With nearly a full month gone from the 2018 Major League Baseball regular season, we’re beginning to see which free agency deals have been worth the money, and which could use a do-over. Even in market slowed to a crawl by the owners trying to save a buck, we had a fair number of blockbuster movements from free agent players.
With teams having played as many as 26 games already, we can see who fits where in their first seasons with their new teams. With that, let’s jump into the five best and five worst free agent signings in the 2018 campaign.
Shohei Ohtani is revolutionizing baseball, and that’s enough to put him on this list. Otherwise, he’s been an immensely valuable player on the hill and at the dish in his first month in the big leagues. Ohtani is hitting .333/.378/.619 with three home runs, 11 RBIs, and three walks in 45 plate appearances as a hitter, with a powerful stance reminiscent to 2015 National League Most Valuable Player Bryce Harper.
As a pitcher, he’s 2-1 in four starts, compiling a 4.43 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 20.1 innings pitched. He has hit the same number of home runs for the Los Angeles Angels this season as he has allowed, which is slightly hilarious. The hype around the emergence of Ohtani was justified, and he’s proving it early on.
2) Jake Arrieta
Early results from The Great Jake Arrieta Experiment are in, and guess what? He can still pitch like an ace. The Philadelphia Phillies snagged the ex-Chicago Cub in a free agency deal last winter and have been pleased with his performance thus far, anchoring an otherwise very young starting rotation.Some free agent deals have been great, and some ... not so much. Here are the five best and the five worst so far in 2018.Click To Tweet
The 2015 Cy Young Award winner is 3-0 with an ERA of 1.82 in his first four starts with Philly, striking out 18 over 24.2 innings. The former All-Star right-hander has posted a 217 ERA+ with 96 batters faced under his belt. Signed through 2020, Arrieta will be a big part of the Phillies’ plans to contend soon.
J.D. Martinez is looking like the steal of free agency thus far, as the slugger waited out an abnormal market and inked a five-year, $110 million deal with the Boston Red Sox in the offseason. Both Martinez and the Sox have been reaping the rewards early in 2018.
Martinez is slashing .296/.344/.531 with four home runs and 15 RBIs in a high-octane Red Sox offense, playing designated hitter or a corner outfield spot in 21 games this season. The right-hander has not looked out of place with the American League East-leading Sox and will play a pivotal role in any postseason stretch.
4) Lorenzo Cain
A 1.1 WAR mark after 23 games is decent, I’d say. Lorenzo Cain is providing value everywhere in a premier position for the Milwaukee Brewers after signing a five-year, $80 million deal for his second stint with the Brew Crew in the offseason. The former MVP finalist in the AL is now making a case for such in the NL in 2018.
With 100 plate appearances under his belt so far, Cain is hitting .298/.400/.476 with three home runs, eight RBIs, and five steals. Cain has walked almost as many times as he has struck out this season (15 to 17) — walks are one of many stats in which Cain is on pace for a career-high.
5) Wade Davis
An All-Star in three straight seasons, Wade Davis’s place as an elite closer in baseball is pre-established. Nonetheless, the new Colorado Rockies reliever is still surprising us and pitching up to the expectations of his three-year, $52 million contract signed in the offseason.
Davis has an MLB-high nine saves in his 11 appearances on the mound, pitching to an 0-0 record with an ERA of 2.61. Davis has struck out 12 in 10.1 innings, compiled a WHIP of just 0.677, and only surrendered three bases on balls.
1) Yu Darvish
I was one of many who did not worry about Yu Darvish’s struggles with pitching in the World Series; I figured it was a one-off thing and Darvish’s full body of work convinced me that he’d be fine. Early on this season with the Cubs, Darvish has been the same pitcher that exploded as a Los Angeles Dodger in the Fall Classic.
With four starts and 19.2 innings over with, Darvish has pitched to an 0-2 record, a 6.86 ERA, and 11 walks. Though he’s still whiffing batters at an above-average rate (21 strikeouts, 9.6 per nine innings), control has been a major issue, and his 1.627 WHIP is an indicator of that. Darvish is signed through 2023, at $126 million total, and fans in the north side of Chicago hope for a quick improvement from the Japanese righty.
Carlos Santana signed one of those deals where the team knows it’s a gross overpay, but they’ll do it anyway to get a valuable veteran presence in the clubhouse. Other than that, Santana has shown next to nothing good for the Phillies early on in the 2018 season.
The 32-year-old is slashing .171/.304/.305 with two home runs and 11 RBIs on just 14 hits in 102 plate appearances. Santana is always a tough out, and he has drawn 16 walks compared to 17 strikeouts, but he has a far higher ceiling than this lackluster early-season showing. His three-year, $60 million free agent contract doesn’t look like anything but trouble in Philly right now.
3) Greg Holland
The St. Louis Cardinals knew that Greg Holland was a risk vs. reward signing, and they weren’t really sure what they’d get. Early on this season, it’s safe that the NL leader in saves from last year is not the same pitcher this year. That variability has followed Holland for his entire career, and it’s exactly why he signed two days after the season had already begun — it’s hard to take a chance on Holland.
The three-time All-Star has an 0-1 record with an ERA of 5.06 in 5.1 innings this season, coming in seven separate appearances. He has not recorded a save, has struck out just five batters this season, and is now being used as a middle-relief guy after being signed to be the elite closer he has been in the past. It’s not going well in the Gateway City.
4) Jay Bruce
Jay Bruce wasn’t exactly signed to rip the world up; rather, he was a relatively cheap, veteran dude on a team with a lot of the same kind of players. However, you can expect more from a three-time All-Star on a team currently on top of the NL East, especially after a 36-homer, 101-RBI 2017 campaign.
Bruce has been underwhelming to say the least, hitting .227/.301/.413 early into the 2018 season with two home runs and 11 RBIs. Striking out 17 times and walking on eight occasions, Bruce needs to get his bat going to be of any value this season, as he doesn’t provide elite defense in right field by any means. For the Mets to have success later on this season, Bruce and his lefty bat have to play a bigger role.
5) Zack Cozart
A team as stacked as the Angels don’t necessarily need a guy like Zack Cozart to step up, but his 2018 production has been nothing like his All-Star season of 2017. Cozart came over after a career year with the Cincinnati Reds last season, and he has been nowhere close to replicating that prolific two-way presence in the infield.
Now playing third base rather than shortstop, Cozart has slashed .226/.284/.376 with two long balls and nine RBIs in 2018. In 102 plate appearances, Cozart has walked just six times and knocked a hit in only 21, and for that reason, he has been taken out of his season-opening spot as the Angels leadoff man. Cozart has plenty of time to get things in order, but the righty could use a quick adjustment to play up to his three-year contract.