Eyeing This Year's Most Intriguing Free Agent
Image courtesy of Sam Navarro-USA TODAY SportsWhen I use the word "intriguing," I mean it in a specific way. Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg are of course far more appealing, because both are at the peak of their powers and coming off excellent seasons. The same is more or less true of the next starter tier – Hyun-Jin Ryu, Zack Wheeler, Madison Bumgarner, Jake Odorizzi, etc. That's why they're all going to get paid handsomely.
As he enters free agency for the first time, Wood does not find himself in such a favorable position. Here are some things to know about the southpaw and his crooked path to the present:
- A second-round pick out of college by Atlanta in 2012, Wood immediately thrived in the minors and reached the big leagues less than one year after being drafted. At age 22 he posted a 3.13 ERA and 77-to-27 K/BB ratio, allowing only three homers in 78 innings for the Braves. He followed up with a 2.78 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 172 innings as a sophomore.
- In July of 2015, he was shipped to the Dodgers as part of a massive three-team, 13-player deal dubbed by Minor League Ball as "one of the crazier trades in baseball history." Atlanta's motivation in the deal was to get Cuban star Hector Olivera, but he quickly proved to be a total bust.
- As Atlanta looked on regretfully, Wood continued to excel in SoCal. Over the next three seasons he posted a 3.29 ERA, 3.38 FIP and 1.15 WHIP over 364 1/3 innings in 74 appearances (62 starts). During that span he averaged 8.7 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 while allowing just 34 homers total. In his career year of 2017, he won 16 games, made the All-Star team, and finished ninth in Cy Young voting.
- Wood's greatest challenge in LA (other than some occasional injuries) was consistently staying in the rotation fold, pressed by the Dodgers' enviable depth of established high-quality starters. This ultimately prompted Los Angeles to deal him to Cincinnati last winter, one year ahead of his free agency. The trade, mostly designed to shift salaries around as the Dodgers sought to get under the luxury tax threshold, also sent Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp the Reds.
- Wood's lone year in Cincy was simply a loss. Plagued by back issues, he was limited to seven starts and 35 innings, in which he posted a 5.80 ERA and 1.40 WHIP – both the worst marks of his career. He didn't pitch until the end of July and was shut down again a month later.
Clearly, Wood is a medical enigma, and assessments made on that front will ultimately dictate whether he is a target worthy of pursuing. But assuming there is reasonable confidence in a few months of rest getting his back right, Wood looks like a major value buy, and he should attract his own competitive market for that reason.
His circumstances remind me of Phil Hughes back in the 2013-14 offseason.
Like Wood, Hughes hit free agency at a relatively young age, by virtue of debuting in the majors early (Hughes was a free agent at 27, Wood is 28).
Like Wood, Hughes had enjoyed quite a bit of success for one of baseball's perennial powerhouses, making an All-Star team and pitching well in the postseason to boot.
And like Wood, Hughes headed into FA with a thud, struggling to a 4-14 record and 5.19 ERA in his final season with the Yankees.
With this stock down, Hughes settled for a three-year, $24 million contract with the Twins – one of Terry Ryan's finest signings ever, as the right-hander delivered an historic first season in Minnesota. Degenerative shoulder issues and a needless extension turned the narrative around on his tenure, but the thought process behind Hughes's acquisition was more than sound.
If he doesn't take a one-year deal to rebuild value and try again next year, Wood will likely end up with a contract similar to the one Hughes signed back then. In the Offseason Handbook, we projected three years and $33 million. Were the Twins to get him at that price, and make him their second- or third-biggest starting pitching addition of the winter, fans would have to be feeling pretty good about the effort. His strong track record, October pedigree, and relative youth all make him a nice fit for a team staring into its contention window.
Who strikes you as the top value target on this year's free agent market?
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