Todd Frazier latest victim of stagnant free agent market

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The Mets reportedly just signed third baseman Todd Frazier to a two-year, $17 million contract. At first glance, the contract length and amount seem about right for a player who turns 32 years old in a week and is coming off a season in which he hit .213.

A few months ago at FanGraphs, Dave Cameron estimated Frazier would get a three-year, $42 million contract. He also asked readers what they thought. The average reader thought Frazier would get 3.2 years and $45.9 million. The median was three years and $42 million. So, a pretty good ballpark estimate there. Two years and $17 millions ain’t even close. It’s one thing to be wrong, but for Cameron (now an employee in the Padres’ front office) and the collective FanGraphs readership to miss by this much?

Contrary to what a lot of the traditional states might illustrate, Frazier still has plenty of value. According to Baseball Reference, he was worth 3.4 WAR in each of the last two seasons, and 4.0 back in 2015. He doesn’t steal bases like he used to, but he still plays plus defense and his bat is still a bit above average for his position.

After Mike Moustakas, Frazier was the top third baseman left on the market. The only other player capable of playing third base who has signed a major league contract this offseason was Jose Reyes, also with the Mets, for one year and $2 million*. The other third base-capable players still available are Conor Gillaspie, Yunel Escobar, Eduardo Nunez, Trevor Plouffe, Brandon Phillips, Jhonny Peralta, and Cliff Pennington. Frazier is clearly a superior player to everyone on that list sans Moustakas. One would think the scarcity of quality third baseman would work in Frazier’s favor. Instead, Frazier will earn an average annual value of $8.5 million when he earned $12 million last year, his final year of arbitration eligibility. Typically, players — especially ones of Frazier’s caliber — earn more on an AAV basis in free agency, which is why the owners fought to keep them under team control for the first six years of their major league careers. That is, apparently, no longer the case.

* Update: As reader jdd428 mentions in the comments, the Angels signed Zack Cozart — to date, a career shortstop — to a three-year, $38 million deal as a third baseman. Over the last three years, Frazier has accrued 10.0 WAR to Cozart’s 8.9, per FanGraphs.

We’ve gone over the myriad factors influencing this historically slow offseason. Possible collusion, though there’s been no concrete evidence for that yet. Analytics. A comparatively weak free agent class. Incentives for tanking. Copying the models of the Cubs and Astros. The very owner-friendly collective bargaining agreement.

If the lack of signings this offseason wasn’t it, Frazier’s light two-year, $17 million contract should be the canary in the coal mine for the union and the players it represents. Major League Baseball has set revenue records year over year, exceeding $10 billion last year.  Yet the players’ share of revenues declined 18 percent between 2002 and 2014. The glacial pace of signings this offseason — and the relatively low figures that players like Frazier end up settling for as a result — will only serve to drag that figure down even further. Pitchers and catchers report next week. J.D. Martinez, Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, Eric Hosmer, Moustakas, Alex Cobb, and many others are still teamless and it doesn’t appear that much is going to change in the next week or so.