With MLB free agency officially underway, we are likely to hear a plethora of rumors in the coming days about potential suitors, contract scenarios, possible trades, etc.
This free-agent market is pretty solid, with the deepest position certainly being starting pitcher.
Gerrit Cole is obviously the biggest name available, but there are plenty of other pitchers (and position players) who will garner a whole lot of attention over the next several months.
But there are some free agents who teams should be careful with, whether that’s because of injury risks, inconsistent performance, etc.
So, here are five free agents clubs should exercise caution with this offseason:
5. Dellin Betances
Dellin Betances missed just about all of 2019, as he was sidelined through September while recovering from shoulder issues and then proceeded to suffer a partial Achilles tear upon returning.
The good news is that Betances is expected to be fully recovered by December. The bad news is that he might command a hefty contract on the open market.
I will say that most teams around baseball will probably be very wary of Betances, as shoulder problems are always worrisome, and he comes with a history of control issues to boot.
Still, Betances has electric stuff, and clubs in need of a dominant reliever may be tempted to give him a lucrative multi-year deal.
Betances owns a career 2.36 ERA and has struck out 621 batters over 381.2 innings of work, which is incredible, but he also lays claim to a lifetime average of four walks per nine frames, which is a huge concern for a reliever.
I personally wouldn’t give the 31-year-old anything more than a one-year deal.
4. Didi Gregorius
A year ago, Didi Gregorius was viewed as one of the best shortstops in the MLB. Now, it has gotten to the point where the Yankees didn’t even make a $17.8 million qualifying offer to him.
To be fair, the Yanks’ infield is loaded with talent, so Gregorius is expendable, but the 30-year-old has also fallen from grace.
In 82 games this past season (he missed the first half of the year due to Tommy John surgery), Gregorius slashed .238/.276/.441 with 16 home runs and 61 RBI, a massive step down from his 2018 campaign when he posted an .829 OPS.
It didn’t help his case that Gregorius was also decidedly average in the field in 2019, logging a UZR of 0.2.
Gregorius owns a career slash line of .264/.313/.429, so what we can expect from the Netherlands native moving forward is probably something in between 2018 and 2019.
There was a time when it looked like Gregorius would easily be a $100 million player, but those days are long gone.
Gregorius is still a good shortstop, but if a team ends up paying him like an elite player, it may end up regretting it.
3. Hyun-Jin Ryu
Let me preface this by saying that I like Hyun-Jin Ryu a lot.
When healthy, he is a heck of a pitcher, as he displayed this past year by going 14-5 with a 2.32 ERA, allowing just 160 hits while striking out 163 batters over 182.2 innings of work. His control was also incredible, as he issued just 24 walks.
But the operative phrase is “when healthy.”
Since joining the majors in 2013, Ryu has never thrown 200 innings in a single season, as shoulder and elbow issues took away two whole seasons from him in 2014 and 2015. A groin problem then limited him to 15 starts in 2018.
As you can see, the 32-year-old is a massive injury risk, which should make any team leery of offering him a long-term deal.
This is a classic high-risk, high-reward scenario, as Ryu is genuinely one of the best pitchers in the game when he is right and could single-handedly turn around a rotation.
Or, he could end up being the worst contract of the winter.
2. Stephen Strasburg
There is a whole lot to like about Stephen Strasburg.
He is a strikeout artist. He has good control. He is a big-game pitcher.
However, he is also a pretty big question mark.
The reason? Because with Tommy John surgery and a history of arm trouble in his rearview mirror, teams should be pretty hesitant to hand him the $200 million he will probably be asking for this offseason.
Yes, Strasburg threw 209 innings in 2019, but he logged 127.1, 145.2, 175.1 and 130 frames, respectively, in the four preceding seasons, and at 31 years old, that is somewhat scary.
Don’t get me wrong: Strasburg is a monster and is unquestionably one of the best pitchers in baseball, but his checkered injury history could (and should) be a major sticking point in negotiations, particularly when it comes to the length of his deal.
1. Zack Wheeler
MLB Trade Rumors has him landing a five-year, $100 million contract this winter, which would be a gigantic risk that I don’t think any team in baseball can afford to take.
Wheeler entered the majors with the New York Mets in 2013. Since then, he has missed two whole seasons (2015 and 2016), and in 2017, he threw just 86.1 innings.
Yes, the 29-year-old logged over 180 frames in each of the last two years, but my goodness: his track record is frightening.
Not to mention the fact that Wheeler is far from an ace and is coming off of a merely solid 2018 campaign in which he went 11-8 with a 3.96 ERA, surrendering 196 hits while fanning 195 hitters across 195.1 innings.
Sorry, but for a guy with that type of injury history, $100 million is not worth it for a 1.259 WHIP.
That’s not to say that Wheeler is a bad pitcher, because he is certainly decent when healthy, but is “decent” enough to warrant that type of contract for a pitcher with extensive durability issues?
Give that money to Madison Bumgarner (whose only real injuries came from a dirt bike accident and getting hit in the hand by a line drive in spring training) and call it a day.