a splash by now, are exercising more caution than usual. More than anything else, it means this is going to be perhaps the most eventful January hot stove in history.
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