Free Agent Power Hitters
The MLB off-season is something all fans look forward too. After the season ends and the champion is crowned fans of all 30 teams immediately look toward the next season and there is a laundry list of activities everyone looks forward to. Taking a look at the build of teams rosters, checking in on upcoming free agents and visualizing potential trades all draw to the allure of the MLB off-season. We are coming to the close this year as pitchers and catchers are due to report to spring training in just a few short weeks. Star players have changed teams, big trades have been made involving top prospects and the roster makeup of teams has taken shape.
Although the off-season is coming to a close there are a lot of big name players still available. The market for position players moved rather slow this years as teams played the waiting game with free agents. One particular group of players that have had a hard time finding a home have been power hitters. Going into the off-season players like Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Mark Trumbo and Mike Napoli all planned on cashing in big after coming off huge seasons. But due to these players age and deficiencies in other areas they found it hard to cash in to the extent they had hoped. For example, Edwin Encarnacion was looking for a contract in the 4 year, $80 million range but signed with the Indians recently for only 3 years, $60 million with an option for a 4th year. That contract seems to be close to what he was looking for but lets look at a few other players who haven't fared as well. Jose Bautista was looking for a massive contract in the 5 year, $150 million range but settled for only a 1 year, $18 million deal after it was apparent nobody wanted to invest that much money in a player that will be 36 at the start of this season. Mark Trumbo also was looking to cash in big after he led the majors with 47 home runs. Trumbo reportedly was looking for something in the 4 year, $60 million range but he also had to settle for something far less after the Orioles and other teams seemed unwilling to pay that much for a player who doesn't bring much other than power. He just signed last week back with the Orioles for a reported 3 year, $37.5 million. Mike Napoli who is coming off a career year with the Indians where he hit 34 home runs and drove in 101 RBI is still sitting on the market waiting for a deal. Chris Carter who hit an NL high 41 home runs last year was non tendered by the Brewers and is also still on the market as of today. Pedro Alvarez, who is also a proven home run threat hitting 133 bombs in the past 5 seasons is also still unsigned. Power hitting might be the most sought after attribute of a hitter, so why are teams shying away from paying up for proven power bats. Lets take a look at the numbers:
Lets take a look at Trumbo first who everyone assumes had a monster year in 2016. It easy to see the home run and RBI totals and be impressed but what about everything else. Everyone knows Trumbo strikes out a lot which is a trait most power hitters have nowadays but his K% of 25.5% places him 15th worst in all of baseball among qualified hitters. He also doesn't walk that much with a below average BB% of 7.6%. These two stats are key contributors for his below average OBP of .316. When looking at his Def (Defensive Runs Above Average) number of -18.3 you can see he isn't providing you any value in the field. As expected Trumbo is also below average on the base paths when looking at his BsR (Base running) number of -2.0. So when Trumbo isn't hitting his home runs he isn't giving you value anywhere else. He isn't having productive outs, isn't drawing walks to get on base, is horrible in the field and below average on the base paths. Trumbo's WAR of 2.2 ranked him second worst in baseball history among players to hit over 45 home runs (worst was Jose Canseco in 1998 with a 1.3 WAR). Its easy to see now why teams didn't overpay for Trumbo. He clearly has value as a power hitter in your lineup but hes not worthy of a pricey, long term contract. The Orioles would be smart to put him at DH permanently so he can focus on his run production at the plate and keep his poor glove on the bench.
Lets look next at Chris Carter who is a very interesting name on this list. Carter's 41 home runs put him in a tie with Nolan Arenado for first in the National League. You would think with power like that that Carter would be a hot commodity come free agency. That has not been the case with rumors circulating that Carter might have to settle for signing in Japan for the 2017 season. When looking at the stats it is easy to see why. Carter has a terrible batting average of .222 and doesn't make up for that with good plate discipline and knowledge of the strike zone shown in his below average OBP and horrendous K% of 32.0% (2nd worst in MLB behind Chris Davis' 32.9%). Carter also doesn't provide any help on the defensive side at first base where he has a very poor Def (Defensive Runs Above Average) of -16.9 putting him in the bottom 5 among qualified first basemen. When looking at Carter its easy to see that he isn't an asset on the base paths and that is reflected in his BsR (Base running) of -4.1. Sure its great to get 40+ home run production but just like Trumbo, Carter doesn't give you much else besides the long ball. Even with his 41 home runs Carter still only earned a 0.9 WAR, showing how bad his overall game is. I do think he has a place on a roster potentially in the AL as a DH or a big bat you can pull off the bench but its easy to see why a team hasn't pulled the trigger on signing him.
Mike Napoli is also a curious case. Napoli has also yet to be signed after maybe the best season of his career last year with the AL champion Cleveland Indians. Napoli posted career highs in games played (150), at bats (645), hits (133), home runs (34) and RBI (101). With such a career year at the plate how did Napoli only register 1 WAR. For starters it seems that he sacrificed a lot of contact while chasing his power numbers. He registered a K% of 30.1% (3rd word in MLB) and only hit for a .239 batting average. He also didn't grade well at first base or on the base paths. His Def (Defensive Runs Above Average) of -17.3 and his BsR (Base Running) of -5.2 placed him 3rd and 4th worst respectively among first basemen. So even though it was a career year for him he still ranked in the bottom 1/3 among first basemen in WAR. I do think its only a matter of days before Napoli lands a contract but at his age (35) and with his production he is probably looking at a 1 year deal.
Veteran power bats such as Pedro Alvarez and Brandon Moss both give you a similar skill set. They provide some power but don't hit for average, get on base, or play even average defense. High K rates and low walk rates are also reasons they have lingered in free agency. Moss just signed a 2 year $12 million deal with the Royals and Alvarez is still out there but a few teams have been rumored to be interested.
It is clear that GM's are not interested in overspending for big bats if they don't provide anything but the occasional home run. They are looking for more well rounded hitting production paired with athleticism to provide good defense and solid base running. The trend toward getting athletics players who can get on base and provide good defense seems to be continuing. We are in an era that is trending more toward run prevention and base to base offense rather than home runs. Teams held strong on big name players like Jose Bautista and Mark Trumbo, who had to settle for contracts far less that what they were expecting to receive. Other players like Mike Napoli and Chris Carter, who both had big power seasons belting 34 and 41 home runs respectively are still looking for contracts. Hitting home runs doesn't get you big contracts like they used too and while fans of the game may look at the sexy numbers like home runs and RBI, the front offices are looking deeper into the numbers before they make decisions.