The free agent market has exploded right before our eyes, a mind-boggling array of signings and commitments that will surely haunt teams and their payrolls for years to come. Players projected to receive as high as 35 million this winter have been rewarded with deals extending way past any expectations. Guys who spent their entire careers as average outfielders and peaked in a contract year find themselves in the upper-tier of players salaries. It??s been a November that will be remembered. The Brewers owner Mark Attanasio was quoted today saying the free agent market is “nsane.”
Exhibit A is Juan Pierre, possibly the most gruesome investment of the winter thus far. Not only did the Dodgers overpay in excess, but they could have easily just gobbled up Kenny Lofton for about 12 million over 2 years, at the most. Here are the numbers:
Lofton: .301/.360/.403, 32/37 SB, .272 EqA, 3.0 WARP
Pierre: .292/.330/.388, 58/78 SB, .249 EqA, 3.8 WARP

Instead, the Dodgers signed Pierre for 5 years and 44 million, guaranteeing them the obligation of paying this centerfielder 10 million when he??s 32 and 33 years old, according to the contract. Ned Colletti may have struck gold with guys like Andre Ethier, Nomar Garciaparra and Wilson Betemit, but this deal seems like borderline insanity. The facts are this: Pierre never draws walks (one season of 50+), his arm in center is below average, he??s 30 years old and starting to hit the decline and will be earning 9 million with the value of a pinch runner in 2010. Great job, Ned! Make sure to leave room on the bench for one of either Matt Kemp, James Loney or Andre Eithier, the guys with real talent and ability.
Exhibit B is Gary Matthews Jr, whose 50 million over 5 years from the Angels is stunning when you consider he??s been a fourth outfielder his entire career but one season, which happened to be the campaign he??s playing for a new contract. Get this, folks: In over 2,400 major league AB??s before 2006, Matthews had a career line of .249/.324/.397. Those are Alex Cora numbers, not someone about to earn 10M annually from a contender.
Where else can we look but Exhibit C, the next Mo Vaughn, none other than Carlos Lee, who elected to stay in Texas rather than head to Baltimore or San Fran. His 6 year, 100 million dollar contract with Houston gives the team a much-needed impact power bat in the middle of their lineup, but is the longevity of the contract and the cash given necessary? Lee is an awful left fielder, and sure Minute Maid Park will help, but the picture of Lee pulling a hamstring running for a double down the line isn??t that difficult to fathom. He doesn??t project to age well, as slow, slugging right-handed hitters signing 6 year deals usually translates into a regrettable decision.
And finally, the grand daddy of all the contract given this November is Alfonso Soriano. There is no denying Soriano put up tremendous numbers in a pitchers park. His .560 slugging percentage, along with 46 HR and 41 SB, coupled with his numbers getting even better in Wrigley Field made the Cubs feel like this would be a good investment. Unfortunately, this contract is out of control and completely the opposite of what Chicago should have targeted this winter.
You know where the Cubs finished in the NL in OBP last season? Dead last.
You know Alfonso Soriano??s career OBP? .320.
You know how much they??ll be paying Soriano? 17 million for the next 8 seasons.
You know how old Soriano is right now? 30 years old.
Has Soriano ever played centerfield in his career? No sir.
Luckily, and almost selfishly, our favorite team doesn??t have to deal with that specific issue. Still, with the market this high, Theo will have to overpay. His job is finding the right players to overpay.
I rest my case. This market has exploded to undeniably crazy proportions. With the luxury tax increasing with every season, more GM??s will attempt to trade away upcoming free agents the year before they hit the market to try and get some value in return (example is the Doug Davis trade that went down Saturday). Small-market teams will find it even more difficult to sign impact players with guys like Pierre and Matthews getting 50 million when they should be receiving 25 million instead. Luckily, and almost selfishly, our favorite team doesn??t have to deal with that specific issue. Still, with the market this high, Theo will have to overpay. His job is finding the right players to overpay.
Is Julio Lugo worth 40 million over 4 years? Probably not. His career year was in 2005 when Lugo hit .295/.362/.403 for Tampa. If the Sox can get that out of Lugo in 07, I??ll be ecstatic. But are those numbers worth 10 million, along with suspect defense? Any other year, I??d shake my head with defiance. Now, I??m not so sure. As down as I am about Lugo in Boston, with no other options available, I??m starting to think 4/40 could be a bargain.
Is J.D. Drew worth 65 million over 5 years? Probably not. He has an injury history, is 31 years old, and comes with some baggage. Drew has posted exceptional OBP??s the last three years: .436, .412, .393. While the slugging has declined the last three years, .498 is acceptable for a 5 hitter behind Manny and Ortiz. Once again, 5/60 doesn??t look all that bad.
Based purely on estimation, we could have Matsuzaka for 4 years and 52 million, Drew for 5 years and 65 million and Lugo for 4 years and 40 million. That??s a whole lot of investment. What I??ve learned is that this off-season is about overpaying for the right guys. All three of those players are overpaid, but are they the right fits for Boston? I say yes. And that’s what it really comes down to.