Overpays, Underpays, and Questionable Deals in the Free Agent Market



Since the lockout ended, we’ve seen a flurry of free agent signings, as we expected. In each case, we’ve plugged the numbers (typically, years and dollars) into our model. Doing so provides us with a cross-check, as it’s a real-life data point, to check the model’s accuracy. 

For the most part, the deals fit the model pretty well, mostly matching or slightly exceeding fair value. But there were a few interesting ones that caught our eye.

Biggest overpay: Kris Bryant, Rockies, 7 years, $182M

Our model thinks that seven years of Kris Bryant is worth $96M. Even if we tack on a 10% premium for market demand for a star (which is debatable for him at this point), that only gets us to $105.6M. That’s an overpay of $76.4M. 

Keep in mind that the Rockies are the least analytical of all the teams – they fired their head of analytics recently, there was an exodus of analysts prior to that, and their previous GM, who had an Ivy League education and at least something of a head for numbers, is also gone. The owner and the old-school former scouting head are running things, and there’s no indication they have any desire to quantify value.

The consensus in the industry seems to agree with us. Dan Szymborski’s Zips model projects Bryant’s contract to be worth between $67M and $70M, depending on where he lands defensively – well over $100M shy of his guaranteed salary.

Curiously, the fans who contributed to Fangraphs’ crowdsourcing project came pretty close, predicting 6/150 – a $25M AAV, just shy of the $26M AAV Bryant received. MLB Trade Rumors also was in the neighborhood, at 6/160, or $26.7M AAV, so kudos to both.

It’s rare to see such a disparity between model-driven approaches and non-model approaches, so this bears watching over time.

Best value deal: Carlos Correa, Twins, 3 years (with opt-outs), $105.1M

Take a look at these numbers:
























There’s very little chance either side can lose this deal. Here’s why:

For the Twins: They get Correa for all of 2022, at minimum. Given that he’s worth more than $35.1M, they’re getting high-quality production at a bargain price. If they make the playoffs, they also have him for bonus time in October. If they have a losing season, they can flip him at the deadline for a decent return, presuming he’s healthy and productive. Worst-case scenario is that he either underperforms or gets hurt. But even in that case, he’d probably decide to stay with the Twins for at least another year, where they could again get his services for at least fair value.

For Correa: He earns at least a record amount (for an infielder) for one year, for a team that has a chance at a playoff run. If all goes well, he can opt out and get potentially more next offseason, making this effectively a pillow deal. If the team makes the playoffs, he’s on a winner. If the team fails, he’d be traded to a team in the playoff hunt, meaning he’d also be on a winner. If he underperforms or gets hurt, he can opt in for 2023 and get at least another $35.1M, starting the process over.

The key here is that, on paper, Correa has surplus value, which is what makes this click for the Twins. Believe it or not, they underpaid for him. They also minimized their risk by capping the deal at three years, which means if he has some sort of catastrophic injury, they’re not stuck with the contract beyond 2024.

Risky, but fair: Carlos Rodon, Giants, 2 years, $44M

After struggling to meet high expectations for most of his career with the White Sox (he put up four consecutive years of less than 1 WAR each), Rodon fixed something and finally came alive last year, breaking out for 4.9 fWAR and delivering his best numbers ever, including peripherals. 

Despite that, the White Sox declined to issue him a Qualifying Offer, essentially implying that he wasn’t worth $18.9M. They would have received a draft pick when he declined, so to not even offer it suggests that they valued him significantly below that number. 

The fact that he spent the end of 2021 on the IL with “arm soreness” seemed to be the reason – they didn’t trust that he would be healthy enough to justify that price. And you would think that would have tanked his market, since the team that knew him best made this decision.

Yet it didn’t seem to stop Farhan Zaidi and the Giants. They’re betting on the upside here, and perhaps, trusting their own training and medical staff to take care of Rodon should the issue persist. 

The good news for them is, they’re probably right. Our model suggests he’s worth $44.8M over two years, even with some injury risk baked in. Of course, injury risk is the trickiest variable to quantify, so we could be offbase here, but the fact that the Giants are essentially aligned with us, and have more resources and advanced valuation methods, gives us some comfort that this deal is not as risky as it may first appear. It’s fair.

Risky, and probably overpaid: Phillies relievers

For the most part, this year’s reliever contracts fit our model pretty well, as you can see by a few examples here:




Total Salary

BTV value


Kendall Graveman

White Sox





Colin McHugh






Andrew Chafin






Adam Ottavino






Ian Kennedy






Jake Diekman

Red Sox





Ryan Tepera






There’s a little bit of variance here and there, but that’s normal for relievers.

Now have a look at this table:




Total Salary

BTV value


Jeurys Familia






Brad Hand






Corey Knebel






See a pattern here? Either we’re missing something or the Phillies are taking some wild gambles. Obviously, they’ve struggled with their bullpen over the last couple of years, so we can’t blame them for stretching to correct the problem. 

But overpaying significantly for both Familia and Hand seems to be a bet that they’ll somehow regain their lost form. Familia hasn’t had a positive-WAR year since 2018. Hand put up -0.1 fWAR last year, and an even more dreadful -1.86 WPA. Maybe they think they can work with them. Even so, spending $12M on two guys who couldn’t get many outs last year seems a bit excessive.

Not so risky, but also overpaid: Nick Castellanos, Phillies, 5 years, $100M

The Phillies also overpaid for Nick Castellanos, whose fair value for five years, according to our model, is $62.6M, putting the deal in the red to the tune of -$37.4M.

Interestingly, there was a wide disparity in the predictions by other sites. Fangraphs’ crowdsourcing model predicted 4/64, for a $16M AAV. MLBTR predicted 5/115, or a $23M AAV. Our estimate is the low one, at roughly $12.5M AAV. He got $20M per year.

We get that Castellanos’ bat is the big draw, and teams will often overpay for offense, so we could see something in the 5/70-ish range as fair when market value is considered. But even so, we have found that the market on the whole discounts defensively-challenged DH types, so that’s a big check to cut to a guy with that profile.

Best fit with our model: Anthony Rizzo, Yankees, 2 years, $32M

Our model says Rizzo is worth $31.7M, which, if you round up (as most front offices do in these cases), matches the contract terms exactly. This is probably a coincidence.

In theory, each free agent should have a surplus value close to zero, as that would mean they’re getting paid exactly what their future production is worth. In reality, the resulting number is often slightly negative – that is, the player is getting paid a bit above his fair value because the top bidder won the auction. If 29 other teams didn’t meet the asking price, it means that if they were traded, those other 29 teams would offer slightly less for that player, because their estimate of fair value is a bit below what the winning bidder paid. That fits this case to a tee.

Side note: When the Cubs offered Rizzo an extension for five years at $70M last spring, the reaction on Twitter and in the baseball world was that it was laughable. Even if you Google it now, you’ll see a headline: “The Cubs offered Rizzo a lowball extension.” He turned it down. 

But I remember checking the numbers in our model at the time, and it came out pretty close to fair. He’s an older guy in decline, and any contract he figured to have received from a competent GM would reflect that. Sure enough, since then, his performance has declined, and so, in turn, has his AAV. I believe the Cubs’ offer was fair at the time, all things considered. He probably should have taken it.

Best value extension: Matt Olson, Braves, 9 years, $168M

Okay, this one doesn’t count as a free agent signing, but we’re going to include it anyway, and call it a win/win. Our model says nine years of Olson is worth $200.9, creating a surplus of $32.9M. That of course benefits the Braves, who are getting his production at a discount, which in turn frees up resources for other roster improvements. 

But it’s hard to fault Olson here either, since he’s a local Atlanta guy who grew up a Braves fan, and can now play in front of family and friends. He and his new wife also just bought a house in the area, so from a quality of life standpoint, this one is hard to beat.

About the Author

John Bitzer

John Bitzer

Founder and editor of baseballtradevalues.com
  1. DB A

    How does the Olson valuation include the opportunity cost of the arb years that were bought out?

    • John Bitzer

      It’s baked in. All long-term contracts are discounted for contract risk, which is a loss of flexibility. So in this case those calculations superseded the flexibility of the arb years.

  2. Nate Dub

    The Rodon signing is properly stated: risky but fair. The advantage is that the Giants are still something like 80M under the luxury tax threshold, so Rodon isn’t going to hurt them if he spends the entire stint on the IL, although it’s still not ideal.

    Also, it still blows my mind that Rodon wasn’t offered a QO. Then again, when Rick Hahn picked up Kimbrel’s option, I didn’t think very highly of his decision-making skills.

    P.S.: The Matt Olson acquisition is the #1 acquisition this winter, any team. I think the Braves will be happy they got Olson instead of bringing back Freeman.

  3. Jon Waterhouse

    Are you restricting yourself to deals after the lockout? That Wander Franco extension seems pretty good for the Rays. It was signed after the season ended. Is it too hard to evaluate since he is young and hasn’t played enough games? It could end up giving a huge surplus.

    • John Bitzer

      Not at all. This was not meant to be comprehensive; just a look at some interesting cases. Franco’s extension was plugged into our model right after it happened. You can see the surplus if you look him up. He’s also near the top of our highest/lowest list.

  4. Lenin Cat

    Hi, John. Does your model account for opt-outs at all? I haven’t read anything on how to value opt-outs. For instance, if Correa has a career ending injury this year, the Twins (or their insurance company) are stuck paying him $70m over the following two years. That offers some value to Correa though I don’t know how to quantify it. We did see that with Arenado that potential trades were tricky because he had an opt-out near the front of his long contract.

    • John Bitzer

      I think it does. For any contract longer than two years, we bake in a risk estimate for each year, which represents the risk the team is taking in opportunity-cost terms. If, beyond that, there is surplus in an opt-out year, we assume the player would opt out, since they’re likely to get paid more.

Submit a Comment