Looking back on our 2011 free agent predictions

Way back in November, Brad Johnson, Richard Barbieri, Vince Caramela and I projected where we thought baseball’s top 30 free agents (plus Brandon Webb) would land this offseason. Now that all those have signed (or retired), it’s time to see how we did and comment in hindsight. Here is the breakdown of our respective accuracies:

Jeffrey Gross: 7 correct (22.6 percent accuracy)
Richard Barbieri: 7 correct (22.6 percent accuracy)
Brad Johnson: 8 correct (25.8 percent accuracy)
Vince Caramela: 7 correct (22.6 percent accuracy)

That no one got even one-third of his predicted landing spots correct goes to show just how much of a crap shoot predicting where a player will sign is. Even MLB Trade Rumors, the Internet’s premier source of who is going where, got only eight of its top 30 right. Still…

Jeffrey Gross:
A cursory glance at my predictions will show I made many darkhorse picks, focusing on team needs and fits, rather than “playing it safe.” Largely because I still believe that they would have offered the most money if he would have accepted it, I predicted that Cliff Lee would end up on the Nationals. I realize that Lee wants to compete, but the Nationals made sense for four reasons.

First, as evidenced by the Jayson Werth contract, they had the money. Second, the Nationals needed some premier pitching, even with Jordan Zimmermann back in the fold and especially with Stephen Strasburg out for at least 2011. Third, Lee has an ego. Though Strasburg or Ryan Zimmerman may be the face of the future and present Nationals, Lee would have been the undoubted superstar making superstar money, the undoubted “veteran presence” and leader of an up-and-coming young class of players (Derek Norris, Bryce Harper, Drew Storen, etc.) who would conceivably start competing as soon as 2012. In New York, Lee would have had to battle for clout with CC Sabathia, for jersey sales with Derek Jeter, and for premier season tickets with Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira.

Texas did not seem willing enough to shell out the bucks. And Philadelphia? Well, no one really saw that. Cliff Lee was the kind of marquee name the Nationals have been desperately seeking the past few seasons, and for those reasons, I predicted (poorly) that Cliff Lee would end up in Washington.

The rest of my picks were gut feelings that turned out to be way off: Hiroki Kuroda and Lance Berkman to the Rangers? Yeah, whodathunk that the Cardinals were so desperate for an outfielder that they’d take a guy with a history of knee injuries while playing first base (let alone outfield, a position he had not played in a half-decade). Whoda also thunk that Kuroda would take such a pay cut to stick around with the Dodgers when he was one of the premier pitching names on the market this offseason? Jorge de la Rosa to the Pirates seemed like a match made in heaven, considering how bad the Pirates pitching staff is and how badly the Pirates pitching staff misses Oliver Perez (seriously, it is that bad).

A few of my picks seem less wrong in reality (at least if you read my blog) than they do on the list. For example, though I predicted that Adam Dunn would be a Cub, my actual prediction was that he would end up in Chicago. He’s on the South Side. Likewise, I thought Manny Ramirez would end up on either the A’s or Rays, but chose the wrong one when push came to shove. Ditto with Jake Westbrook (though I picked Rockies because I though de La Rosa would go to the Pirates and thus the Rockies would need a ground-balling innings-eater).

Ultimately, however, I was way off base. The majority of my “right” picks came from “safe guesses” like where Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Paul Konerko and Victor Martinez would land. I may have failed here, but take solace in my colleagues’ comparable failures.

Brad Johnson:
The hardest part about predicting free agent destinations was trying to figure out how one move might affect another move. For instance, I felt pretty sure Dunn would sign with the White Sox but I thought that move would preclude them from signing Konerko. Similarly, predicting where all those mid-tier pitchers would wind up was a challenge based on guessing which teams would step up first.

Excuses aside, I turned in a pretty lousy performance with only eight correct picks. I would classify five of those picks as gimmes: Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Jim Thome, Aubrey Huff and Magglio Ordonez. There was little risk any of those guys would seek out new digs for 2011. Two of my correct picks were the result of well-reasoned analysis: The White Sox wanted some lefty power and on-base skills, making Dunn an obvious fit, and the Tigers were itching to make a splash in an attempt to help out Miguel Cabrera, thus Victor Martinez. That leaves my last correct pick, Juan Uribe. I do not remember why I made this pick, I know I considered the Dodgers’ void in the middle infield but I also suspect this may have been a random dart throw that turned out to be a bulls-eye.

If I made a mistake, it was to overthink a couple of decisions. I should have had no trouble predicting that Jake Westbrook, Hiroki Kuroda, and Carl Pavano would re-sign with their original homes. Getting those right might have helped me get a couple more, too. I don’t feel bad about predicting the Nationals to sign so many players. As we’ve since learned, the Nats were extremely serious players in this free agent market. They’re just a few pieces short of convincing players that D.C. is the place to be. It figures the one guy I didn’t predict them to sign was Jayson Werth.

Vincent Caramela
Besides the obvious Yankees re-signings and Westbrook returning to the Cardinals, I tried to get creative and predict fewer players returning to their previous teams. Victor Martinez to the Tigers was too strong a possibility to ignore (that was a gimme) and the White Sox looking for a big left-handed bat made Dunn obvious for me. However, a lot of my strategy was tied up in where I thought Cliff Lee would go.

I did want to pencil in Adrian Beltre as a Ranger but the probability of them re-signing Lee seemed too strong. I also figured the Nationals would make a splash in this market, but instead of them landing one of the marquee bats, I was banking on them bowing out of the Cliff Lee sweepstakes and overpaying for Jorge de la Rosa with Brandon Webb as a cheap possibility. Speaking of Webb, I figured he would be popular since I also figured the Padres, Royals and Mets would be interested in picking up some cheap reclamation projects. I pegged Javier Vazquez to take his National League resurgence to San Diego, while I figured the Royals would grab Webb to help patch up their leaky rotation. Obviously both were wrong.

Finally, I was counting on good old-fashioned logic to piece together my other destinations. I figured the Cubs and Orioles would be in the market for a first baseman. I liked the possibility of Aubrey Huff going to the Windy City, I guess his request for a two-year contract took him out of the Cubs’ price range.

In terms of spending money, I did figure the O’s would pay for a few short-term bats. Derrek Lee seemed like a good fit since winning now wasn’t too high of a priority. On the bullpen side, I figured Kevin Towers would treat his D-backs to one of the available Type A free agent closers since their 2011 pick is protected. I just figured they would go with the lefty Scott Downs over J.J. Putz.

Mental Health and the CBA
A particular bit of language in the latest CBA could have negative consequences for some players.

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Jeffrey Gross is an attorney who periodically moonlights as a (fantasy) baseball analyst. He also responsibly enjoys tasty adult beverages. You can read about those adventures at his blog and/or follow him on Twitter @saBEERmetrics.
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It’s Jordan Zimmermann, fyi.  Not Jeff.

Jeffrey Gross
Jeffrey Gross

Touche sir!


I agree with Brad, it’s nearly impossible to have a high hit rate on these because if you guess one wrong, the trickle down effect could throw off everything. Not only do you have to consider alternatives within the free agent market, but also who might be traded. I thought Carlos Pena would be a good short term fit for the braves because he gave them the big power bat they were missing. They instead went the trade route and got Uggla.  Same with Beltre re-signing with Boston, trading for Gonzalez meant he was gone.