Wish lists are a big part of the holiday season, and baseball is no exception. However, general managers around the league do not have the advantage of Black Friday bargains. Teams forced to satisfy their needs in the free agent market usually pay full price, and then some, so making an imprudent purchase can prove costly for years to come.
Free agency is a risky proposition for baseball teams. With the exception of the truly elite who hit the open market while still in midst of their prime, free agents are often seeking to cash in on past performance. That’s why doubts always linger when mulling over a big acquisition. However, this year’s free agent class seems to have more than its fair share of question marks. Even the cream of the crop has a greater potential to turn sour. In particular, Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke, the best player and pitcher on the market, are not only saddled with additional risk, but they are also being held to the standards of recent award winning performances that have never been repeated. However, because of the recent trend toward long-term extensions that has thinned out the talent level of the free agent pool, both could break the bank when they eventually come to terms on a new deal.
Hamilton and Greinke have taken a similar path to their current position. Both players were early first round draft picks who entered the professional ranks as highly touted prospects, only to see their careers derailed by personal difficulties. At times written off, Hamilton and Greinke not only re-emerged as productive contributors, but they eventually went on to win an MVP and Cy Young, respectively. However, neither player has lived up to their award winning performances since being honored. And yet, they are both on the precipice of a major payday.
Although Hamilton probably won’t come close to the $200 million figure that was floated around during the season, the lefty slugger is still a good bet to command an average annual salary north of $20 million for at least five years. Considering Hamilton has never come close to approaching his 2010 MVP campaign (his next two highest bWAR ratings combined are barely better than his result that year), such a commitment would be hard to swallow even without the outfielder’s unusually high risk profile. However, when those factors are entered into the equation, it’s even harder to justify the numbers being bandied about.