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MLB: Reflection on 2018-2019’s 10 most expensive free agent signings

The class of free agents that were free to choose their next teams in the offseason between the 2018 and 2019 MLB seasons was far and away one of the best crops of players that we had seen in a very long time. Heavy at the top with a large grouping of superstars looking to cash in and make some serious bank, the league was – somewhat – running wild with money just a few offseasons ago.

Some teams chose this winter to go all in and strike while the iron was hot, other teams decided to dive in but only slightly, pulling the trigger only if the price was right, and other teams decided that they wanted to hold off for a year, holding serve with their current roster construction, outside of a few smaller pieces.

Here are looks back at the 10 most expensive contracts signed (based on the total value of the signed contract) last MLB offseason.

#10 – Michael Brantley
Leftfielder, Houston Astros
2 years / $32 million

Having played 10 seasons as a member of the Cleveland Indians, Michael Brantley took on a bit of a different role for his new team, the Houston Astros, in the first year of his two-year deal. Being paid a base salary of $15 million, combined with his $2 million signing bonus being prorated over two seasons, Brantley actually put up impressive numbers in a few different categories in 2019.

A career-high in home runs (22), along with 90 runs driven in, a .875 OPS, and a 4.55 WAR all are numbers Brantley was more than happy to put up. The 32-year-old now looks to put together another solid MLB season, putting himself into position to hopefully earn the final large money deal of his career.

#9 – Andrew McCutchen
Outfielder, Philadelphia Phillies
3 years / $50 million

Just like Brantley, Andrew McCutchen was on one team for the vast majority of his career, as he called PNC Park and the Pittsburgh Pirates home for nine seasons before he made stops in San Francisco and New York with the Giants and Yankees, respectively. Having just signed on with the Philadelphia Phillies this past offseason, McCutchen is back in the Pennsylvania area of the United States, hoping to rekindle his success that he experienced with the Buccos.

Limited to only 59 games in his first MLB season due to injuries, Cutch put up pretty respectable numbers in just a short timeframe, hitting 10 long balls and driving in 29 runners in only 219 at-bats. While a fully healthy McCutchen looked to be on the path to hitting close to 30 bombs and driving in 90+ runners, the Phillies will just need to wait until 2020 to experience that, hopefully.

While he is 33 years old already, McCutchen has the tools in the bag still to be the guy to hold down one of the three outfield spots for the Phils moving forward. As this team looks to remain in playoff contention, even with their 2019 season having gone down in flames, McCutchen will need to find his health and his production yet again – otherwise, this team will have made another high-priced accident in free agency.

#8 – Nathan Eovaldi
Starting pitcher (R), Boston Red Sox
4 years / $68 million

How a dominant playoff performance can make – or break – players for their next contract is still a fascinating topic, something that both Nathan Eovaldi and the Boston Red Sox got to experience last offseason, albeit in different ways. Riding on the back of Eovaldi to their most recent World Series title, the Red Sox felt that they had no other choice but to pay Eovaldi whatever he wanted – which resulted in a ton of lost money.

Dealing with loose bodies in his right elbow, which in a vacuum sounds like a wild ride, sidelined Eovaldi from April 18, 2019, until July 20, 2019. Before experiencing that injury, Eovaldi was able to get the Red Sox to offer him a four year, $68 million deal, which was a ton of money for someone who, outside of his dominant postseason appearances, had not shown his worth on a consistent basis.

Alas, the American League East remains undefeated in overpaying starting pitchers who get hurt right away after signing their deals, but Eovaldi has publicly stated that he will be back in 2020 in a healthy way, showing that he understands what he has to do and the expectations of him moving forward, to hopefully try and justify his contract.

#7 – J.A. Happ
Starting PItcher (L), New York Yankees
2 years / $34 million

While J.A. Happ’s contract was half as long as that of Eovaldi’s, and half as expensive, his value has been more than double of what Eovaldi has presented his team with up to this point. Although helping carry your team to an MLB World Series title probably does outweigh that of consistent regular-season and postseason performances, Happ has presented his team with consistency and longevity.

Happ was traded from the Yankees’ divisional counterparts, the Toronto Blue Jays, at the trade deadline in 2018, and he provided the Yankees with a perfect 7 victories against zero losses in 11 starts. While that performance helped him land a $17 million/season contract, Happ has found himself on the outside looking in as the Yankees move forward to try and not miss the World Series again.

#6 – Hyun-Jin Ryu
Starting Pitcher (L), Los Angeles Dodgers
1 year / $17.9 million

Hyun-Jin Ryu was the main catalyst of the Dodgers postseason run in 2018, and albeit they fell short to the streaking Red Sox, his time with the Dodgers was much justified to continue.

Even though the team only offered him a Qualifying Offer, Ryu decided to bet on himself and take the deal, cashing in on free agency the following year. This offseason, Ryu decided to play professional baseball in his third different country, as he signed with the Toronto Blue Jays for four seasons.

Ryu will be $80 million richer once his deal with the Blue Jays finishes up, and at that time he will be 36, in the twilight on his career and having made his mark on the MLB. The Dodgers, who also offered incumbent starting catcher Yasmani Grandal the same deal in free agency, were looking to cut some money down in order to reshape some other areas of their team, and while Grandal left (more on that next), Ryu came back and made the most of his final season with the Dodgers.

#5 – Yasmani Grandal
Catcher, Milwaukee Brewers
1 year / $18.25 million

President of Baseball Operations David Stearns has had a penchant for cashing in on players while their value seems to be low, and he did that here with Grandal. Coming off a horrendous showing in the National League Championship Series, where his defense got put under a microscope for the entire world to see, Grandal’s value was quite low as he headed into free agency.

Having turned down a 4/$60 million deal from the New York Mets to try and get a little bit more out of the market, it dried up and he was forced to accept a one-year deal with a mutual option from the Milwaukee Brewers.

His production was not only off the charts in his lone year in Brew Town, but he helped bring this team back to the postseason, albeit for a short amount of time. Grandal was a great teammate in his lone season with Milwaukee, and he now was able to cash in on his value and sign a four-year deal with the Chicago White Sox less than a month ago.

#4 – Josh Donaldson
Third Baseman, Atlanta Braves
1 year / $23 million

Another product of the MLB market drying up for really good players, Josh Donaldson fell into the perfect situation in Atlanta, as the team was looking to compete but was missing a few pieces. Donaldson, who was coming off a really weird season that saw injuries and controversies take away his playing time, was an offensive nightmare for opposing teams once he put on a Braves uniform.

Showing out both at the plate and defensively, Donaldson was one of the best additions made by any team this offseason, and the Braves were able to ride him through the postseason, even though they came up short.

Rumored to be close to choosing his next team after his one-year deal ran out, Donaldson may be returning to Atlanta for his second ride, which would immediately push the Braves back to the top of the ranks in the NL.

#3 – Patrick Corbin
Starting Pitcher (L), Washington Nationals
6 years / $140 million

With the Washington Nationals feeling like they were on the precipe of something good, they decided to shore up their strongest area of the team with another arm, adding starter Patrick Corbin to a rotation led by Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg.

Corbin, who came over from the Arizona Diamondbacks, was a key cog in helping get this team its first-ever World Series title in 2019, and his contract turned into a discount early on.

A great addition to a stacked team, the lefty was the best pitcher when the team needed it the most, and he even came out of the bullpen in the postseason when the team could not rely on its weakest link, its awful ‘pen.

#2 – Bryce Harper
Outfielder, Philadelphia Phillies
13 years / $330 million

Having left the only team he had ever played for, Bryce Harper rode the publicity train all the way to a divisional rival of the Nats, the Phillies. While this team has been very frequently listed in this article, their success did not come with their empty pockets.

Harper experience tons of pressure to produce, especially with a contract that runs for 13(!!!) more seasons and promises over $300 million in guaranteed money. The funniest part of Harper leaving the Nationals is that Washington decided to spend that money elsewhere, and they fared better without him, hence why each player of the Nats has a bit of a heavier ring finger these days.

#1 – Manny Machado
Shortstop / Third Baseman, San Diego Padres
10 year / $300 million

The winner of this list based on monetary reasons alone, Manny Machado faced an absolute hell-storm for his dirty performance in the NLCS, which saw him ‘purposefully’ try to take multiple Brewers players out of the game with bush-league moves.

Apparently, those types of moves did not deter teams from wanting to sign the generational talent, and the San Diego Padres outbid everyone to secure his services for the next decade.

Both Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. form a really exciting left side of the infield for the Padres moving forward and combined with Eric Hosmer at first base, look to be getting ever so close to being back into the competition stage of the MLB.