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Ranking 2023’s large free agent contracts

There was a lot of money spent last off-season in the MLB, how is that working out so far?

MLB: New York Yankees at Kansas City Royals Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Last year’s free agency period saw almost $4 billion dollars in guaranteed contracts for baseball players. This included eight contracts of more than $150 million. I just wanted to review those big contracts and see how they looked after year one. I thought we had all learned that you don’t give long, expensive contracts to players in their 30s, but evidently not. Here are those eight contracts ranked from the one I would most like to be holding to the least.

#1 Dansby Swanson

7 years/$177 Million 2023 bWAR/fWAR: 4.8/4.9

One year in, Swanson looks like the smartest signing in my opinion. He was cheaper and signed to a shorter deal than the other big shortstops, which is the biggest advantage. He was also younger than most of the players on this list at only 29, so he is signed through age 35. A 5 win player for less than $30 million a year is a bargain, and he was even better than that in 2022. The only downside with Swanson is that he is very dependent on defense to get the value because his bat is only average. He should be able to be a 3+ win player though, so at that cost I feel like he is a solid guy to have at an appropriate price with some upside.

#2 Brandon Nimmo

8 years/$162 Million 2023 bWAR/fWAR: 4/4.3

I hesitated to put Nimmo here because of his injury history, but everyone else on the list has injury issues too, though some less worrisome than Nimmo’s. They got a discount because of that, so the $20 million per year means he only needs to remain an every day player or slightly better to really be worth the contract. Is he going to be worth that in his age 36 and 37 season, maybe not, but $20 million might only be 1.5 WAR at that point. There is upside here for sure as long as he doesn’t age like Alex Gordon.

#3 Carlos Correa

6 years/$200 Million 2023 bWAR/fWAR: 1.4/1.1

We are already into the contracts I would prefer not to be holding at this point. Correa is strictly here because I don’t think one down year should be held against him too much and the time committed to him only goes through age 33. Hopefully he won’t fall off a cliff, thought the drama around his physical last off-season definitely gives me pause. A guy with a track record of consistently putting up 3.5 to 6 wins in the prime of his career theoretically, this has enough upside to make the risk possibly be worth it.

#4 Xander Bogaerts

11 years/$280 Million 2023 bWAR/fWAR: 4.4/4.4

The decisions are getting hard now, and for some reason I trust Bogaerts to age better than a lot of the others. His record of production is impeccable, so I think he will remain productive for at least the first half of the contract. The problem is the age 36 through 40 year old portion, which I would really like to not have on my books if I were a GM. Is he at third base then? First base? I’m not sure, but defensively he will lose value for sure and his bat needs to stay at a high level to justify the over $25 million he will be getting paid. They are hoping, I assume, to bank 20 to 25 WAR in value in the front part of the contract to get the bulk of the $280 million of total value, and I could see him doing enough there to make this not a bust.

#5 Trea Turner

11 years/$280 Million 2023 bWAR/fWAR: 3.4/3.8

See Bogaerts, Xander. His contract is a little bit more money and I have concerns about what is value is if he slows down and can’t play shortstop anymore. He also got off to a terrible start this year before playing very well down the stretch and into the playoffs. His peaks are higher than Bogaerts, but he has not been as consistent as a hitter, so I rank them this way. You could argue the other direction, but it is probably more luck than anything that will determine which contract ends up being the better one.

#6 Jacob DeGrom

5 years/$185 Million 2023 bWAR/fWAR: 0.9/1.5

Jacob deGrom is still awesome when he is pitching, but he clearly can’t stay healthy anymore. He has not been above the 100 inning mark since before the pandemic in 2019. Paying $37 Million a year for a guy to throw 30 innings is less than ideal, though you could argue that it got Texas a few more wins on their way to a World Series and was therefore worth it. I am assuming after that happens four more times the fans will be less forgiving of it, but we shall see. Oh, and he is going into his age 36 season here too, so his ability to recover is only likely to get worse at this point.

#7 Carlos Rodón

6 years/$162 Million 2023 bWAR/fWAR: -0.9/-0.2

Would you like deGrom only not effective when he is healthy? That was 2023 for Rodón. To have a brand new contract for $27 Million a year turn into 64.1 innings and an ERA of over six is pretty amazing really. He has consistently had injury problems his whole career, so this should not be super shocking. He could come back next year and compete for a Cy Young, but over the next five years you have to expect at least three or four are going to be injury riddled frustrations for Yankees fans.

#8 Aaron Judge

9 years/$360 Million 2023 bWAR/fWAR: 4.5/5.3

I thought about him at number six, he is really good still and should have a couple more years at that level or at least close, but he is already going into his age 32 season, and he is a very large human being, and he has had a lot of injury issues in past including his 2023 season. The day they signed the contract I didn’t like it, so I might be a little biased here. I just think there is a cliff coming and I would not want to be paying $40 million a year for a guy that might turn into a shell of himself very quickly. Think Albert Pujols in Anaheim.

As usual, signing pitchers to long-term deals is very risky. Both of them here are already looking pretty bad. Occasionally you get a Max Scherzer in Washington deal that works out, but generally owning the rights to a pitcher for a long period of time at a high cost is just not going to return the team positive value. I know a lot of these deals are longer than necessary to push AAV down, but they still are mostly deals that don’t look like they are going to work out very well.

My question is, was last season an anomaly or are teams going to spend aggressively again over the next few seasons? Shohei Ohtani is the big one in the next couple of months, but with the injury and his unicorn-like nature, I’m not sure we will learn a lot from his contract. The three to watch to see what contract length and dollars are for premium free agents will be Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Blake Snell, and Cody Bellinger. Yamamoto is young, which might change the calculus there, and Bellinger’s history makes him riskier than normal for a guy with his talent. Still, I think their contracts will be bellwethers for where free agency is headed.