Every MLB offseason, there are a handful of free agent signings that don’t make a whole lot of sense.
Sometimes, it can be difficult for fans to understand the mindset of a team’s front office. On several occasions, even analysts fail to comprehend the rationale behind a team’s decision making. This offseason, we witnessed more than a few head-scratcher free agent signings across the league. Some of these were big-money deals, and others just seemed unnecessary.
What makes a free agent a poor fit with a team? Often it simply comes down to the team not needing that player, but signing him regardless. Sometimes they already have someone to fill that position, or maybe that specific player doesn’t quite match up with the team’s profile. The point being, there are some scenarios where signing an objectively “good” player doesn’t appear it will improve a team.
In all fairness, the people in charge of these signings are professionals. It is their job to make smart baseball decisions, and put a winning team on the field. Every now and then, it’s their job to throw everyone off. If every move a team made was predicable, it would be hard for them to gain any sort of advantage. Keeping that in mind, we must still question things that don’t make sense. Spring Training is now in full swing, and a few of these guys don’t look right in their new uniforms. Now let’s take a look at the free agent signings that don’t seem to fit with their new teams.
This is the kind of list you don’t exactly want to be on. So in this case, the honorable mentions are really the winners of this ranking system. The players on this slide aren’t necessarily good fits on the team they signed with, but their signings weren’t impactful enough to be considered a distinctly bad fit.
The first player that came to mind when compiling this list is Chase Utley. Now as a Phillies fan, I love Chase Utley, and I think he can be a valuable contributor to any and every team. The Dodgers re-signed Utley for one year, $2M in February, which seems like a very good price for a 2+ win player. What gets me about this signing is that the Dodgers had already acquired an everyday second baseman in Logan Forsythe a month prior. Utley seems content to be a bench player at this point, and the Dodgers have made it clear that money is no object to them. For these reasons, I omitted Chase Utley from this list.
Kendrys Morales is another name I considered, but I soon realized he’s not a poor fit with the Blue Jays. What I was more hung up on was the fact that they had signed Morales sooner than needed, and could have possibly retained Edwin Encarnacion had they held off for awhile. The Blue Jays should do very well with Morales, though. He’s a switch hitter and could very possibly hit more than 30 homers next season.
I’m sure some of you disagree with me, but I don’t see the benefit of giving a reliever $85M if you’re a rebuilding team. The Yankees have a lot of things going for them right now, but the current lineup core of Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Matt Holliday and Chris Carter is not likely to carry the team to the postseason. Because of that, it doesn’t make sense for the Yankees to pay top dollar for a reliever.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s no questioning Chapman’s value. During his seven seasons in the Majors, Aroldis Chapman has produced 14.2 fWAR. That’s practically unheard of for a closer. What’s even more mind-blowing is his career 15.18 K/9, 2.08 ERA and 1.88 FIP. His only flaw is that he gives up more walks than most (4.13 BB/9). From a strictly on-paper standpoint, Chapman does make the Yankees better, but he doesn’t make them good.
If they had decided to go after more win-now players, this signing would have made more sense. Matt Holliday is the only other free agent they acquired that would qualify as a “win-now” type of guy, but he isn’t going to be enough. Honestly I suspect that the Yankees will trade Chapman, as they did last year. This time they might have to send some money with him, but it’ll be worth the prospects they get in return. The Yankees tend to shy away from needlessly spending money these days (unlike the Yankees of old), but the recent trend of buying prospects and draft picks to hasten a rebuild might convince them to trade Chapman once more.
This signing makes almost zero sense at all. At two years and $14M, the Astros were going for cheap and decent pitching. The problem with Charlie Morton is that he’s never healthy. He hasn’t thrown 170 innings since 2011, and that was the only time he’s done it. Last season, Morton made just four starts for the Phillies. Had they waited for the offseason to develop a little more, they could have had Jason Hammel for just another $2M. Hammel has averaged 30 starts and a 3.68 ERA since 2014. Morton, on the other hand, has averaged about 18 starts with a 4.21 ERA in that time. The Astros don’t have a particularly strong pitching rotation and could have benefited much more by bringing in Hammel.
In fact, if the Astros were willing to spend a little more money and take the same level of risk, they should have went after Rich Hill. It’s hard to blame Morton for taking the money though, as it’s doubtful any other team would have paid him what the Astros did. If anyone would have done it, I imagine it would have been the Royals, who instead signed Hammel for two years and $16M. Since Morton came into the league in ’08, Hammel’s fWAR (16.0) is more than double his mark of 7.6. Instead of letting the market play itself out a bit, the Astros seemed to jump the gun on this signing. He’s not a bad pitcher to take a flyer on, but Houston needed a dependable starter. Charlie Morton has not been that.
By now it probably sounds like I’m picking on the Astros, but that really isn’t my intention. Back in November, Houston signed Reddick to a four-year/$52M deal. Since becoming an everyday player, Reddick has established himself as a solid right fielder. He became a regular starter in Oakland, and produced no less than 2.6 fWAR every season from 2012-2015. In that four-year stretch, Reddick batted .251/.315/.438 while averaging 19 homers and 3.2 fWAR per season. His wRC+ in that time was a solid 109, making him nearly 10 percent more productive on offense than the average player. It’s worth mentioning that he’s best suited for a platoon role now, as he batted just .155 against lefties in 2016.
Last year he wasn’t as dependable, but mostly due to injury. Reddick played only 115 games in 2016, managing only 1.2 fWAR. At $12M per season, it’s not a detrimental signing. Still, the Astros are a team trying to “get over the hump,” and Reddick isn’t exactly a game changer. Also, his swing doesn’t really suit Minute Maid Park, where he’ll be playing half his games. Reddick either pulls the ball or hits it up the middle 75.2 percent of the time. This means he will rarely be taking advantage of the short porch in left field. Center field is a hitter’s nightmare in Houston, meaning the moderate level of power he had in the first place could disappear. Based on how their roster is put together, they probably should have gone after Brandon Moss instead.
Brandon Moss is on this list for the same reason that Josh Reddick is on this list: His profile as a player doesn’t align with the team’s roster. The Royals signed Moss for two years and $12M, meaning he’ll make less money than a mediocre starter that pitched in four games last season (Morton). The lefty slugger has hit 21+ bombs in every season since 2012, excluding ’15. He strikes out more than most would like (28.3 K% since 2012), but has the power to make up for it. Last season, Moss hit .225/.300/.484 with 28 homers and a 105 wRC+. One red flag for certain is that he matched his career high 30.4 K% last season.
Moss has been almost the exact same player since his breakout season with the A’s. He hits the ball hard, his defense is mediocre and he doesn’t care about his batting average. In fact, he doesn’t even believe in batting average. The Royals have, for a while now, been a team that focuses on contact and defense and baserunning. Moss is a decent defender, but a very poor baserunner. Also, he’s a very non-contact-oriented hitter. Power hasn’t been the Royals’ priority in quite some time, and power is the only thing Moss brings to the table. The team’s game plan has already earned them a World Series ring, so we know it can work. In my opinion, it’s a bit ironic that the Royals might have been better off with Josh Reddick, because Brandon Moss looks like a better fit with the Astros.
As I’ve discussed before, it’s not that Ian Desmond is a bad player. In fact, he was a very good player last season, compiling a .285/.335/.446 batting line to go alone with 22 home runs as a center fielder. That same production, while it looks great for a center fielder, isn’t as special coming from a first baseman. His 109 wRC+ ranked ninth among center fielders last season. As a first baseman, it would have ranked 19th.
Simply put, Ian Desmond is a more valuable hitter when he’s playing a premium position. If he’s playing first base or a corner outfield spot, he’ll blend right in with the crowd. So basically, he’s better suited on any team that would take advantage of his defensive ability. For what it’s worth, I think the Rangers should have re-signed him instead of Carlos Gomez.