Agents break down best, worst MLB deals

The Yankees signed Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury to re-charge for the 2014 season. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)
March 14, 2014, 8:14 AM

MLB teams spent more than $2.25 billion on free agents this past off-season. It’ll be years before we can safely say how most of these deals play out, especially the long-term commitments. But we can already determine which deals are being praised and criticized within the industry.

To determine the best (and worst) deals of the winter, Sportsnet reached out to 15 MLB agents. As a general rule, player agents prefer deals that include more dollars and guaranteed years. Not only do big contracts serve players, they keep agents in business with commissions. It’s no surprise, then, that agents loved Robinson Cano’s $240-million contract and Clayton Kershaw’s $215-million extension. Short-term deals that offer players limited security weren’t so popular.

Here’s an overview of some of the best deals of the winter as seen from agents’ perspective:

Best Free Agent Deals For Players

Robinson Cano, Seattle Mariners, ten years, $240 million, Roc Nation with CAA Sports

This deal was viewed as a win for Cano, even if the Mariners haven’t necessarily filled their roster out with playoff-caliber players. He’s a great player — maybe a Hall of Famer when it’s all said and done — but $200-million deals have been hit and miss, as the owners paying Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols can attest.

Jacoby Ellsbury, New York Yankees, seven years, $153 million, Boras Corporation

Ellsbury cashed in despite having just one season with double digit home runs (he hit 32 in 2011 and followed that up with four homers in 2012 and nine homers in 2013). Traditionally free agency has rewarded power hitters rather than speed and defence specialists like Ellsbury, leading agents to remark that the contract was a good one for the player.

Honourable Mentions

Shin-Soo Choo (seven years, $130 million, Boras Corporation), Brian McCann (five years, $85 million, Jet Sports), Jhonny Peralta (four years, $53 million, Relativity Sports), Ricky Nolasco (four years, $49 million, Sosnick/Cobbe), Mike Napoli (two years, $32 million, Paragon Sports International), Jason Vargas (four years, $32 million, CAA Sports), Carlos Ruiz (three years, $26 million, Marc Kligman), Bronson Arroyo (two years, $23.5 million, Turn 2 Sports Management), Scott Kazmir (two years, $22 million, Legacy), James Loney (three years, $21 million, Legacy)

Best Free Agent Deals For Teams

Nelson Cruz, Baltimore Orioles, one year, $8 million, Wasserman Media Group

Cruz’s modest one-year deal was the runaway pick for best deal by a team. The right-handed hitter will make an impact as Baltimore’s designated hitter, and even though he cost the Orioles a draft pick, they could obtain another one a year from now by making Cruz a qualifying offer. The 33-year-old reportedly sought a contract worth $75 million before taking $8 million when he rejected a qualifying offer and his market bottomed out. “Every agent’s nightmare,” remarked one player rep.

Ervin Santana, Atlanta Braves, one year, $14.1 million, Jay Alou

The Braves did extremely well to shore up their injured starting staff with Santana, who was available on a one-year deal. The right-handed fly ball pitcher figures to succeed in Atlanta’s Turner Field. Much like Cruz, Santana had surprisingly difficult time in free agency, signing with the Braves for nearly $100 million less than his initial asking price.

Paul Maholm, Los Angeles Dodgers, one year, $1.5 million, Bo McKinnis

The 31-year-old might not be an ace, but he has averaged 28 starts with a 3.89 ERA since 2011. Signing him on a one-year deal was a great move by the Dodgers in the view of agents.

Dan Haren, Los Angeles Dodgers, one year, $10 million, CAA Sports

Haren has the potential to be more than a No. 4 starter, yet the Dodgers got him on a reasonable one-year contract that earned praise from some agents.

A.J. Burnett, Philadelphia Phillies, one year, $16 million, Frontline

If Burnett comes close to replicating last year’s 3.30 ERA and 209 strikeouts, the Phillies will have themselves a clear bargain.

Best Extensions For Players

Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers, seven years, $215 million, Excel Sports Management

Kershaw obtained a record contract for pitchers, which makes this deal a favourite for other agents. Not only does he cash in, he gets to firm up a legacy in Los Angeles while pitching for one of the National League’s best teams.

Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves, eight years, $135 million, Excel Sports Management

Agents pointed to Freeman’s contract as a deal that changed the market for arbitration-eligible players. Remember, Paul Goldschmidt signed for $32 million over five years just last winter. Freeman’s contract, along with Andrelton Simmons’ deal with the Braves (seven years, $58 million, Relativity Sports) and Matt Carpenter’s deal with the St. Louis Cardinals (six years, $52 million, SSG Baseball), changed the market for players in or approaching their arbitration years. Those players no longer have to wait for free agency to get paid big money — a reality that Mike Trout may reinforce loud and clear before opening day.

Win-Win Deal

Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees, seven years, $155 million, Excel Sports Management

Some agents were impressed that Tanaka obtained such a massive guarantee despite having never pitched in the big leagues. But, as one agent remarked “if he is as  good as he looks so far, he will outperform that deal.” There’s no doubt that this one has the potential to be the best kind of deal there is: a win-win.

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