Scooter Gennett: Free Agent Question Mark

Going into the 2019 season, Scooter Gennett was one of the more highly regarded players slated to become a part of the 2019-2020 Major League Baseball free agent class. Slashing a combined .303/.351/.508 (.859 OPS) with 50 home runs and 189 RBIs over two years with the Cincinnati Reds, he was one of the most productive second basemen in baseball.

Unfortunately, a severe groin strain limited his playing time and impacted his performance throughout the 2019 season. He only played 21 games with the Reds, slashing just .217/.236/.261 before being traded to the San Francisco Giants for a player to be named later. There, his performance improved, but not enough to keep him on the Giants roster for long, as he was released after just 21 games. Gennett landed on the open market two months earlier than anticipated and faces questions as to how he will fare as a free agent.

Gennett made $9.775 million in 2019, which along with his 2018 All-Star Game appearance, should provide him with some level of leverage in the offseason. Furthermore, the second base market isn’t anything spectacular, as Jonathan Schoop is the only player who seems guaranteed to command a multi-year deal. That being said, however, it would be in Gennett’s best interest to sign early.

The market will contain a host of comparable situations including Wilmer Flores, Starlin Castro, Brian Dozier, Jason Kipnis, Ben Zobrist and Josh Harrison. It seems nearly certain that at least two of these guys will be forced to settle for a non-guaranteed, non-roster contract during mid-to-late February into March. If Scooter signs by the Winter Meetings, however, he could very well command a deal reminiscent of Dozier’s current deal with the Washington Nationals, or Schoop’s deal with the Minnesota Twins (one-year, $7.5-9 million deal).

I would expect the results of a one-year contract for Gennett to wind up closer to the 2019 performance of Schoop, compared to Dozier. Gennett’s 2019 season wasn’t simply the result of poor performance, it was the product of an injury-riddled spring training, which became an injury-riddled regular season. He was never able to fully get himself ready for the season, and it showed in his results.

Recently, the importance of a healthy spring training has been highlighted from the results of relievers Greg Holland and Craig Kimbrel, who had been forced to wait for the season to begin before signing, typically based on draft-pick compensation. Even Dallas Keuchel, who has posted strong bottom-line results (3.47 ERA), seems to have benefited from very good fortune, as his FIP is 4.51.

Overall, Gennett should be fully healthy going into the 2020 season and looks like a strong candidate to be starting at the cornerstone for somebody on opening day. My projections have him slashing .283/.324/.452 (.776 OPS) with 15 home runs and 63 RBIs over 478 plate appearances. Still reasonably young, if Gennett is able to perform to the projections, or better, he could set himself up for a much more lucrative multi-year contract going into the 2021 season.

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