Early returns indicate that free agency has bounced back a bit for last year’s depression, at least according to how 2019 free agents are doing compared to FanGraphs’ crowdsourced predictions. Last year, free agents significantly underperformed expectations, getting an average of $1.63 million less in average annual value (AAV) and nearly $11 million less in total dollars per contract.
With nearly 20 percent of this year’s top 50 free agents already off the board, the results are looking much better. As of December 10, the first nine free agents have averaged $720,000 AAV above predictions and are nearly dead even in total dollars. Larger than predicted contracts for top-end pitchers Patrick Corbin and Nathan Eovaldi suggest the premium end of the free-agent pool is poised to do well.
There are some huge caveats to these early results, however. For one, we’re only talking about nine players. More importantly, the crowdsourced predictions may have factored in depressed results from last winter and compensated by under-predicting the market. For example, FanGraphs has Bryce Harper settling for only $300 million dollars, an amount we know the Nationals offered and he rejected.
In other words, free agents may not be doing well (subscription) so much as they are outperforming artificially low predictions. Still, the early returns suggest the money is flowing easier than in 2018.