Reviewing Last Year’s MLB Free-Agent Signings

Photo Credit: David Banks/Getty Images

Photo Credit: David Banks/Getty Images

THE GOOD

Nelson Cruz – Right Field / Designated Hitter, Seattle Mariners (Age: 35)
Deal: 4 years, $57 million
Annual Salary Remaining:
2016: $14.25 million
2017: $14.25 million
2018: $14.25 million

The Skinny: Coming off a stellar 2014 season with the Baltimore Orioles, several teams were questioning if Cruz could continue his late career surge. They answer one year later is a resounding YES. Cruz had a monster 2015 season hitting .304 with 44 HR and 93 RBI topped off with a .935 OPS. The M’s did an excellent job juggling his starts between right field and designated hitter to keep him fresh throughout the season. It is likely he will transition into more of a full-time DH over the next couple years, and the injury concerns will remain, but early returns on Cruz were excellent.  Power hitting is at a premium, and the Mariners have a power bat locked up for the next three years at a relatively modest price tag.

Grade: B+

Jon Lester – Starting Pitcher, Chicago Cubs (Age: 32)
Deal:
6 years, $155 million (2021 Option includes a $10M buyout, 2021 vests with 200 IP in 2020, or 400 IP between 2019 – 2020, full no trade clause)
Annual Salary Remaining:
2016: $25 million
2017: $25 million
2018: $27.5 million
2019: $27.5 million
2020: $20 million
2021: $25 million (vesting year, with a club option)

The Skinny: I’m sure if you asked Jon Lester about his first year in Chicago, he wouldn’t be fully satisfied. Falling short of his (and the teams) lofty expectations, he struggled mightily in several starts en route to posting a 11-12 record with a 3.34 ERA. While the on-field performance last year might not match his $20-plus million salary, his signing made an early statement the Cubs were going to be a force for years to come. Lester gave the Cubs and their fans hope and credibility which cannot entirely be measured by his wins and losses. Should Lester stay healthy and anchor a Cubs World Series title team, his contract will be worth its weight in Old Style beer and much MUCH more. In an era of rising salaries, Lester’s contract could be viewed as more of the norm than an aberration before it’s all said and done.

Grade: B

Russell Martin – Catcher, Toronto Blue Jays (Age: 33)
Deal:
5 years, $82 million
Annual Salary Remaining:
2016: $15 million
2017: $20 million
2018: $20 million
2019: $20 million

The Skinny: Toronto coaxed the Ontario native north of the border with a hefty five-year contract. Initial returns on their investment were positive, as Martin was selected to the All-Star Game and posted a career high 23 home runs. The veteran catcher also provided his typical steady play behind the dish and led the league in percentage of runners caught stealing. The value of Martin’s contract extends beyond the field, as Toronto proved it was once again capable of luring top free-agent talent.

At age 33, it appears Martin has at least a couple more productive seasons at catcher, thus softening some of the burden of the back end of his contract. The tail-end of his contract will be painful as it’s hard to justify $20 million to a 36-year-old catcher, but Martin was the backbone to last year’s American League East crown, and the Jays are positioned for another postseason run this year. Any time an acquisition directly leads to postseason appearances, it has to be viewed as successful.

Grade: B –

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