While the 2017-18 offseason may long be notorious as one of the slowest baseball winters ever -- at least when it came to free agents -- the next one ought to be a good deal more exciting. Legitimate superstars will hit free agency, many from teams in contention right now, which means that even though it's only the middle of April, these players affect how teams are and will be run for the rest of the season.
Because projections are fun, I instructed the ZiPS projection system to project the contract figures for the best free agents set to hit the market (and the ones that may). Few teams have unlimited payrolls, even with reset luxury tax penalties, so there's a real difference between a $15 million and a $25 million player.
This winter provided one of the challenges when gauging the market interest going forward: How much are teams willing to pay for a win? This is a figure that has gone up steadily in baseball history, but for the first time in the 15 years of projections I've run, that number went down this offseason.
For the 2017 season, ZiPS estimated that teams valued free agents as if they were worth $7.1 million above replacement level (the number that makes the projected contracts the most accurate). Going into the offseason, ZiPS projected that number to grow, as it usually does, by 5 percent to $7.6 million. It didn't.
In fact, with the offseason behind us, ZiPS gets an implied value of $6.8 million per win above replacement, with values all over the place (for the teams at least, the players not so much). Note that I'm not counting Shohei Ohtani, who was essentially a restricted free agent. So how 2019 plays out is anyone's guess, but I'm still going to project 5 percent growth, but from 2017-2018's lower figure, getting us to $7.2 million.
With that in mind, what does that mean for projecting the deals for next winter's top free agents?