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Patience can be a virtue in free agency

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It may be frustrating for fans, but Dayton's waiting game may pay off.

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals are engaged in a standoff with free agent outfielder Alex Gordon. Considered one of the best free agent outfielders on the market, Gordon was expected to command a five-year deal worth between $80-100 million. As we enter the new year, Gordon remains unsigned, with a reported four-year $52 million offer from the Royals, and a three-year offer from the White Sox. With reports that teams like the Angels, Cardinals, Cubs, and Giants have dropped out of the bidding, the market for Gordon may be drying up.

While Royals fans grow increasingly frustrated at the lack of movement by the Royals this winter, it could turn out that this strategy pays off for the Royals. In recent years, teams that have been patient in the free agent market have gotten some good bargains. In fact, the Royals may be looking to the recent experiences of two departing free agents - Ervin Santana and James Shields - as an indication that the market could bottom out leaving some team with a good player at a good price.

Each year, Fangraphs crowdsources what fans think free agents will receive before the off-season begins. These are just estimates, but  they can be a useful guide as to what the public sense of the value of each player was at the outset of the off-season. The estimates also tend to be a bit conservative in guessing what free agents will receive, so any free agent receiving less will be quite a bargain. Let's take a look at what free agents that signed after January 1 received compared to what fans thought that player would receive.

All contract dollar figures are in millions.

2013 Years Crowd AAV Years Actual AAV Team Date
Edwin Jackson 3 $12.000 4 $13.000 CHC 1/3/2013
Nick Swisher 4 $14.000 4 $14.000 CLE 1/3/2013
Lance Berkman 1 $8.000 1 $10.000 TEX 1/7/2013
Mike Gonzalez 1 $4.000 1 $2.250 MIL 1/7/2013
Adam LaRoche 3 $12.000 2 $12.000 WAS 1/8/2013
Rafael Soriano 3 $10.000 2 $14.000 WAS 1/17/2013
Mike Napoli 3 $12.000 2 $16.000 BOS 1/22/2013
Delmon Young 2 $8.000 1 $0.750 PHI 1/22/2013
Carlos Villanueva 2 $6.000 2 $10.000 CHC 1/26/2013
Shaun Marcum 2 $10.000 1 $4.000 NYM 1/30/2013
Travis Hafner 1 $5.000 1 $2.000 NYY 2/1/2013
Kelly Johnson 2 $6.000 1 $2.450 TBR 2/3/2013
Luke Scott 1 $4.000 1 $2.750 TBR 2/6/2013
Francisco Liriano 2 $7.000 1 $1.000 PIT 2/8/2013
Joe Saunders 2 $8.000 1 $7.000 SEA 2/13/2013
Michael Bourn 5 $14.000 4 $12.000 CLE 2/15/2013
37 $140.000 30 $123.200

Delmon Young went from ALCS MVP to not getting any offers that winter due to off-field issues and concerns about his defense. Players with major injury concerns like Shaun Marcum and Francisco Liriano also were had at bargains with Liriano panning out big for the Pirates, while Marcum stayed hurt with the Mets. Michael Bourn was hoping for a $90 million deal at the outset of the off-season, but draft pick compensation dragged down his value and he and Swisher were signed by what was seen at the time as bargains by the Indians. Both quickly became albatross contracts the team was able to ship to Atlanta last year.

2014 Years Crowd AAV Years Actual AAV Team Date
James Loney 2 $7.550 3 $7.000 TBR 1/3/2014
Grant Balfour 2 $7.650 2 $6.000 TBR 1/23/2014
Bronson Arroyo 2 $8.300 2 $11.750 ARI 2/12/2014
Jason Hammel 2 $7.400 1 $6.000 CHC 2/13/2014
Fernando Rodney 2 $7.350 2 $7.000 SEA 2/13/2014
A.J. Burnett 2 $13.100 1 $16.000 PHI 2/16/2014
Ubaldo Jimenez 4 $12.200 4 $12.250 BAL 2/19/2014
Nelson Cruz 3 $10.600 1 $8.000 BAL 2/24/2014
Ervin Santana 3 $13.270 1 $14.100 ATL 3/12/2014
22 $87.420 17 $88.100

The Orioles were the big beneficiaries of the market cratering for Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz. Cruz turned down a four-year, $75 million offer from the Rangers the previous season, but draft pick compensation hurt his and Ubaldo's value on the free agent market. Ervin Santana had sought a $100 million deal upon leaving the Royals, but had to settle for a one-year deal with the Braves in the middle of spring training.

2015 Years Crowd AAV Years Actual AAV Team Date
Adam LaRoche 2 $5.000 2 $12.500 CHW 1/4/2015
Aaron Harang 1 $6.000 1 $5.000 PHI 1/5/2015
Josh Johnson 1 $5.000 1 $1.000 SDP 1/7/2015
Emilio Bonifacio 2 $5.000 1 $3.000 CHW 1/8/2015
Delmon Young 1 $3.000 1 $2.250 BAL 1/9/2015
Asdrubal Cabrera 3 $11.000 1 $7.500 TBR 1/10/2015
Stephen Drew 1 $7.000 1 $5.000 NYY 1/16/2015
Nori Aoki 2 $7.000 1 $4.700 SFG 1/19/2015
Colby Rasmus 3 $10.000 1 $8.000 HOU 1/20/2015
Max Scherzer 7 $24.000 7 $30.000 WAS 1/21/2015
Ryan Vogelsong 1 $7.000 1 $4.000 SFG 1/23/2015
Ichiro Suzuki 1 $5.000 1 $2.000 MIA 1/29/2015
James Shields 5 $18.000 4 $18.750 SDP 2/11/2015
Rickie Weeks 2 $6.500 1 $2.000 SEA 2/13/2015
Chris Young 1 $5.000 1 $0.675 KCR 3/7/2015
Francisco Rodriguez 1 $5.000 2 $6.500 MIL 3/14/2015
34 $129.500 27 $112.875

Scherzer is the big outlier here, actually landing a massive deal in January. Many of the other deals are bargains for veterans coming off poor seasons - Asdrubal Cabrera, Nori Aoki, Stephen Drew, Colby Rasmus. Some of these contracts were heavily incentive-laden, like the Royals' deal with Chris Young that eventually paid him $4.325 million. This kind of financial flexibility becomes more possible later in the off-season when teams have leverage against free agents.

Being patient in the free agent market is not without risks, and the Royals may be left sorting through a bargain bin of replacement level outfielders. However, it seems clear the Royals are banking on the market falling through and prices dropping. If recent history is any indication, its a bet that is likely to pay off. As David Lesky at Pine Tar Press put it:

It’s funny because I think a lot of people used to rag on Dayton Moore for jumping out so quickly on the free agent and trade market, but now are getting frustrated with the lack of movement from the Royals. I’m one of those people. I’ll admit it. But as I take a step back, with the way this offseason has unfolded to date, it’s hard to argue with the plan because things do seem to be falling into place for the Royals to get better deals on the market than they’d have had if they came out of that parade offering contracts to anybody and everybody.

The more the standoff drags on, the better the odds the Royals are able to get a deal in free agency, with Alex Gordon, or any other free agent.