Does the free agent compensation system overrate relievers?

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Sam Miller of the Orange County Register raised an interesting point on Twitter just now, which is that 12 of the 34 free agents who’ve been classified as Type A–and thus will require forfeiting a first-round draft pick to sign–are relief pitchers.

Here are the dozen Type A relievers: Grant Balfour, Scott Downs, Frank Francisco, Jason Frasor, Matt Guerrier, Arthur Rhodes, Mariano Rivera, Takashi Saito, Rafael Soriano, Matt Thornton, Billy Wagner, Dan Wheeler.

Obviously there are plenty of very good relievers on that list, but there are also some guys no one would classify as elite free agents. And last year was a similar story, as 10 of the 26 players classified as Type A free agents were relievers (including names like John Grabow, Kevin Gregg, and Darren Oliver). In other words, over the past two seasons the Elias Sports Bureau’s system for ranking free agents has determined that 37 percent of the Type A players are relievers.

There’s really no way to look at those numbers and not conclude the ranking system is significantly out of whack, so the only real question is why. My guess is that there’s too much emphasis placed on ERA (or other “rate” stats) and not enough emphasis placed on innings pitched (or other “counting” stats). And there’s no doubt a lot of value given to saves.

For years now there have been various complaints about the Elias rankings doing a poor job of evaluating players and classifying free agents, mostly because the statistics they choose to focus on are far from state of the art and their method of weighing those statistics is flawed. However, this goes beyond those criticisms and shows–pretty convincingly, I think–that the entire system is simply off base.

When the goal is to rank the best, most valuable players and 37 percent of the Type A guys are determined to be relief pitchers … well, as they say on the internet: You’re doing it wrong.

BREAKING: Manny Machado to sign with the Padres: 10 years, $300 million

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Jeff Passan of ESPN reports that Manny Machado has a deal with the San Diego Padres. Mark Feinsand of MLB.com reports that the deal is for ten years and $300 million with an opt-out after year five.

At the moment there is some disagreement as to how “done” this deal is, with Padres chairman Ron Fowler saying “We do not have a deal. We are continuing discussions.” Ken Rosenthal, however, says that’s “semantics” and that the financial terms are in place, with the deal requiring over some final touches on language and Machado’s physical, which will likely be a formality.

The Padres were a late entrant into the Machado sweepstakes, but they reportedly met with Machado last week. The club has obviously not won for a long time, but they have a strong farm system. While that usually mitigates against a big free agent signing, Machado’s age — 26 — means that he’s still likely to be a productive player when that core of prospects is mature. And if it doesn’t develop, hey, he’s made some serious bank and can still opt-out at an age when he might get another decent paycheck.

For the Padres, Machado represents the biggest single investment in a player in club history. Last year they spent too, of course, giving Eric Hosmer an eight-year, $144 million contract, but this is definitely next-level. As for the baseball side of things, it’s likely that Machado will be the full-time third baseman with Luis Urias handling shortstop. While all of the talk about Machado over the past several months has been focused on money and, sometimes, his alleged lack of hustle, the Padres are getting a player with a career line of .282/.335/.487 (121 OPS+), 175 career homers and a 33.8 career WAR in seven big league seasons. While he played shortstop last year and as a minor leaguer, his past and future is at third, where he is a superior defender. As for the hustle: it has almost exclusively been an obsession of the media, based on an ill-advised postgame quote in October. He has received no bad reviews from former teammates, all of whom speak highly of his game and his work ethic.

When the offseason began it appeared that the Phillies or the Yankees or, perhaps, the White Sox had the inside track on Machado. Everyone took a wait-and-see approach, reasonably believing that by waiting out Machado, a better deal could be struck. The risk of that approach, of course, is that it allowed the Padres to talk themselves into getting bold and, ultimately, swooping in to strike this deal.