The 2017 MLB Best and Worst Off Season Signings (7/27/17)

By Frank Brank
Off season signings are a leading indicator on the success or detriment of a team. Those that make moves that provide value for the money spent in free agent market, tend to do well. Those that lose out on that value typically struggle. Using purely results-based analysis (wins above replacement), let's take a look back at the MLB signings from the offseason and see the best and worst offseason moves to this point in the season.

The Bad and Ugly

Jeremy Hellickson ($17.2M, 0.3 WAR) and Michael Saunders ($8M, -0.7 WAR)
I was a fan of the Phillies moves in the offseason and considered them a team with young potential flying under the radar. That seems a bit misguided now that they've struggled, posted a .354 win percentage, the lowest mark in baseball. Their young hitters that made strides in their first few seasons aren't performing even at their previous rates, the staff, outside of Aaron Nola, has been a disappointment, and their signings handicapped the team.

Two of those signings were pitcher, Jeremy Hellickson, and outfielder, Michael Saunders. Collectively, the Phillies spent $25.2M on those two players to provide -0.4 wins above replacement thus far. Hence, any two random replacement-level player, making league minimum, would be more valuable and $24.2M cheaper.

Jose Bautista ($18M, 0.1 WAR)
The Blue Jays happened to dodge a few other potentially bad contracts by declining to resign Michael Saunders and Edwin Encarnacion. To avoid losing most of their team, the Jays signed Bautista for $18M with two option years. The aging Bautista hasn't hit well all season with just a 95 wRC+ (5% below average) and .221 batting average with .333 on-base percentage. If Toronto continues to struggle, it would be tough to see them willing to pick up his mutual option, leaving them in a particular spot needing position players with one year of Josh Donaldson's contract left. They'll need to commit to a number of players in the off season or sell off for prospects.

Mark Melancon ($15.5M, 0.2 WAR)
After a resurgence in Pittsburgh, Mark Melancon became one of the richest relievers in baseball. The Giants now owe the 32 year old closer $15.5M each year until 2020. With injuries, velocity reduction, and a boost in home run rate, Melancon's contract may be one of the worst contracts in baseball over the next few seasons. Melancon has blown four saves this season in just 20.2 innings pitched in a season riddled with injuries.

Bartolo Colon ($12.5M, 0.3 WAR) and R.A. Dickey ($8M, 0.4WAR)
I was a fan of the Braves' off season moves coming into the year, including Colon and Dickey's signings. The Braves were not signing the veterans as a chance to compete, but to use in trades at the deadline. If either of the low-risk rentals performed this season, they would have worked out to get a valuable haul of prospects for $20M in salary for one season. Unfortunately, neither did.

Colon has already moved onto the Twins after struggling in the worst year of his career with an 8.00 ERA, 5.07 FIP over 15 starts this season. Dickey has fared slightly better with a 4.31 ERA, 5.09 FIP in his first 20 starts of the season, but it's tough to see either pitcher providing any sort of trade value.

Carlos Beltran ($16M, -0.5 WAR)
The Houston Astros ceremonially brought back Carlos Beltran as World Series hopefuls coming into the season. The World Series hopes are very much alive, but Beltran's real ability is declining rapidly. After a 124 wRC+ season last year, Beltran's offensive production has reduced 40% to 84 wRC+. Not to mention, he's incapable of playing the field at this point; thus, he cannot provide value in any way other than his performance at the plate. The contract won't hurt the Astros too badly as they aren't on a strict budget considering their market and number of young, cheap players at the moment. Nonetheless, the $16M one year deal could have been used on nearly any other hitter on the market that would have created more value. It's tough to assume they regret any decisions thus far considering their 17 game lead in the AL West as arguably the best team in baseball.

The Good

Alex Avila ($2M, 2.0 WAR)
Alex Avila has been one of the better catchers in the major leagues to nearly everyone's surprise this season. He has struck out in more than 30% of his plate appearances but has still triple slashed .276/.398/.481 with a 137 wRC+. Avila has also been a league average defender at the catching position. Just on a one year deal, it only makes sense for the Tigers to get something for Avila in return. They cannot compete in the AL this season and someone will be looking for a plus catcher by the end of the month. The $2M buy-low salary should provide them a decent prospect in return.

Trevor Cahill ($1.8M, 1.3 WAR)
The Padres already cashed in on Trevor Cahill's surprisingly high value in a trade with the Royals. At just $1.8M of risk, the Padres, who have no chance in competing any time soon, scored Matt Strahm and Esteury Ruiz in return. Strahm has an incredibly live left arm and Ruiz has impressed as an 18-year old in high A ball.

What do the Royals get out of Cahill? A strikeout rate similar to Carlos Carrasco, one of the top ground ball rates in the majors, and a FIP 20% better than league average. Cahill will bring some walks, around 12% in the previous two seasons, although it's reduced to 9.1% this year so far. As the Royals have chased themselves into the playoff race with a negative run differential in true Royals fashion, this trade works for both teams.

Justin Turner ($12M, 4.2 WAR) and Kenley Jansen ($10M, 2.3 WAR)
Justin Turner and Kenley Jansen signed for double digit annual contracts this season and may be some of the best value on the market. Though they each have multiple year deals, these are seemingly bargains going forward. At just $12M, Turner has become arguably the top hitting third baseman in baseball this season by slashing .362/.456/.556. Also playing plus defense, Turner has added 4.2 wins above replacement, 7th best overall, 2nd best for third basemen.

Kenley Jansen has merely become the best closer in baseball for $10M. To put this in perspective, Mark Melancon is making $15.5M this year. Jansen nearly has a 40% strikeout rate while walking just three hitters all season. As shutdown as they come, Jansen is a bargain at $10M. Granted, money doesn't mean much to the Dodgers and his money will escalate to $20M by 2021, but he's worth the contract, for now. The Dodgers will likely add another bullpen arm to set up Jansen for the playoff run. At a 71-31 record, the only outcome they are worried about is a World Series. Turner and Jansen inking their deals will be a huge part of that push.

Ivan Nova ($7M, 1.5 WAR)
Though his WAR may not be as high as top pitchers in baseball, Ivan Nova has provided the Pirates great value at just $7M this season. Surprisingly signing a cheap deal in an insane pitcher market that paid Mike Leake and J.A. Happ as all-stars, Ivan Nova only pulled $26M guaranteed from Pittsburgh, a team desperate for cheap, valuable contracts.

Nova has thrown to a 3.62 ERA with a 4.25 FIP 131.2 innings thus far. He's not going to strike out a ton of hitters, but he doesn't walk many, either. At just a 3.2% walk rate, Nova has limited base runners nicely while giving the Pirates exactly what they need: a cheap innings eater. Without a drastic injury, Nova will likely throw more innings this season than any other in his career. The reason is efficiency. Nova has thrown less than six innings only twice all year, eclipsing seven innings eight times. As long as his health remains, he'll be valuable to the Pirates in a forever demanding pitcher's market.