Editor’s Note: Ben Nicholson-Smith covers free agents, trades and other moves for MLB Trade Rumors.com, the premier online destination for news, rumors and discussion about baseball transactions. You can follow him on Twitter: @mlbtrben.
After an off-season that saw baseball’s owners sign player after player to lucrative free agent contracts and extensions, the 2011 campaign has begun. We’re already a month into the season, and while it’s still early, it’s not too early to take stock of the 10 players who signed the biggest off-season deals.
Are teams regretting their multi-million dollar commitments? Feeling pretty good about them? Thrilled with the early returns? Here’s a look at how the 10 biggest investments of the off-season are looking so far; I’ve divided them into two categories, and I’m only considering deals completed before April 1st:
- Troy Tulowitzki, seven year, $134MM extension (on top of previous deal) – Tulowitzki may have slowed down to an extent after a searing start, but little doubt remains that he’s one of baseball’s best young talents.
- Cliff Lee, five year, $120MM free agent signing — The prize of the winter, Lee is pitching well, though it’s easy to be overlooked in Philadelphia’s stacked rotation. Lee’s 3.66 ERA is higher than it was in 2009 or 2010, but his rate stats of 10.4 K/9 and 1.4 BB/9 suggest he’s his same, dominant self. The Phillies are getting what they paid for.
- Adrian Beltre, five year, $80MM free agent signing — Beltre’s 2010 was going to be a difficult season to replicate, no matter what. So far, so good for the Rangers, who have seen Beltre club seven homers and play his usual Gold Glove-caliber defense at third base.
- Jose Bautista, five year, $64MM extension — Though currently sidelined with a sore neck, Bautista has been unbelievably good for the Blue Jays. The AL player of the month for April, he leads the league in runs, home runs, walks, average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Not quite enough for you? The Dominican Republic native leads all major leaguers with 2.8 wins above replacement, though he has only played in 25 games.
- Carl Crawford, seven year, $142MM free agent signing — No one was expecting Crawford to have a .193/.240/.272 line on May 5th. After a banner year in 2010, he has just one homer and five steals so far.
- Jayson Werth, seven year, $126MM free agent signing — Werth has a .227/.320/.400 line with four homers and seven RBIs – not the kind of production the Nationals were expecting when they signed Werth to a seven-year deal.
- Carlos Gonzalez, seven year, $80MM extension — The 25-year-old has failed to live up to the lofty standards he established last year, when he won the battling title and posted a .974 OPS. So far in 2011, CarGo has a .257/.325/.366 line with two homers.
- Dan Uggla, five year, $62MM extension — Uggla has five homers, but just a .218/.276/.395 batting line.
- Adam Dunn, four year, $56MM free agent signing — It has been a tough first month for Dunn, who has just a .153/.301/.282 line. With just three homers against 33 strikeouts, his first month in the Windy City has been a bust.
- Derek Jeter, three year, $51MM free agent signing — Jeter disappointed fans last year when he hit .270/.340/.370. Those numbers are looking robust compared to his current .250/.308/.269 line. The captain has just two extra base hits this year.
So, will these deals end up being regrettable? I find it highly unlikely that Uggla and Dunn will continue hitting this poorly. They’re among the most consistent power hitters in the game and should still be in their prime. They’ll come around, despite their early-season slumps.
Crawford, who carried one of the lowest batting averages on balls in play in baseball throughout April, is now starting to hit like his old self. Chances are his offense will catch up to his defense and base running, and the Red Sox will get what they paid for. Werth, the off-season’s other elite free agent outfielder, will likely come around, and Gonzalez is just entering his prime.
As for Jeter, the Yankees know he’s no longer in his prime, and they knew that when they signed him. He may never hit the way he did a decade ago, or even a few years ago, but the Yankees didn’t sign Jeter under the illusion that he’s still an elite player. They have far more money than any other team, so how could they allow their franchise icon to walk away at a time when the free agent alternatives at shortstop were uniformly uninspiring? For the Yankees, the only option less palatable than seeing Jeter struggle in pinstripes might be seeing him suit up for a rival team.