Blue Jays spring training

A look at the Toronto Blue Jays as they prepare for the 2013 baseball season.

FILE - In this Aug. 15, 2017, file photo, Toronto Blue Jays' Josh Donaldson hits a three-run home run against the Tampa Bay Rays during the fifth inning of a baseball game in Toronto. The hot corner figures to be smoking Friday, Jan. 12, 2018, when players and team swap proposed salaries in arbitration. Donaldson, Baltimore's Manny Machado, Washington's Anthony Rendon and the Chicago Cubs' Kris Bryant were among the more than 170 players headed to the exchange. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
Donaldson, Bryant set records ahead of arbitration swap
FILE - In this Aug. 15, 2017, file photo, Toronto Blue Jays' Josh Donaldson hits a three-run home run against the Tampa Bay Rays during the fifth inning of a baseball game in Toronto. The hot corner figures to be smoking Friday, Jan. 12, 2018, when players and team swap proposed salaries in arbitration. Donaldson, Baltimore's Manny Machado, Washington's Anthony Rendon and the Chicago Cubs' Kris Bryant were among the more than 170 players headed to the exchange. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
FILE - In this Aug. 15, 2017, file photo, Toronto Blue Jays' Josh Donaldson hits a three-run home run against the Tampa Bay Rays during the fifth inning of a baseball game in Toronto. The hot corner figures to be smoking Friday, Jan. 12, 2018, when players and team swap proposed salaries in arbitration. Donaldson, Baltimore's Manny Machado, Washington's Anthony Rendon and the Chicago Cubs' Kris Bryant were among the more than 170 players headed to the exchange. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
FILE - In this Aug. 15, 2017, file photo, Toronto Blue Jays' Josh Donaldson hits a three-run home run against the Tampa Bay Rays during the fifth inning of a baseball game in Toronto. The hot corner figures to be smoking Friday, Jan. 12, 2018, when players and team swap proposed salaries in arbitration. Donaldson, Baltimore's Manny Machado, Washington's Anthony Rendon and the Chicago Cubs' Kris Bryant were among the more than 170 players headed to the exchange. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
FILE - In this Aug. 15, 2017, file photo, Toronto Blue Jays' Josh Donaldson hits a three-run home run against the Tampa Bay Rays during the fifth inning of a baseball game in Toronto. The hot corner figures to be smoking Friday, Jan. 12, 2018, when players and team swap proposed salaries in arbitration. Donaldson, Baltimore's Manny Machado, Washington's Anthony Rendon and the Chicago Cubs' Kris Bryant were among the more than 170 players headed to the exchange. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
<p>Blue Jays, Donaldson avoid arbitration</p>
Blue Jays, Donaldson avoid arbitration

Blue Jays, Donaldson avoid arbitration

<p>Blue Jays, Donaldson avoid arbitration</p>
Blue Jays, Donaldson avoid arbitration

Blue Jays, Donaldson avoid arbitration

Josh Donaldson is staying with the Toronto Blue Jays after agreeing to a new deal.
Blue Jays, Donaldson avoid arbitration
Josh Donaldson is staying with the Toronto Blue Jays after agreeing to a new deal.
<p> FILE - In this Aug. 15, 2017, file photo, Toronto Blue Jays' Josh Donaldson hits a three-run home run against the Tampa Bay Rays during the fifth inning of a baseball game in Toronto. The hot corner figures to be smoking Friday, Jan. 12, 2018, when players and team swap proposed salaries in arbitration. Donaldson, Baltimore's Manny Machado, Washington's Anthony Rendon and the Chicago Cubs' Kris Bryant were among the more than 170 players headed to the exchange. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP, File) </p>
Josh Donaldson agrees to $23M, 1-year deal with Blue Jays

FILE - In this Aug. 15, 2017, file photo, Toronto Blue Jays' Josh Donaldson hits a three-run home run against the Tampa Bay Rays during the fifth inning of a baseball game in Toronto. The hot corner figures to be smoking Friday, Jan. 12, 2018, when players and team swap proposed salaries in arbitration. Donaldson, Baltimore's Manny Machado, Washington's Anthony Rendon and the Chicago Cubs' Kris Bryant were among the more than 170 players headed to the exchange. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

<p>The Cubs and third baseman Kris Bryant reportedly reached a deal to give Bryant a record $10.85 million as a first-year arbitration-eligible player and avoid an arbitration hearing, reports the <em>Chicago Sun-Times</em>.</p><p>Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard set the old record of $10 million in 2008. Howard and Bryant both National League Rookie of the Year and MVP awards in their first two seasons in the majors. </p><p>Bryant hit .295 with 29 homers last season for Chicago. The 26-year-old made $1.05 million last year.</p><p>He is among five arbitration-eligible players, including Addison Russell, who reportedly reached agreements with the Cubs by Friday, according to the Sun-Times. Right-hander Justin Grimm is the only arbitration-eligible player left who has not signed a deal.</p><p>Earlier Friday, the <a href="https://www.si.com/mlb/2018/01/12/josh-donaldson-salary-arbitration-record-blue-jays" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Blue Jays and third baseman Josh Donaldson reportedly agreed" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Blue Jays and third baseman Josh Donaldson reportedly agreed</a> to a $23 million contract for next season to avoid arbitration. The salary is a record for an arbitration-eligible player, surpassing Bryce Harper’s $21.625 million deal for this season. </p>
Report: Cubs, Kris Bryant Agree to Record $10.85 Million Deal for First-Year Arbitration Player

The Cubs and third baseman Kris Bryant reportedly reached a deal to give Bryant a record $10.85 million as a first-year arbitration-eligible player and avoid an arbitration hearing, reports the Chicago Sun-Times.

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard set the old record of $10 million in 2008. Howard and Bryant both National League Rookie of the Year and MVP awards in their first two seasons in the majors.

Bryant hit .295 with 29 homers last season for Chicago. The 26-year-old made $1.05 million last year.

He is among five arbitration-eligible players, including Addison Russell, who reportedly reached agreements with the Cubs by Friday, according to the Sun-Times. Right-hander Justin Grimm is the only arbitration-eligible player left who has not signed a deal.

Earlier Friday, the Blue Jays and third baseman Josh Donaldson reportedly agreed to a $23 million contract for next season to avoid arbitration. The salary is a record for an arbitration-eligible player, surpassing Bryce Harper’s $21.625 million deal for this season.

The Blue Jays and third baseman Josh Donaldson have agreed to a $23 million contract for next season to avoid arbitration, according to multiple reports. Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi was first to report the news.
Reports: Josh Donaldson Sets MLB Salary Arbitration Record at $23 Million
The Blue Jays and third baseman Josh Donaldson have agreed to a $23 million contract for next season to avoid arbitration, according to multiple reports. Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi was first to report the news.
Blue Jays sign star Josh Donaldson to one-year, $23-million deal
Blue Jays sign star Josh Donaldson to one-year, $23-million deal
Blue Jays sign star Josh Donaldson to one-year, $23-million deal
Blue Jays, Josh Donaldson avoid arbitration with record deal
Blue Jays, Josh Donaldson avoid arbitration with record deal
Blue Jays, Josh Donaldson avoid arbitration with record deal
Blue Jays, Josh Donaldson avoid arbitration with record deal
Blue Jays, Josh Donaldson avoid arbitration with record deal
Blue Jays, Josh Donaldson avoid arbitration with record deal
Blue Jays avoid arbitration with OF Carrera and LHP Loup
Blue Jays avoid arbitration with OF Carrera and LHP Loup
Blue Jays avoid arbitration with OF Carrera and LHP Loup
Blue Jays avoid arbitration with OF Carrera and LHP Loup
Blue Jays avoid arbitration with OF Carrera and LHP Loup
Blue Jays avoid arbitration with OF Carrera and LHP Loup
<p>The Blue Jays and third baseman Josh Donaldson have agreed to a $23 million contract for next season to avoid arbitration, according to multiple reports. <a href="https://twitter.com/ShiDavidi/status/951850631093919745" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi was first to report the news" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi was first to report the news</a>. </p><p>The salary is a record for an arbitration-eligible player, surpassing Bryce Harper’s figure for this season. Harper, like Donaldson, will be a free agent after this season and agreed in May to a 2018 salary of $21.625 million. </p><p>After three straight years as an All-Star and two with top-five finishes in All-Star voting Donaldson’s production was slightly down in 2017, partially due to an early-season calf injury that kept him out for six weeks. He hit .270 with a .385 on-base percentage and 33 homers. </p><p>The Blue Jays spent a good portion of the winter listening to trade offers for Donaldson as they face the decision of whether to send him away while getting value in return or possibly losing him with no compensation as a free agent. The 2015 AL MVP will be 33 when he hits the market next winter. </p>
Reports: Josh Donaldson Sets MLB Salary Arbitration Record at $23 Million

The Blue Jays and third baseman Josh Donaldson have agreed to a $23 million contract for next season to avoid arbitration, according to multiple reports. Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi was first to report the news.

The salary is a record for an arbitration-eligible player, surpassing Bryce Harper’s figure for this season. Harper, like Donaldson, will be a free agent after this season and agreed in May to a 2018 salary of $21.625 million.

After three straight years as an All-Star and two with top-five finishes in All-Star voting Donaldson’s production was slightly down in 2017, partially due to an early-season calf injury that kept him out for six weeks. He hit .270 with a .385 on-base percentage and 33 homers.

The Blue Jays spent a good portion of the winter listening to trade offers for Donaldson as they face the decision of whether to send him away while getting value in return or possibly losing him with no compensation as a free agent. The 2015 AL MVP will be 33 when he hits the market next winter.

<p>Blue Jays, Josh Donaldson avoid arbitration with record deal</p>
Blue Jays, Josh Donaldson avoid arbitration with record deal

Blue Jays, Josh Donaldson avoid arbitration with record deal

Donaldson has been the subject of trade talk this offseason.
Blue Jays, Josh Donaldson avoid arbitration with record deal
Donaldson has been the subject of trade talk this offseason.
<p>Blue Jays, Josh Donaldson avoid arbitration with record deal</p>
Blue Jays, Josh Donaldson avoid arbitration with record deal

Blue Jays, Josh Donaldson avoid arbitration with record deal

<p>Yu Darvish&#39;s 2017 season ended in gruesome fashion. After two strong playoff starts for the Dodgers, the Astros battered him in Games 3 and 7 of the World Series, apparently because he was <a href="https://streamable.com/6elnl" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:tipping" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">tipping</a> <a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/yu-darvish-tipping-pitches-world-series-loss-2017-11" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:his" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">his</a> <a href="https://www.si.com/mlb/2017/12/11/winter-meetings-stanton-darvish-shohei-ohtani" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:pitches" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">pitches</a>. Nonetheless, the 31-year-old righty is arguably the top starting pitcher on the free agent market given <a href="https://www.si.com/mlb/2018/01/10/jake-arrieta-free-agency-value" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Jake Arrieta&#39;s regression" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Jake Arrieta&#39;s regression</a> from his Cy Young form and the questions over how the since-signed Shohei Otani&#39;s stateside career will unfold. <a href="https://sports.yahoo.com/yu-darvish-continues-reporting-free-agency-hints-mystery-team-045312047.html" data-ylk="slk:Reportedly" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Reportedly</a>, Darvish has narrowed his list of potential destinations down to six teams. While nobody has reported any dollar figures or hard offers, his status makes him an obvious candidate for my What&#39;s He Really Worth series.</p><p>Before coming stateside, Darvish spent seven seasons pitching for the Nippon Ham Fighters of the Japanese Pacific League, debuting when he was just 18 years old, throwing his first 200-inning season at age 20, twice winning ERA titles and MVP awards and adding an <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eiji_Sawamura_Award" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Eiji Sawamura Award" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Eiji Sawamura Award</a> for the NPB&#39;s top pitcher in either league. The Fighters agreed <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/14/sports/baseball/darvish-is-up-for-bidding-and-system-in-japan-draws-criticism.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:to post him to MLB" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">to post him to MLB</a> after the 2011 season, and after winning his rights for a record $51.7 million, the Rangers signed the 25-year-old Darvish to a six-year, $60 million deal.</p><p>Thanks to his elite fastball velocity and a deep arsenal of eight distinct pitches, Darvish quickly found success, turning in <a href="https://www.si.com/mlb/2017/12/09/ranking-rookie-seasons-japanese-players-shohei-ohtani" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the best rookie season by a Japanese pitcher since Hideo Nomo" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the best rookie season by a Japanese pitcher since Hideo Nomo</a> in 1995. He went 16–9 with a 3.90 ERA (112 ERA+) and 221 strikeouts (fifth in the league) in 191 1/3 innings, good for 3.9 WAR, and finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting; some kid named Mike Trout won unanimously.</p><p>Darvish followed that up with his best season to date in terms of ERA (2.83, fourth in the AL), innings (209 2/3), strikeouts (a league-high 277) and WAR (5.8, fifth in the league). While 2014 featured his third-straight All-Star selection and strong rate stats, (3.06 ERA, 2.84 FIP, 11.3 K/9), that season ended in early August due to elbow inflammation. After lasting just one inning in his lone Cactus League start the following spring, it was discovered that he tore his UCL and needed Tommy John surgery.</p><p>By the time Darvish returned, on May 28, 2016, he had been absent from a major league mound for nearly 22 months. He made just three starts before going back to the disabled list for neck and shoulder discomfort, a stay that lasted five weeks. His numbers in 17 starts (3.41 ERA, 3.09 FIP, 11.8 K/9) were very much on par with his pre-surgery body of work, and he helped the Rangers return to the postseason for the first time since 2012, though his lone start against the Blue Jays in the Division Series was a dud. </p><p>Last year, the final one of his six-year deal, Darvish turned in his most complete season since 2013, throwing 186 2/3 innings, striking out 209 and finishing with a 3.86 ERA, 3.83 FIP and 3.9 WAR. While he didn&#39;t avoid the disabled list completely, the new 10-day minimum allowed him to miss one turn with what was termed lower back tightness but what was really a strategic break. By that point, Darvish had been traded to the Dodgers in a last-minute trade deadline deal on July 31. Prior to being dealt, Darivsh had generally pitched very well; the 10 runs he was lit up for in his 3 2/3-inning July 26 outing—his last as a Ranger, as it turned out — raised his ERA from 3.44 to 4.01, but the subsequent discovery that he had been <a href="https://www.mlb.com/rangers/news/yu-darvish-finds-pitch-tipping-flaw-on-video/c-245190368" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:tipping his pitches" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">tipping his pitches</a> quelled concerns about his health. Having been placated by this explanation while doing their due diligence, the Dodgers should have been particularly attuned to the possibility of further tipping after his first World Series disaster; their failure to identify it may well have cost them a championship.</p><p>The Dodgers did help Darvish in other ways, however, using that late August DL stint to limit his workload, tweak his mechanics, <a href="http://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/21177665/how-dodgers-turned-yu-darvish-better-version-himself" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:simplify his repertoire" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">simplify his repertoire</a> and improve his sequencing. Though he was cuffed in his first two turns upon returning, he finished the regular season on a roll that carried through the NLCS. With greater reliance upon his cutter and slider at the expense of his four-seam fastball, he posted an 0.87 ERA with a 35/2 K/BB ratio in 31 innings over five starts. When the Astros spotted him changing his grip as he brought the ball into his glove, they could tell whether or not he was throwing a fastball.</p><p>The pitch-tipping mystery may be solved, but Darvish’s track record for health, with a Tommy John surgery and further shoulder problems, and overall mileage are worth noting for any suitor. Between NPB and MLB, he&#39;s thrown 2,000 2/3 regular season innings; among pitchers who have debuted since the 1994–95 strike, only Felix Hernandez (2,415 2/3), CC Sabathia (2,364 1/3), Javier Vazquez (2,062 1/3), Mark Buehrle (2061) and Jon Garland (2,029 1/3) threw more through their age-30 seasons. Sabathia&#39;s still going, having bookended two good seasons (2012 and &#39;17) around four spotty, injury-riddled ones; he&#39;s averaged 1.7 WAR with a 104 ERA+ in his six seasons following that workload. Buehrle lasted six more seasons, averaging 3.0 WAR and 108 ERA+, albeit as a soft-tossing, contact-oriented lefty, a very different style of pitching than that of Darvish. Vazquez had one excellent season, two good ones and one bad one before disappearing from the majors after age 34, while Garland made just 21 more starts in his career. Hernandez managed just 86 2/3 innings in 2017, his first year since that cutoff, due to shoulder bursitis.</p><p>That&#39;s not an especially encouraging group to compare Darvish to, nor is it a great fit for him, stylistically. A more relevant analogue may be Justin Verlander, a power pitcher who had 1,772 innings under his belt through 2013, his age-30 season. He&#39;s had ups and downs since, but has averaged 193 innings, a 116 ERA+ and 4.0 WAR in the four seasons since. Then again, he never underwent Tommy John surgery. All of which is to say that Darvish is in a rather unique spot.</p><p>As with Arrieta, Darvish&#39;s uneven track record makes for a fairly uninspiring first run through my WHRW model, which uses Tom Tango’s <a href="http://tangotiger.com/index.php/site/comments/war-marcels-warcels" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:WARcel" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">WARcel</a> forecasting system, a WAR-based version of his Marcel the Monkey forecaster system (&quot;the most basic forecasting system you can have, that uses as little intelligence as possible&quot;) that builds in regression and an aging curve as well. My WHRW model also uses research-based estimates of the cost of a win via free agency and the rate of salary inflation. The WARcel starts with a baseline forecast for the upcoming season using a 6/3/1 WAR weighting (six times the player&#39;s 2017 WAR plus three times his 2016 WAR plus his 2015 WAR, divided by 10) of the player&#39;s past three seasons and throws in a significant hit of regression (20% in the first year, or 0.8 times that weighted WAR). For pitchers older than 26, the aging curve is simply a baseline loss of 0.4 WAR per year, with no age-based acceleration as there is in the case of position players.</p><p>Using Darvish&#39;s rather modest Baseball-Reference WARs of zero (2015, his TJ season), 2.5 (&#39;16) and 3.9 (&#39;17), his 2018 baseline WAR of 3.1 gets cut down to 2.5 by the built-in regression, with subsequent seasons of 2.1, 1.7 and 1.3 for a net of just 7.5 WAR. Using the low-end estimate of $9 million per 2017 win and a 5.9% rate of inflation, that comes out to a valuation of $76.7 million over four years, the kind of contract that a healthy Darvish almost certainly wouldn’t sign. Casting that simplistic-but-useful mode of projection aside and going with a more advanced system, the well-regarded <a href="https://www.fangraphs.com/projections.aspx?pos=all&#38;stats=pit&#38;type=steamer&#38;team=0&#x002276;=all&#38;players=0&#38;sort=20,d" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Steamer" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Steamer</a> forecasts Darvish for 3.4 WAR via its RA9 flavor—that is, based on actual runs allowed (along the lines of Baseball-Reference’s version of pitching WAR) rather than based upon peripheral statistics (along the lines of FanGraphs’ version): </p><p>Individual pitcher performances don&#39;t tend to follow such linear patterns, of course, but for modeling purposes, it’s easier to think about in these terms rather than the reality of year-to-year fluctuation. Darvish’s performance doesn’t appear to be unattainable, particularly given his flashes of brilliance last year, which also included a 13-start run with a 2.83 ERA from early April to mid-June. I’ve gone to six years with run based on the industry expectations that Dodgers Digest&#39;s <a href="http://dodgersdigest.com/2018/01/11/a-yu-darvish-dodgers-reunion-would-take-a-lot-but-it-might-be-worth-it/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Dustin Nosler" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Dustin Nosler</a> recently highlighted: those of FanGraphs&#39; <a href="https://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/2018-top-50-free-agents/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Dave Cameron" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Dave Cameron</a> (six years, $168 million), FanRag Sports&#39; <a href="https://www.fanragsports.com/inside-baseball-how-much-will-the-top-80-free-agents-get/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Jon Heyman" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Jon Heyman</a> (six years, $144 million), an unnamed—and allegedly more accurate—expert cited by Heyman (six years, $155 million) and <a href="https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2017/12/free-agent-profile-yu-darvish.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:MLB Trade Rumors" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">MLB Trade Rumors</a> (six years, $160 million).</p><p>Using the high-end estimate of $10.5 million per 2017 win puts Darvish’s valuation at $180.5 million over the six years; the $30.08 million average annual value would rank fourth among pitchers after the pacts of Zack Greinke ($34.417 million), David Price ($31 million) and Clayton Kershaw ($31.71 million), edging Max Scherzer ($30 million). I don’t think Darvish will get a deal quite that lucrative, but even the more conservative valuation above yields a $25.78 AAV, with only Scherzer and Jon Lester ($25.83 million) ahead of him and Justin Verlander ($25.71 million) right behind. It’s worth remembering that those contracts are all at least two years old, and timing is everything in that area. While the market is currently in stasis, its lack of depth in an industry that’s awash in cash—thanks to revenue having grown faster than salaries over the past decade (67% for the former, 52% for the latter according to <a href="https://www.si.com/mlb/2018/01/11/free-agency-hot-stove-slow-pace" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Tom Verducci" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Tom Verducci</a>) and the sale of MLB Advanced Media to Disney (yielding a payout of roughly $50 million per team)—will likely produce eye-opening figures at the upper end.</p><p>Darvish is reportedly still considering six teams, namely the Astros, Cubs, Rangers, Twins, Yankees and, <a href="https://twitter.com/faridyu/status/951275600290992128" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:by his own account" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">by his own account</a>, a mystery team (<a href="https://twitter.com/McCulloughTimes/status/951287247562616832" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:believed" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">believed</a> to be the Dodgers). Neither the Yankees nor the Dodgers seem likely to go that high given their attempts to get under the $197 million Competitive Balance Tax threshold this winter, but that’s still plenty of competition to yield a contract in the ballpark of those two estimates.</p><p>Darvish’s history in MLB shows that a few glitches aside, when he’s has been available, he&#39;s been very good, producing 4.2 WAR per 180 innings. But as his own track record—and that of similarly hard-worked pitchers—illustrates, the odds of him staying on the field that long aren&#39;t high, and the mileage that his right arm has accumulated won&#39;t make doing so any easier. Like any pitcher he’s a risk and a costly one, but some team is certain to bite the bullet and go big. </p>
What Is Yu Darvish Really Worth?

Yu Darvish's 2017 season ended in gruesome fashion. After two strong playoff starts for the Dodgers, the Astros battered him in Games 3 and 7 of the World Series, apparently because he was tipping his pitches. Nonetheless, the 31-year-old righty is arguably the top starting pitcher on the free agent market given Jake Arrieta's regression from his Cy Young form and the questions over how the since-signed Shohei Otani's stateside career will unfold. Reportedly, Darvish has narrowed his list of potential destinations down to six teams. While nobody has reported any dollar figures or hard offers, his status makes him an obvious candidate for my What's He Really Worth series.

Before coming stateside, Darvish spent seven seasons pitching for the Nippon Ham Fighters of the Japanese Pacific League, debuting when he was just 18 years old, throwing his first 200-inning season at age 20, twice winning ERA titles and MVP awards and adding an Eiji Sawamura Award for the NPB's top pitcher in either league. The Fighters agreed to post him to MLB after the 2011 season, and after winning his rights for a record $51.7 million, the Rangers signed the 25-year-old Darvish to a six-year, $60 million deal.

Thanks to his elite fastball velocity and a deep arsenal of eight distinct pitches, Darvish quickly found success, turning in the best rookie season by a Japanese pitcher since Hideo Nomo in 1995. He went 16–9 with a 3.90 ERA (112 ERA+) and 221 strikeouts (fifth in the league) in 191 1/3 innings, good for 3.9 WAR, and finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting; some kid named Mike Trout won unanimously.

Darvish followed that up with his best season to date in terms of ERA (2.83, fourth in the AL), innings (209 2/3), strikeouts (a league-high 277) and WAR (5.8, fifth in the league). While 2014 featured his third-straight All-Star selection and strong rate stats, (3.06 ERA, 2.84 FIP, 11.3 K/9), that season ended in early August due to elbow inflammation. After lasting just one inning in his lone Cactus League start the following spring, it was discovered that he tore his UCL and needed Tommy John surgery.

By the time Darvish returned, on May 28, 2016, he had been absent from a major league mound for nearly 22 months. He made just three starts before going back to the disabled list for neck and shoulder discomfort, a stay that lasted five weeks. His numbers in 17 starts (3.41 ERA, 3.09 FIP, 11.8 K/9) were very much on par with his pre-surgery body of work, and he helped the Rangers return to the postseason for the first time since 2012, though his lone start against the Blue Jays in the Division Series was a dud.

Last year, the final one of his six-year deal, Darvish turned in his most complete season since 2013, throwing 186 2/3 innings, striking out 209 and finishing with a 3.86 ERA, 3.83 FIP and 3.9 WAR. While he didn't avoid the disabled list completely, the new 10-day minimum allowed him to miss one turn with what was termed lower back tightness but what was really a strategic break. By that point, Darvish had been traded to the Dodgers in a last-minute trade deadline deal on July 31. Prior to being dealt, Darivsh had generally pitched very well; the 10 runs he was lit up for in his 3 2/3-inning July 26 outing—his last as a Ranger, as it turned out — raised his ERA from 3.44 to 4.01, but the subsequent discovery that he had been tipping his pitches quelled concerns about his health. Having been placated by this explanation while doing their due diligence, the Dodgers should have been particularly attuned to the possibility of further tipping after his first World Series disaster; their failure to identify it may well have cost them a championship.

The Dodgers did help Darvish in other ways, however, using that late August DL stint to limit his workload, tweak his mechanics, simplify his repertoire and improve his sequencing. Though he was cuffed in his first two turns upon returning, he finished the regular season on a roll that carried through the NLCS. With greater reliance upon his cutter and slider at the expense of his four-seam fastball, he posted an 0.87 ERA with a 35/2 K/BB ratio in 31 innings over five starts. When the Astros spotted him changing his grip as he brought the ball into his glove, they could tell whether or not he was throwing a fastball.

The pitch-tipping mystery may be solved, but Darvish’s track record for health, with a Tommy John surgery and further shoulder problems, and overall mileage are worth noting for any suitor. Between NPB and MLB, he's thrown 2,000 2/3 regular season innings; among pitchers who have debuted since the 1994–95 strike, only Felix Hernandez (2,415 2/3), CC Sabathia (2,364 1/3), Javier Vazquez (2,062 1/3), Mark Buehrle (2061) and Jon Garland (2,029 1/3) threw more through their age-30 seasons. Sabathia's still going, having bookended two good seasons (2012 and '17) around four spotty, injury-riddled ones; he's averaged 1.7 WAR with a 104 ERA+ in his six seasons following that workload. Buehrle lasted six more seasons, averaging 3.0 WAR and 108 ERA+, albeit as a soft-tossing, contact-oriented lefty, a very different style of pitching than that of Darvish. Vazquez had one excellent season, two good ones and one bad one before disappearing from the majors after age 34, while Garland made just 21 more starts in his career. Hernandez managed just 86 2/3 innings in 2017, his first year since that cutoff, due to shoulder bursitis.

That's not an especially encouraging group to compare Darvish to, nor is it a great fit for him, stylistically. A more relevant analogue may be Justin Verlander, a power pitcher who had 1,772 innings under his belt through 2013, his age-30 season. He's had ups and downs since, but has averaged 193 innings, a 116 ERA+ and 4.0 WAR in the four seasons since. Then again, he never underwent Tommy John surgery. All of which is to say that Darvish is in a rather unique spot.

As with Arrieta, Darvish's uneven track record makes for a fairly uninspiring first run through my WHRW model, which uses Tom Tango’s WARcel forecasting system, a WAR-based version of his Marcel the Monkey forecaster system ("the most basic forecasting system you can have, that uses as little intelligence as possible") that builds in regression and an aging curve as well. My WHRW model also uses research-based estimates of the cost of a win via free agency and the rate of salary inflation. The WARcel starts with a baseline forecast for the upcoming season using a 6/3/1 WAR weighting (six times the player's 2017 WAR plus three times his 2016 WAR plus his 2015 WAR, divided by 10) of the player's past three seasons and throws in a significant hit of regression (20% in the first year, or 0.8 times that weighted WAR). For pitchers older than 26, the aging curve is simply a baseline loss of 0.4 WAR per year, with no age-based acceleration as there is in the case of position players.

Using Darvish's rather modest Baseball-Reference WARs of zero (2015, his TJ season), 2.5 ('16) and 3.9 ('17), his 2018 baseline WAR of 3.1 gets cut down to 2.5 by the built-in regression, with subsequent seasons of 2.1, 1.7 and 1.3 for a net of just 7.5 WAR. Using the low-end estimate of $9 million per 2017 win and a 5.9% rate of inflation, that comes out to a valuation of $76.7 million over four years, the kind of contract that a healthy Darvish almost certainly wouldn’t sign. Casting that simplistic-but-useful mode of projection aside and going with a more advanced system, the well-regarded Steamer forecasts Darvish for 3.4 WAR via its RA9 flavor—that is, based on actual runs allowed (along the lines of Baseball-Reference’s version of pitching WAR) rather than based upon peripheral statistics (along the lines of FanGraphs’ version):

Individual pitcher performances don't tend to follow such linear patterns, of course, but for modeling purposes, it’s easier to think about in these terms rather than the reality of year-to-year fluctuation. Darvish’s performance doesn’t appear to be unattainable, particularly given his flashes of brilliance last year, which also included a 13-start run with a 2.83 ERA from early April to mid-June. I’ve gone to six years with run based on the industry expectations that Dodgers Digest's Dustin Nosler recently highlighted: those of FanGraphs' Dave Cameron (six years, $168 million), FanRag Sports' Jon Heyman (six years, $144 million), an unnamed—and allegedly more accurate—expert cited by Heyman (six years, $155 million) and MLB Trade Rumors (six years, $160 million).

Using the high-end estimate of $10.5 million per 2017 win puts Darvish’s valuation at $180.5 million over the six years; the $30.08 million average annual value would rank fourth among pitchers after the pacts of Zack Greinke ($34.417 million), David Price ($31 million) and Clayton Kershaw ($31.71 million), edging Max Scherzer ($30 million). I don’t think Darvish will get a deal quite that lucrative, but even the more conservative valuation above yields a $25.78 AAV, with only Scherzer and Jon Lester ($25.83 million) ahead of him and Justin Verlander ($25.71 million) right behind. It’s worth remembering that those contracts are all at least two years old, and timing is everything in that area. While the market is currently in stasis, its lack of depth in an industry that’s awash in cash—thanks to revenue having grown faster than salaries over the past decade (67% for the former, 52% for the latter according to Tom Verducci) and the sale of MLB Advanced Media to Disney (yielding a payout of roughly $50 million per team)—will likely produce eye-opening figures at the upper end.

Darvish is reportedly still considering six teams, namely the Astros, Cubs, Rangers, Twins, Yankees and, by his own account, a mystery team (believed to be the Dodgers). Neither the Yankees nor the Dodgers seem likely to go that high given their attempts to get under the $197 million Competitive Balance Tax threshold this winter, but that’s still plenty of competition to yield a contract in the ballpark of those two estimates.

Darvish’s history in MLB shows that a few glitches aside, when he’s has been available, he's been very good, producing 4.2 WAR per 180 innings. But as his own track record—and that of similarly hard-worked pitchers—illustrates, the odds of him staying on the field that long aren't high, and the mileage that his right arm has accumulated won't make doing so any easier. Like any pitcher he’s a risk and a costly one, but some team is certain to bite the bullet and go big.

<p>Yu Darvish&#39;s 2017 season ended in gruesome fashion. After two strong playoff starts for the Dodgers, the Astros battered him in Games 3 and 7 of the World Series, apparently because he was <a href="https://streamable.com/6elnl" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:tipping" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">tipping</a> <a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/yu-darvish-tipping-pitches-world-series-loss-2017-11" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:his" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">his</a> <a href="https://www.si.com/mlb/2017/12/11/winter-meetings-stanton-darvish-shohei-ohtani" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:pitches" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">pitches</a>. Nonetheless, the 31-year-old righty is arguably the top starting pitcher on the free agent market given <a href="https://www.si.com/mlb/2018/01/10/jake-arrieta-free-agency-value" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Jake Arrieta&#39;s regression" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Jake Arrieta&#39;s regression</a> from his Cy Young form and the questions over how the since-signed Shohei Otani&#39;s stateside career will unfold. <a href="https://sports.yahoo.com/yu-darvish-continues-reporting-free-agency-hints-mystery-team-045312047.html" data-ylk="slk:Reportedly" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Reportedly</a>, Darvish has narrowed his list of potential destinations down to six teams. While nobody has reported any dollar figures or hard offers, his status makes him an obvious candidate for my What&#39;s He Really Worth series.</p><p>Before coming stateside, Darvish spent seven seasons pitching for the Nippon Ham Fighters of the Japanese Pacific League, debuting when he was just 18 years old, throwing his first 200-inning season at age 20, twice winning ERA titles and MVP awards and adding an <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eiji_Sawamura_Award" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Eiji Sawamura Award" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Eiji Sawamura Award</a> for the NPB&#39;s top pitcher in either league. The Fighters agreed <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/14/sports/baseball/darvish-is-up-for-bidding-and-system-in-japan-draws-criticism.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:to post him to MLB" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">to post him to MLB</a> after the 2011 season, and after winning his rights for a record $51.7 million, the Rangers signed the 25-year-old Darvish to a six-year, $60 million deal.</p><p>Thanks to his elite fastball velocity and a deep arsenal of eight distinct pitches, Darvish quickly found success, turning in <a href="https://www.si.com/mlb/2017/12/09/ranking-rookie-seasons-japanese-players-shohei-ohtani" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the best rookie season by a Japanese pitcher since Hideo Nomo" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the best rookie season by a Japanese pitcher since Hideo Nomo</a> in 1995. He went 16–9 with a 3.90 ERA (112 ERA+) and 221 strikeouts (fifth in the league) in 191 1/3 innings, good for 3.9 WAR, and finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting; some kid named Mike Trout won unanimously.</p><p>Darvish followed that up with his best season to date in terms of ERA (2.83, fourth in the AL), innings (209 2/3), strikeouts (a league-high 277) and WAR (5.8, fifth in the league). While 2014 featured his third-straight All-Star selection and strong rate stats, (3.06 ERA, 2.84 FIP, 11.3 K/9), that season ended in early August due to elbow inflammation. After lasting just one inning in his lone Cactus League start the following spring, it was discovered that he tore his UCL and needed Tommy John surgery.</p><p>By the time Darvish returned, on May 28, 2016, he had been absent from a major league mound for nearly 22 months. He made just three starts before going back to the disabled list for neck and shoulder discomfort, a stay that lasted five weeks. His numbers in 17 starts (3.41 ERA, 3.09 FIP, 11.8 K/9) were very much on par with his pre-surgery body of work, and he helped the Rangers return to the postseason for the first time since 2012, though his lone start against the Blue Jays in the Division Series was a dud. </p><p>Last year, the final one of his six-year deal, Darvish turned in his most complete season since 2013, throwing 186 2/3 innings, striking out 209 and finishing with a 3.86 ERA, 3.83 FIP and 3.9 WAR. While he didn&#39;t avoid the disabled list completely, the new 10-day minimum allowed him to miss one turn with what was termed lower back tightness but what was really a strategic break. By that point, Darvish had been traded to the Dodgers in a last-minute trade deadline deal on July 31. Prior to being dealt, Darivsh had generally pitched very well; the 10 runs he was lit up for in his 3 2/3-inning July 26 outing—his last as a Ranger, as it turned out — raised his ERA from 3.44 to 4.01, but the subsequent discovery that he had been <a href="https://www.mlb.com/rangers/news/yu-darvish-finds-pitch-tipping-flaw-on-video/c-245190368" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:tipping his pitches" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">tipping his pitches</a> quelled concerns about his health. Having been placated by this explanation while doing their due diligence, the Dodgers should have been particularly attuned to the possibility of further tipping after his first World Series disaster; their failure to identify it may well have cost them a championship.</p><p>The Dodgers did help Darvish in other ways, however, using that late August DL stint to limit his workload, tweak his mechanics, <a href="http://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/21177665/how-dodgers-turned-yu-darvish-better-version-himself" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:simplify his repertoire" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">simplify his repertoire</a> and improve his sequencing. Though he was cuffed in his first two turns upon returning, he finished the regular season on a roll that carried through the NLCS. With greater reliance upon his cutter and slider at the expense of his four-seam fastball, he posted an 0.87 ERA with a 35/2 K/BB ratio in 31 innings over five starts. When the Astros spotted him changing his grip as he brought the ball into his glove, they could tell whether or not he was throwing a fastball.</p><p>The pitch-tipping mystery may be solved, but Darvish’s track record for health, with a Tommy John surgery and further shoulder problems, and overall mileage are worth noting for any suitor. Between NPB and MLB, he&#39;s thrown 2,000 2/3 regular season innings; among pitchers who have debuted since the 1994–95 strike, only Felix Hernandez (2,415 2/3), CC Sabathia (2,364 1/3), Javier Vazquez (2,062 1/3), Mark Buehrle (2061) and Jon Garland (2,029 1/3) threw more through their age-30 seasons. Sabathia&#39;s still going, having bookended two good seasons (2012 and &#39;17) around four spotty, injury-riddled ones; he&#39;s averaged 1.7 WAR with a 104 ERA+ in his six seasons following that workload. Buehrle lasted six more seasons, averaging 3.0 WAR and 108 ERA+, albeit as a soft-tossing, contact-oriented lefty, a very different style of pitching than that of Darvish. Vazquez had one excellent season, two good ones and one bad one before disappearing from the majors after age 34, while Garland made just 21 more starts in his career. Hernandez managed just 86 2/3 innings in 2017, his first year since that cutoff, due to shoulder bursitis.</p><p>That&#39;s not an especially encouraging group to compare Darvish to, nor is it a great fit for him, stylistically. A more relevant analogue may be Justin Verlander, a power pitcher who had 1,772 innings under his belt through 2013, his age-30 season. He&#39;s had ups and downs since, but has averaged 193 innings, a 116 ERA+ and 4.0 WAR in the four seasons since. Then again, he never underwent Tommy John surgery. All of which is to say that Darvish is in a rather unique spot.</p><p>As with Arrieta, Darvish&#39;s uneven track record makes for a fairly uninspiring first run through my WHRW model, which uses Tom Tango’s <a href="http://tangotiger.com/index.php/site/comments/war-marcels-warcels" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:WARcel" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">WARcel</a> forecasting system, a WAR-based version of his Marcel the Monkey forecaster system (&quot;the most basic forecasting system you can have, that uses as little intelligence as possible&quot;) that builds in regression and an aging curve as well. My WHRW model also uses research-based estimates of the cost of a win via free agency and the rate of salary inflation. The WARcel starts with a baseline forecast for the upcoming season using a 6/3/1 WAR weighting (six times the player&#39;s 2017 WAR plus three times his 2016 WAR plus his 2015 WAR, divided by 10) of the player&#39;s past three seasons and throws in a significant hit of regression (20% in the first year, or 0.8 times that weighted WAR). For pitchers older than 26, the aging curve is simply a baseline loss of 0.4 WAR per year, with no age-based acceleration as there is in the case of position players.</p><p>Using Darvish&#39;s rather modest Baseball-Reference WARs of zero (2015, his TJ season), 2.5 (&#39;16) and 3.9 (&#39;17), his 2018 baseline WAR of 3.1 gets cut down to 2.5 by the built-in regression, with subsequent seasons of 2.1, 1.7 and 1.3 for a net of just 7.5 WAR. Using the low-end estimate of $9 million per 2017 win and a 5.9% rate of inflation, that comes out to a valuation of $76.7 million over four years, the kind of contract that a healthy Darvish almost certainly wouldn’t sign. Casting that simplistic-but-useful mode of projection aside and going with a more advanced system, the well-regarded <a href="https://www.fangraphs.com/projections.aspx?pos=all&#38;stats=pit&#38;type=steamer&#38;team=0&#x002276;=all&#38;players=0&#38;sort=20,d" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Steamer" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Steamer</a> forecasts Darvish for 3.4 WAR via its RA9 flavor—that is, based on actual runs allowed (along the lines of Baseball-Reference’s version of pitching WAR) rather than based upon peripheral statistics (along the lines of FanGraphs’ version): </p><p>Individual pitcher performances don&#39;t tend to follow such linear patterns, of course, but for modeling purposes, it’s easier to think about in these terms rather than the reality of year-to-year fluctuation. Darvish’s performance doesn’t appear to be unattainable, particularly given his flashes of brilliance last year, which also included a 13-start run with a 2.83 ERA from early April to mid-June. I’ve gone to six years with run based on the industry expectations that Dodgers Digest&#39;s <a href="http://dodgersdigest.com/2018/01/11/a-yu-darvish-dodgers-reunion-would-take-a-lot-but-it-might-be-worth-it/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Dustin Nosler" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Dustin Nosler</a> recently highlighted: those of FanGraphs&#39; <a href="https://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/2018-top-50-free-agents/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Dave Cameron" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Dave Cameron</a> (six years, $168 million), FanRag Sports&#39; <a href="https://www.fanragsports.com/inside-baseball-how-much-will-the-top-80-free-agents-get/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Jon Heyman" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Jon Heyman</a> (six years, $144 million), an unnamed—and allegedly more accurate—expert cited by Heyman (six years, $155 million) and <a href="https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2017/12/free-agent-profile-yu-darvish.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:MLB Trade Rumors" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">MLB Trade Rumors</a> (six years, $160 million).</p><p>Using the high-end estimate of $10.5 million per 2017 win puts Darvish’s valuation at $180.5 million over the six years; the $30.08 million average annual value would rank fourth among pitchers after the pacts of Zack Greinke ($34.417 million), David Price ($31 million) and Clayton Kershaw ($31.71 million), edging Max Scherzer ($30 million). I don’t think Darvish will get a deal quite that lucrative, but even the more conservative valuation above yields a $25.78 AAV, with only Scherzer and Jon Lester ($25.83 million) ahead of him and Justin Verlander ($25.71 million) right behind. It’s worth remembering that those contracts are all at least two years old, and timing is everything in that area. While the market is currently in stasis, its lack of depth in an industry that’s awash in cash—thanks to revenue having grown faster than salaries over the past decade (67% for the former, 52% for the latter according to <a href="https://www.si.com/mlb/2018/01/11/free-agency-hot-stove-slow-pace" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Tom Verducci" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Tom Verducci</a>) and the sale of MLB Advanced Media to Disney (yielding a payout of roughly $50 million per team)—will likely produce eye-opening figures at the upper end.</p><p>Darvish is reportedly still considering six teams, namely the Astros, Cubs, Rangers, Twins, Yankees and, <a href="https://twitter.com/faridyu/status/951275600290992128" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:by his own account" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">by his own account</a>, a mystery team (<a href="https://twitter.com/McCulloughTimes/status/951287247562616832" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:believed" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">believed</a> to be the Dodgers). Neither the Yankees nor the Dodgers seem likely to go that high given their attempts to get under the $197 million Competitive Balance Tax threshold this winter, but that’s still plenty of competition to yield a contract in the ballpark of those two estimates.</p><p>Darvish’s history in MLB shows that a few glitches aside, when he’s has been available, he&#39;s been very good, producing 4.2 WAR per 180 innings. But as his own track record—and that of similarly hard-worked pitchers—illustrates, the odds of him staying on the field that long aren&#39;t high, and the mileage that his right arm has accumulated won&#39;t make doing so any easier. Like any pitcher he’s a risk and a costly one, but some team is certain to bite the bullet and go big. </p>
What Is Yu Darvish Really Worth?

Yu Darvish's 2017 season ended in gruesome fashion. After two strong playoff starts for the Dodgers, the Astros battered him in Games 3 and 7 of the World Series, apparently because he was tipping his pitches. Nonetheless, the 31-year-old righty is arguably the top starting pitcher on the free agent market given Jake Arrieta's regression from his Cy Young form and the questions over how the since-signed Shohei Otani's stateside career will unfold. Reportedly, Darvish has narrowed his list of potential destinations down to six teams. While nobody has reported any dollar figures or hard offers, his status makes him an obvious candidate for my What's He Really Worth series.

Before coming stateside, Darvish spent seven seasons pitching for the Nippon Ham Fighters of the Japanese Pacific League, debuting when he was just 18 years old, throwing his first 200-inning season at age 20, twice winning ERA titles and MVP awards and adding an Eiji Sawamura Award for the NPB's top pitcher in either league. The Fighters agreed to post him to MLB after the 2011 season, and after winning his rights for a record $51.7 million, the Rangers signed the 25-year-old Darvish to a six-year, $60 million deal.

Thanks to his elite fastball velocity and a deep arsenal of eight distinct pitches, Darvish quickly found success, turning in the best rookie season by a Japanese pitcher since Hideo Nomo in 1995. He went 16–9 with a 3.90 ERA (112 ERA+) and 221 strikeouts (fifth in the league) in 191 1/3 innings, good for 3.9 WAR, and finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting; some kid named Mike Trout won unanimously.

Darvish followed that up with his best season to date in terms of ERA (2.83, fourth in the AL), innings (209 2/3), strikeouts (a league-high 277) and WAR (5.8, fifth in the league). While 2014 featured his third-straight All-Star selection and strong rate stats, (3.06 ERA, 2.84 FIP, 11.3 K/9), that season ended in early August due to elbow inflammation. After lasting just one inning in his lone Cactus League start the following spring, it was discovered that he tore his UCL and needed Tommy John surgery.

By the time Darvish returned, on May 28, 2016, he had been absent from a major league mound for nearly 22 months. He made just three starts before going back to the disabled list for neck and shoulder discomfort, a stay that lasted five weeks. His numbers in 17 starts (3.41 ERA, 3.09 FIP, 11.8 K/9) were very much on par with his pre-surgery body of work, and he helped the Rangers return to the postseason for the first time since 2012, though his lone start against the Blue Jays in the Division Series was a dud.

Last year, the final one of his six-year deal, Darvish turned in his most complete season since 2013, throwing 186 2/3 innings, striking out 209 and finishing with a 3.86 ERA, 3.83 FIP and 3.9 WAR. While he didn't avoid the disabled list completely, the new 10-day minimum allowed him to miss one turn with what was termed lower back tightness but what was really a strategic break. By that point, Darvish had been traded to the Dodgers in a last-minute trade deadline deal on July 31. Prior to being dealt, Darivsh had generally pitched very well; the 10 runs he was lit up for in his 3 2/3-inning July 26 outing—his last as a Ranger, as it turned out — raised his ERA from 3.44 to 4.01, but the subsequent discovery that he had been tipping his pitches quelled concerns about his health. Having been placated by this explanation while doing their due diligence, the Dodgers should have been particularly attuned to the possibility of further tipping after his first World Series disaster; their failure to identify it may well have cost them a championship.

The Dodgers did help Darvish in other ways, however, using that late August DL stint to limit his workload, tweak his mechanics, simplify his repertoire and improve his sequencing. Though he was cuffed in his first two turns upon returning, he finished the regular season on a roll that carried through the NLCS. With greater reliance upon his cutter and slider at the expense of his four-seam fastball, he posted an 0.87 ERA with a 35/2 K/BB ratio in 31 innings over five starts. When the Astros spotted him changing his grip as he brought the ball into his glove, they could tell whether or not he was throwing a fastball.

The pitch-tipping mystery may be solved, but Darvish’s track record for health, with a Tommy John surgery and further shoulder problems, and overall mileage are worth noting for any suitor. Between NPB and MLB, he's thrown 2,000 2/3 regular season innings; among pitchers who have debuted since the 1994–95 strike, only Felix Hernandez (2,415 2/3), CC Sabathia (2,364 1/3), Javier Vazquez (2,062 1/3), Mark Buehrle (2061) and Jon Garland (2,029 1/3) threw more through their age-30 seasons. Sabathia's still going, having bookended two good seasons (2012 and '17) around four spotty, injury-riddled ones; he's averaged 1.7 WAR with a 104 ERA+ in his six seasons following that workload. Buehrle lasted six more seasons, averaging 3.0 WAR and 108 ERA+, albeit as a soft-tossing, contact-oriented lefty, a very different style of pitching than that of Darvish. Vazquez had one excellent season, two good ones and one bad one before disappearing from the majors after age 34, while Garland made just 21 more starts in his career. Hernandez managed just 86 2/3 innings in 2017, his first year since that cutoff, due to shoulder bursitis.

That's not an especially encouraging group to compare Darvish to, nor is it a great fit for him, stylistically. A more relevant analogue may be Justin Verlander, a power pitcher who had 1,772 innings under his belt through 2013, his age-30 season. He's had ups and downs since, but has averaged 193 innings, a 116 ERA+ and 4.0 WAR in the four seasons since. Then again, he never underwent Tommy John surgery. All of which is to say that Darvish is in a rather unique spot.

As with Arrieta, Darvish's uneven track record makes for a fairly uninspiring first run through my WHRW model, which uses Tom Tango’s WARcel forecasting system, a WAR-based version of his Marcel the Monkey forecaster system ("the most basic forecasting system you can have, that uses as little intelligence as possible") that builds in regression and an aging curve as well. My WHRW model also uses research-based estimates of the cost of a win via free agency and the rate of salary inflation. The WARcel starts with a baseline forecast for the upcoming season using a 6/3/1 WAR weighting (six times the player's 2017 WAR plus three times his 2016 WAR plus his 2015 WAR, divided by 10) of the player's past three seasons and throws in a significant hit of regression (20% in the first year, or 0.8 times that weighted WAR). For pitchers older than 26, the aging curve is simply a baseline loss of 0.4 WAR per year, with no age-based acceleration as there is in the case of position players.

Using Darvish's rather modest Baseball-Reference WARs of zero (2015, his TJ season), 2.5 ('16) and 3.9 ('17), his 2018 baseline WAR of 3.1 gets cut down to 2.5 by the built-in regression, with subsequent seasons of 2.1, 1.7 and 1.3 for a net of just 7.5 WAR. Using the low-end estimate of $9 million per 2017 win and a 5.9% rate of inflation, that comes out to a valuation of $76.7 million over four years, the kind of contract that a healthy Darvish almost certainly wouldn’t sign. Casting that simplistic-but-useful mode of projection aside and going with a more advanced system, the well-regarded Steamer forecasts Darvish for 3.4 WAR via its RA9 flavor—that is, based on actual runs allowed (along the lines of Baseball-Reference’s version of pitching WAR) rather than based upon peripheral statistics (along the lines of FanGraphs’ version):

Individual pitcher performances don't tend to follow such linear patterns, of course, but for modeling purposes, it’s easier to think about in these terms rather than the reality of year-to-year fluctuation. Darvish’s performance doesn’t appear to be unattainable, particularly given his flashes of brilliance last year, which also included a 13-start run with a 2.83 ERA from early April to mid-June. I’ve gone to six years with run based on the industry expectations that Dodgers Digest's Dustin Nosler recently highlighted: those of FanGraphs' Dave Cameron (six years, $168 million), FanRag Sports' Jon Heyman (six years, $144 million), an unnamed—and allegedly more accurate—expert cited by Heyman (six years, $155 million) and MLB Trade Rumors (six years, $160 million).

Using the high-end estimate of $10.5 million per 2017 win puts Darvish’s valuation at $180.5 million over the six years; the $30.08 million average annual value would rank fourth among pitchers after the pacts of Zack Greinke ($34.417 million), David Price ($31 million) and Clayton Kershaw ($31.71 million), edging Max Scherzer ($30 million). I don’t think Darvish will get a deal quite that lucrative, but even the more conservative valuation above yields a $25.78 AAV, with only Scherzer and Jon Lester ($25.83 million) ahead of him and Justin Verlander ($25.71 million) right behind. It’s worth remembering that those contracts are all at least two years old, and timing is everything in that area. While the market is currently in stasis, its lack of depth in an industry that’s awash in cash—thanks to revenue having grown faster than salaries over the past decade (67% for the former, 52% for the latter according to Tom Verducci) and the sale of MLB Advanced Media to Disney (yielding a payout of roughly $50 million per team)—will likely produce eye-opening figures at the upper end.

Darvish is reportedly still considering six teams, namely the Astros, Cubs, Rangers, Twins, Yankees and, by his own account, a mystery team (believed to be the Dodgers). Neither the Yankees nor the Dodgers seem likely to go that high given their attempts to get under the $197 million Competitive Balance Tax threshold this winter, but that’s still plenty of competition to yield a contract in the ballpark of those two estimates.

Darvish’s history in MLB shows that a few glitches aside, when he’s has been available, he's been very good, producing 4.2 WAR per 180 innings. But as his own track record—and that of similarly hard-worked pitchers—illustrates, the odds of him staying on the field that long aren't high, and the mileage that his right arm has accumulated won't make doing so any easier. Like any pitcher he’s a risk and a costly one, but some team is certain to bite the bullet and go big.

Blue Jays&#39; recent infield deals don&#39;t come without risk
Blue Jays' recent infield deals don't come without risk
Blue Jays' recent infield deals don't come without risk
Blue Jays&#39; recent infield deals don&#39;t come without risk
Blue Jays' recent infield deals don't come without risk
Blue Jays' recent infield deals don't come without risk
Blue Jays&#39; recent infield deals don&#39;t come without risk
Blue Jays' recent infield deals don't come without risk
Blue Jays' recent infield deals don't come without risk
Blue Jays&#39; recent infield deals don&#39;t come without risk
Blue Jays' recent infield deals don't come without risk
Blue Jays' recent infield deals don't come without risk
Blue Jays&#39; recent infield deals don&#39;t come without risk
Blue Jays' recent infield deals don't come without risk
Blue Jays' recent infield deals don't come without risk
Yelich fits Blue Jays&#39; dual window, but a deal for him doesn&#39;t
Yelich fits Blue Jays' dual window, but a deal for him doesn't
Yelich fits Blue Jays' dual window, but a deal for him doesn't
Christian Yelich is superficially a fit for the Toronto Blue Jays, but it takes serious mental gymnastics to conceive of a deal that would work. (Getty Images/Ciaran Breen)
Yelich
Christian Yelich is superficially a fit for the Toronto Blue Jays, but it takes serious mental gymnastics to conceive of a deal that would work. (Getty Images/Ciaran Breen)
FILE - In this Aug. 20, 2017, file photo, Chicago Cubs&#39; Rene Rivera is shown during the third inning of a baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays, in Chicago. Free-agent catcher Rene Rivera and the Los Angeles Angels have agreed to a $2.8 million, one-year contract, the Angels announced Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. Rivera has played for six teams over nine seasons in a major league career that began with Seattle. He split last season between the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs, batting .252 with 10 homers and 35 RBIs in 74 games. The 34-year-old Rivera has a strong arm behind the plate, throwing out 36.8 percent of attempted base-stealers. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski, File)
Veteran catcher Rene Rivera reaches $2.8M deal with Angels
FILE - In this Aug. 20, 2017, file photo, Chicago Cubs' Rene Rivera is shown during the third inning of a baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays, in Chicago. Free-agent catcher Rene Rivera and the Los Angeles Angels have agreed to a $2.8 million, one-year contract, the Angels announced Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. Rivera has played for six teams over nine seasons in a major league career that began with Seattle. He split last season between the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs, batting .252 with 10 homers and 35 RBIs in 74 games. The 34-year-old Rivera has a strong arm behind the plate, throwing out 36.8 percent of attempted base-stealers. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski, File)
FILE - In this Aug. 20, 2017, file photo, Chicago Cubs&#39; Rene Rivera is shown during the third inning of a baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays, in Chicago. Free-agent catcher Rene Rivera and the Los Angeles Angels have agreed to a $2.8 million, one-year contract, the Angels announced Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. Rivera has played for six teams over nine seasons in a major league career that began with Seattle. He split last season between the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs, batting .252 with 10 homers and 35 RBIs in 74 games. The 34-year-old Rivera has a strong arm behind the plate, throwing out 36.8 percent of attempted base-stealers. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski, File)
FILE - In this Aug. 20, 2017, file photo, Chicago Cubs' Rene Rivera is shown during the third inning of a baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays, in Chicago. Free-agent catcher Rene Rivera and the Los Angeles Angels have agreed to a $2.8 million, one-year contract, the Angels announced Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. Rivera has played for six teams over nine seasons in a major league career that began with Seattle. He split last season between the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs, batting .252 with 10 homers and 35 RBIs in 74 games. The 34-year-old Rivera has a strong arm behind the plate, throwing out 36.8 percent of attempted base-stealers. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski, File)
FILE - In this Aug. 20, 2017, file photo, Chicago Cubs' Rene Rivera is shown during the third inning of a baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays, in Chicago. Free-agent catcher Rene Rivera and the Los Angeles Angels have agreed to a $2.8 million, one-year contract, the Angels announced Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. Rivera has played for six teams over nine seasons in a major league career that began with Seattle. He split last season between the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs, batting .252 with 10 homers and 35 RBIs in 74 games. The 34-year-old Rivera has a strong arm behind the plate, throwing out 36.8 percent of attempted base-stealers. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski, File)
Picking up Yangervis Solarte and Aledmys Diaz look like strong moves for the Toronto Blue Jays, but the downsides aren't non-existent. (Getty Images/Ciaran Breen)
Solarte/Diaz
Picking up Yangervis Solarte and Aledmys Diaz look like strong moves for the Toronto Blue Jays, but the downsides aren't non-existent. (Getty Images/Ciaran Breen)
Christian Yelich is superficially a fit for the Toronto Blue Jays, but it takes serious mental gymnastics to conceive of a deal that would work. (Getty Images)
170925_fullresolution_rf3_7997.jpg
Christian Yelich is superficially a fit for the Toronto Blue Jays, but it takes serious mental gymnastics to conceive of a deal that would work. (Getty Images)
Picking up Yangervis Solarte looks like a strong move for the Toronto Blue Jays, but the downside isn't non-existent. (Getty Images)
700012682_tw_4362_897e58b216ecc3a7f3a04f908ff96c1f.jpg
Picking up Yangervis Solarte looks like a strong move for the Toronto Blue Jays, but the downside isn't non-existent. (Getty Images)
Dave Shovein examines the Blue Jays&#39; acquisition of Yangervis Solarte and other recent rumblings in Monday&#39;s Offseason Lowdown
Lowdown: Solarte Goes North
Dave Shovein examines the Blue Jays' acquisition of Yangervis Solarte and other recent rumblings in Monday's Offseason Lowdown
<p>Eric Hosmer is the player most indelibly linked to the Royals&#39; surprise 2014 AL pennant and 2015 championship, but Lorenzo Cain may have done more to help those teams achieve glory. Taking advantage of his outstanding speed and athleticism, the fleet-footed centerfielder coupled above-average offense with elite defense during the Royals’ pennant runs, and he&#39;s more or less continued to do so in the two seasons since. Now a free agent, the going-on-32-year-old centerfielder ranked fifth in <a href="https://www.si.com/mlb/2017/11/05/mlb-best-free-agents-martinez-darvish-arrieta" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:The Reiter 50" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">The Reiter 50</a>, but as with Hosmer and 16 of the other top 20 from among that group, he remains unsigned at this writing.</p><p>To date, several teams have shown interest in Cain, with the Rangers, Blue Jays and Brewers doing so most recently and the Giants and Mets checking in earlier this winter. No dollar figures have been tossed around, at least publicly, but we can get an idea of the range of possibilities via my <a href="https://www.si.com/mlb/2016/01/05/whats-he-really-worth-yoenis-cespedes-free-agency" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:What&#39;s He Really Worth" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">What&#39;s He Really Worth</a> system, a model that incorporates a player&#39;s last three years of performance, a projection of his future value, and estimates of the market cost for a win, the rate of inflation and an age-related decline.</p><p>Though he&#39;s played in the majors for parts of eight seasons, it&#39;s fair to call Cain a late bloomer. Drafted out of a Florida high school by the Brewers in 2004, he was slowed by a strain of his posterior collateral ligament in 2009 and didn’t make his major league debut until 2010, when he was 24 years old. Traded to the Royals as part of the Zack Greinke blockbuster in December 2010, he played just 67 major league games over the next two seasons due to the unexpected hot play of Melky Cabrera (2011) and further lower-body injuries (2011–12). He led all MLB outfielders with 24 Defensive Runs Saved, but hit for just an 80 OPS+ in 2013 (.251/301/.348)—his age-27 season—and looked like a bottom-of-the-lineup type who could be useful, but hardly a championship-caliber player.</p><p>Cain made dramatic improvements at the plate in 2014 (109 OPS+) and again in &#39;15 (125 OPS+), becoming less pull happy but generating more hard contact and swiping 28 bases in each season. In 2015, he set career highs with 140 games, 16 homers—as many as he&#39;d managed in the previous three seasons—and 7.2 WAR (Baseball-Reference version), the league&#39;s fourth-highest total. That same year, he made his lone All-Star team, dashed home with the pennant-winning run in the ALCS against the Blue Jays (he&#39;d won ALCS MVP honors the year before) and helped the Royals to their first championship in 30 years.</p><p>Unfortunately, a left hamstring strain and a left wrist sprain each cost Cain about a month of the 2016 season. He played in just 103 games overall, and just 30 after June 28, shifting to rightfield—a position where he&#39;d split time for most of his Kansas City career, generally with Jarrod Dyson coming off the bench late to take over center—due to the hamstring injury. Even with just a league average offensive contribution (100 OPS+), he produced a respectable 2.9 WAR thanks to his outstanding defense (+11 DRS).. Fully healthy, he rebounded in 2017, setting new career highs with 155 games, 175 hits and 54 walks and providing his typical blend of speed (26 steals in 28 attempts) and modest power (15 homers). He hit .300/.363/.440 for a 112 OPS+, nearly identical to the .300/.347/.436/113 OPS+ he&#39;d hit in the previous three seasons combined.</p><p>Defensively, the good news is that Cain proved durable enough to play 151 games in centerfield. The bad news is that his +5 DRS was his lowest total since 2012, marking him merely as a good fielder instead of a great one; his +2 UZR is in the same ballpark. Interestingly enough, he did rank fifth among all outfielders in Statcast&#39;s newfangled <a href="https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/outs_above_average" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Outs Above Average" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Outs Above Average</a>, which <a href="http://m.mlb.com/glossary/statcast/outs-above-average" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:accounts" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">accounts</a> for the probability of an outfielder making a play by taking into account the distance and direction he has to travel and the time to get there, all based on the direction, launch angle and exit velocity each batted ball. Cain&#39;s 15 Outs Above Average trailed only Byron Buxton, Ender Inciarte, Mookie Betts and Adam Engel. Meanwhile, Statcast&#39;s assessment of Cain’s <a href="https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/sprint_speed_leaderboard" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:sprint speed" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">sprint speed</a> (top four percentile) jibes with his +8 baserunning runs, which ranked third in the majors behind only Buxton and Betts (both +9). All of which suggests that his legs (and baserunning smarts) are still in excellent shape going forward, an important consideration given that facet’s centrality to his value.</p><p>Cain’s 5.3 WAR in 2017 was good for 10th in the league, and even given his 2016 absences, his 15.4 WAR over the past three seasons is <a href="https://bbref.com/pi/shareit/Ys1mu" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:tied for 16th in the majors" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">tied for 16th in the majors</a>, fifth among all outfielders. Again, he&#39;s made just one All-Star team and hasn&#39;t won a Gold Glove, though he did win three straight (2012–14) spots on <a href="https://www.baseball-reference.com/awards/wilson_def_player.shtml" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Wilson&#39;s Defensive Players of the Year" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Wilson&#39;s Defensive Players of the Year</a> teams. Based on the metrics, one can&#39;t begrudge the hardware of the Rays&#39; two-time Gold Glove winner, Kevin Kiermaier (2015–16), but it&#39;s rather galling that Cain went home empty-handed in 2013–14 while outdoing the Orioles&#39; Adam Jones in both DRS (+45 to 0) and UZR (+38 to +2) by wide margins. Even with a minimum of accolades, he&#39;s easily the best centerfielder in a free agent market where the alternatives (Dyson, Carlos Gomez, Austin Jackson, Jon Jay, Cameron Maybin) profile as part-time players or incomplete solutions.</p><p>Unlike <a href="https://www.si.com/mlb/2018/01/04/eric-hosmer-free-agency-kansas-city-royals-san-diego-padres" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Hosmer" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Hosmer</a> and <a href="https://www.si.com/mlb/2018/01/05/jd-martinez-free-agency-arizona-diamondbacks-boston-red-sox" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:J.D. Martinez" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">J.D. Martinez</a>, Cain doesn’t have agent Scott Boras bandying about $200 million contract demands, but via the WHRW, he’s got a better case for being paid big bucks (if not that stratospheric figure). In estimating Cain&#39;s value going forward, the WHRW model uses Tom Tango&#39;s <a href="http://tangotiger.com/index.php/site/comments/war-marcels-warcels" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Marcel the Monkey" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Marcel the Monkey</a> forecasting system (&quot;the most basic forecasting system you can have, that uses as little intelligence as possible&quot;) to establish a baseline based upon a 6/3/1 weighting of WAR; that is, six times his 2017 WAR plus three times his 2016 WAR plus his 2015 WAR, divided by 10. Tango&#39;s model also includes regression and an aging curve, specifically:</p><p>• 20% regression in the first year (0.8 times that weighted WAR)</p><p>• A baseline loss of 0.4 WAR per year thereafter, adjusted for age: gaining 0.1 WAR for each year under 30 and losing 0.1 per year over 30 (so -0.2 for Cain&#39;s age-32 season).</p><p>For the cost of a win this winter&#39;s series, I&#39;ve extrapolated from the results of two studies of last winter&#39;s market, a low-end estimate of $9 million per win for 2017 based upon <a href="https://www.vivaelbirdos.com/2017/2/27/14748912/cardinals-price-of-win-war-dexter-fowler-brett-cecil" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Ben Markham" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Ben Markham</a>&#39;s study of 101 free agent deals from last winter, and a high-end estimate of $10.5 million via <a href="https://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/the-recent-history-of-free-agent-pricing/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Matt Swartz" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Matt Swartz</a>’s longer-range study. I&#39;m applying the latter&#39;s 5.9% estimate for annual inflation to both. All of these figures represent a jump from last winter&#39;s series; despite the slow pace of free agent signings this winter, the industry is awash in cash, having set <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/maurybrown/2017/11/22/mlb-sets-record-for-revenues-in-2017-increasing-more-than-500-million-since-2015/#15bfd02e7880" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:a revenue record" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">a revenue record</a> for the 15th year in a row despite an attendance dip. What&#39;s more, each team is about to reap <a href="http://mlb.nbcsports.com/2017/12/15/each-owner-will-get-at-least-50-million-in-early-2018-from-he-sale-of-bamtech/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:a $50 million windfall" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">a $50 million windfall</a> from the sale of a majority stake in MLB Advanced Media (now BAMTech) to the Disney Corporation.</p><p>While no reports of actual offers to Cain have been made public, it&#39;s safe to assume he&#39;ll be getting ones in the three-to-five year range given his age (all dollar figures in millions).</p><p>Five years and $102.9 million does seem to be a big jump beyond the five years and $82.5 million Dexter Fowler received from the Cardinals last winter for his age-31 to 35 seasons, but then Cain has been far more valuable than Fowler thanks largely to his defense. Fowler&#39;s -31 DRS from 2014–16—nearly the inverse of Cain’s +34 DRS from 2015–17—limited his WAR to 8.2 in that span, and he had considerably less value on the bases than Cain as well.</p><p>At the $10.5 million per win figure, Cain&#39;s five-year forecast produces a valuation of $120 million; at $24 million per year, that would be <a href="http://legacy.baseballprospectus.com/compensation/cots/league-info/highest-paid-players/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the sixth-highest average annual value" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the sixth-highest average annual value</a> of any outfielder&#39;s contract, fitting in between Mike Trout ($24.083 million and Jason Heyward ($23 million). Again, timing is everything, including the fact that Trout&#39;s AAV includes salaries from his three years of arbitration eligibility. It’s hardly a guarantee that Cain’s deal will go that high, but it could.</p><p>Unlike the cases of Hosmer and Martinez, where charitable assumptions regarding shaky defensive metrics, injuries and intangibles are necessary to justify valuations that still don&#39;t match Boras’ asking price, Cain&#39;s case seems fairly straightforward. His age, injury history, likelihood of regression—all of those are incorporated into the model to some extent, and none of that needs to be waved off to justify a nine-figure deal.</p><p>That said, one thing that shouldn&#39;t be taken for granted is the possibility that Cain is moved out of centerfield, either because of the presence of a superior gloveman (the Blue Jays&#39; Kevin Pillar, for example) or the desire to keep Cain healthy as he ages. The <a href="https://www.baseball-reference.com/about/war_explained_position.shtml" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:positional adjustments" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">positional adjustments</a> in Baseball-Reference&#39;s version of WAR are such that a full season in righfield is about 9.5 runs less valuable than one in center; currently, a centerfielder is valued at +2.5 runs per 1,350 innings (about 150 games) while a rightfielder is valued at -7 runs. Translated from stathead to English, the defensive demands of centerfielder are such that teams can sacrifice a bit of offense, playing a below average hitter there. It’s much easier to find a player who’s a good enough hitter and competent fielder to play rightifeld.</p><p>On a prorated basis, Cain&#39;s DRS in rightfield (+33 per 1,350 innings), has actually been higher than in center (+20 per 1,350 innings), but he has just 977 1/3 innings under his belt there, which amounts to about two-thirds of a season. If we apply a bit of regression, assuming he&#39;d be &quot;only&quot; +24 over a full complement of innings, we can tweak the above projection by docking him an extra 0.45 wins per year—a gain of four runs relative to the average fielder at each position, coupled with the 9.5 run loss in value for the position shift—at some point. Referring to the valuations in the table above, let’s suppose that the shift kicks in for 2021 (0.8 WAR, instead of 1.2) and &#39;22 -0.3 WAR instead of 0.2). Via the revised numbers, Cain would produce 9.1 WAR over the life of a five-year deal, worth $92.4 million in the low estimate and $107.8 million in the high one. That’s still more than the first-cut five-year valuation for Martinez ($84.4 million) as well as last year’s contract for Fowler.</p><p>Chances are that a team moving him before that isn’t thinking in terms of five years; at the low end, a four-year deal with a move to rightfield for 2020 yields 8.5 WAR and a valuation of $85.3 million, while at the high end, the valuation would be back up to $99.5 million.</p><p>Given the number of teams who’ve expressed interest in the multitalented Cain, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him bring home a five-year deal. I think he’ll do more to live up to whatever contract he lands than either Hosmer or Martinez. </p>
What Is Lorenzo Cain Really Worth? More Than You May Think

Eric Hosmer is the player most indelibly linked to the Royals' surprise 2014 AL pennant and 2015 championship, but Lorenzo Cain may have done more to help those teams achieve glory. Taking advantage of his outstanding speed and athleticism, the fleet-footed centerfielder coupled above-average offense with elite defense during the Royals’ pennant runs, and he's more or less continued to do so in the two seasons since. Now a free agent, the going-on-32-year-old centerfielder ranked fifth in The Reiter 50, but as with Hosmer and 16 of the other top 20 from among that group, he remains unsigned at this writing.

To date, several teams have shown interest in Cain, with the Rangers, Blue Jays and Brewers doing so most recently and the Giants and Mets checking in earlier this winter. No dollar figures have been tossed around, at least publicly, but we can get an idea of the range of possibilities via my What's He Really Worth system, a model that incorporates a player's last three years of performance, a projection of his future value, and estimates of the market cost for a win, the rate of inflation and an age-related decline.

Though he's played in the majors for parts of eight seasons, it's fair to call Cain a late bloomer. Drafted out of a Florida high school by the Brewers in 2004, he was slowed by a strain of his posterior collateral ligament in 2009 and didn’t make his major league debut until 2010, when he was 24 years old. Traded to the Royals as part of the Zack Greinke blockbuster in December 2010, he played just 67 major league games over the next two seasons due to the unexpected hot play of Melky Cabrera (2011) and further lower-body injuries (2011–12). He led all MLB outfielders with 24 Defensive Runs Saved, but hit for just an 80 OPS+ in 2013 (.251/301/.348)—his age-27 season—and looked like a bottom-of-the-lineup type who could be useful, but hardly a championship-caliber player.

Cain made dramatic improvements at the plate in 2014 (109 OPS+) and again in '15 (125 OPS+), becoming less pull happy but generating more hard contact and swiping 28 bases in each season. In 2015, he set career highs with 140 games, 16 homers—as many as he'd managed in the previous three seasons—and 7.2 WAR (Baseball-Reference version), the league's fourth-highest total. That same year, he made his lone All-Star team, dashed home with the pennant-winning run in the ALCS against the Blue Jays (he'd won ALCS MVP honors the year before) and helped the Royals to their first championship in 30 years.

Unfortunately, a left hamstring strain and a left wrist sprain each cost Cain about a month of the 2016 season. He played in just 103 games overall, and just 30 after June 28, shifting to rightfield—a position where he'd split time for most of his Kansas City career, generally with Jarrod Dyson coming off the bench late to take over center—due to the hamstring injury. Even with just a league average offensive contribution (100 OPS+), he produced a respectable 2.9 WAR thanks to his outstanding defense (+11 DRS).. Fully healthy, he rebounded in 2017, setting new career highs with 155 games, 175 hits and 54 walks and providing his typical blend of speed (26 steals in 28 attempts) and modest power (15 homers). He hit .300/.363/.440 for a 112 OPS+, nearly identical to the .300/.347/.436/113 OPS+ he'd hit in the previous three seasons combined.

Defensively, the good news is that Cain proved durable enough to play 151 games in centerfield. The bad news is that his +5 DRS was his lowest total since 2012, marking him merely as a good fielder instead of a great one; his +2 UZR is in the same ballpark. Interestingly enough, he did rank fifth among all outfielders in Statcast's newfangled Outs Above Average, which accounts for the probability of an outfielder making a play by taking into account the distance and direction he has to travel and the time to get there, all based on the direction, launch angle and exit velocity each batted ball. Cain's 15 Outs Above Average trailed only Byron Buxton, Ender Inciarte, Mookie Betts and Adam Engel. Meanwhile, Statcast's assessment of Cain’s sprint speed (top four percentile) jibes with his +8 baserunning runs, which ranked third in the majors behind only Buxton and Betts (both +9). All of which suggests that his legs (and baserunning smarts) are still in excellent shape going forward, an important consideration given that facet’s centrality to his value.

Cain’s 5.3 WAR in 2017 was good for 10th in the league, and even given his 2016 absences, his 15.4 WAR over the past three seasons is tied for 16th in the majors, fifth among all outfielders. Again, he's made just one All-Star team and hasn't won a Gold Glove, though he did win three straight (2012–14) spots on Wilson's Defensive Players of the Year teams. Based on the metrics, one can't begrudge the hardware of the Rays' two-time Gold Glove winner, Kevin Kiermaier (2015–16), but it's rather galling that Cain went home empty-handed in 2013–14 while outdoing the Orioles' Adam Jones in both DRS (+45 to 0) and UZR (+38 to +2) by wide margins. Even with a minimum of accolades, he's easily the best centerfielder in a free agent market where the alternatives (Dyson, Carlos Gomez, Austin Jackson, Jon Jay, Cameron Maybin) profile as part-time players or incomplete solutions.

Unlike Hosmer and J.D. Martinez, Cain doesn’t have agent Scott Boras bandying about $200 million contract demands, but via the WHRW, he’s got a better case for being paid big bucks (if not that stratospheric figure). In estimating Cain's value going forward, the WHRW model uses Tom Tango's Marcel the Monkey forecasting system ("the most basic forecasting system you can have, that uses as little intelligence as possible") to establish a baseline based upon a 6/3/1 weighting of WAR; that is, six times his 2017 WAR plus three times his 2016 WAR plus his 2015 WAR, divided by 10. Tango's model also includes regression and an aging curve, specifically:

• 20% regression in the first year (0.8 times that weighted WAR)

• A baseline loss of 0.4 WAR per year thereafter, adjusted for age: gaining 0.1 WAR for each year under 30 and losing 0.1 per year over 30 (so -0.2 for Cain's age-32 season).

For the cost of a win this winter's series, I've extrapolated from the results of two studies of last winter's market, a low-end estimate of $9 million per win for 2017 based upon Ben Markham's study of 101 free agent deals from last winter, and a high-end estimate of $10.5 million via Matt Swartz’s longer-range study. I'm applying the latter's 5.9% estimate for annual inflation to both. All of these figures represent a jump from last winter's series; despite the slow pace of free agent signings this winter, the industry is awash in cash, having set a revenue record for the 15th year in a row despite an attendance dip. What's more, each team is about to reap a $50 million windfall from the sale of a majority stake in MLB Advanced Media (now BAMTech) to the Disney Corporation.

While no reports of actual offers to Cain have been made public, it's safe to assume he'll be getting ones in the three-to-five year range given his age (all dollar figures in millions).

Five years and $102.9 million does seem to be a big jump beyond the five years and $82.5 million Dexter Fowler received from the Cardinals last winter for his age-31 to 35 seasons, but then Cain has been far more valuable than Fowler thanks largely to his defense. Fowler's -31 DRS from 2014–16—nearly the inverse of Cain’s +34 DRS from 2015–17—limited his WAR to 8.2 in that span, and he had considerably less value on the bases than Cain as well.

At the $10.5 million per win figure, Cain's five-year forecast produces a valuation of $120 million; at $24 million per year, that would be the sixth-highest average annual value of any outfielder's contract, fitting in between Mike Trout ($24.083 million and Jason Heyward ($23 million). Again, timing is everything, including the fact that Trout's AAV includes salaries from his three years of arbitration eligibility. It’s hardly a guarantee that Cain’s deal will go that high, but it could.

Unlike the cases of Hosmer and Martinez, where charitable assumptions regarding shaky defensive metrics, injuries and intangibles are necessary to justify valuations that still don't match Boras’ asking price, Cain's case seems fairly straightforward. His age, injury history, likelihood of regression—all of those are incorporated into the model to some extent, and none of that needs to be waved off to justify a nine-figure deal.

That said, one thing that shouldn't be taken for granted is the possibility that Cain is moved out of centerfield, either because of the presence of a superior gloveman (the Blue Jays' Kevin Pillar, for example) or the desire to keep Cain healthy as he ages. The positional adjustments in Baseball-Reference's version of WAR are such that a full season in righfield is about 9.5 runs less valuable than one in center; currently, a centerfielder is valued at +2.5 runs per 1,350 innings (about 150 games) while a rightfielder is valued at -7 runs. Translated from stathead to English, the defensive demands of centerfielder are such that teams can sacrifice a bit of offense, playing a below average hitter there. It’s much easier to find a player who’s a good enough hitter and competent fielder to play rightifeld.

On a prorated basis, Cain's DRS in rightfield (+33 per 1,350 innings), has actually been higher than in center (+20 per 1,350 innings), but he has just 977 1/3 innings under his belt there, which amounts to about two-thirds of a season. If we apply a bit of regression, assuming he'd be "only" +24 over a full complement of innings, we can tweak the above projection by docking him an extra 0.45 wins per year—a gain of four runs relative to the average fielder at each position, coupled with the 9.5 run loss in value for the position shift—at some point. Referring to the valuations in the table above, let’s suppose that the shift kicks in for 2021 (0.8 WAR, instead of 1.2) and '22 -0.3 WAR instead of 0.2). Via the revised numbers, Cain would produce 9.1 WAR over the life of a five-year deal, worth $92.4 million in the low estimate and $107.8 million in the high one. That’s still more than the first-cut five-year valuation for Martinez ($84.4 million) as well as last year’s contract for Fowler.

Chances are that a team moving him before that isn’t thinking in terms of five years; at the low end, a four-year deal with a move to rightfield for 2020 yields 8.5 WAR and a valuation of $85.3 million, while at the high end, the valuation would be back up to $99.5 million.

Given the number of teams who’ve expressed interest in the multitalented Cain, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him bring home a five-year deal. I think he’ll do more to live up to whatever contract he lands than either Hosmer or Martinez.

<p>Eric Hosmer is the player most indelibly linked to the Royals&#39; surprise 2014 AL pennant and 2015 championship, but Lorenzo Cain may have done more to help those teams achieve glory. Taking advantage of his outstanding speed and athleticism, the fleet-footed centerfielder coupled above-average offense with elite defense during the Royals’ pennant runs, and he&#39;s more or less continued to do so in the two seasons since. Now a free agent, the going-on-32-year-old centerfielder ranked fifth in <a href="https://www.si.com/mlb/2017/11/05/mlb-best-free-agents-martinez-darvish-arrieta" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:The Reiter 50" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">The Reiter 50</a>, but as with Hosmer and 16 of the other top 20 from among that group, he remains unsigned at this writing.</p><p>To date, several teams have shown interest in Cain, with the Rangers, Blue Jays and Brewers doing so most recently and the Giants and Mets checking in earlier this winter. No dollar figures have been tossed around, at least publicly, but we can get an idea of the range of possibilities via my <a href="https://www.si.com/mlb/2016/01/05/whats-he-really-worth-yoenis-cespedes-free-agency" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:What&#39;s He Really Worth" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">What&#39;s He Really Worth</a> system, a model that incorporates a player&#39;s last three years of performance, a projection of his future value, and estimates of the market cost for a win, the rate of inflation and an age-related decline.</p><p>Though he&#39;s played in the majors for parts of eight seasons, it&#39;s fair to call Cain a late bloomer. Drafted out of a Florida high school by the Brewers in 2004, he was slowed by a strain of his posterior collateral ligament in 2009 and didn’t make his major league debut until 2010, when he was 24 years old. Traded to the Royals as part of the Zack Greinke blockbuster in December 2010, he played just 67 major league games over the next two seasons due to the unexpected hot play of Melky Cabrera (2011) and further lower-body injuries (2011–12). He led all MLB outfielders with 24 Defensive Runs Saved, but hit for just an 80 OPS+ in 2013 (.251/301/.348)—his age-27 season—and looked like a bottom-of-the-lineup type who could be useful, but hardly a championship-caliber player.</p><p>Cain made dramatic improvements at the plate in 2014 (109 OPS+) and again in &#39;15 (125 OPS+), becoming less pull happy but generating more hard contact and swiping 28 bases in each season. In 2015, he set career highs with 140 games, 16 homers—as many as he&#39;d managed in the previous three seasons—and 7.2 WAR (Baseball-Reference version), the league&#39;s fourth-highest total. That same year, he made his lone All-Star team, dashed home with the pennant-winning run in the ALCS against the Blue Jays (he&#39;d won ALCS MVP honors the year before) and helped the Royals to their first championship in 30 years.</p><p>Unfortunately, a left hamstring strain and a left wrist sprain each cost Cain about a month of the 2016 season. He played in just 103 games overall, and just 30 after June 28, shifting to rightfield—a position where he&#39;d split time for most of his Kansas City career, generally with Jarrod Dyson coming off the bench late to take over center—due to the hamstring injury. Even with just a league average offensive contribution (100 OPS+), he produced a respectable 2.9 WAR thanks to his outstanding defense (+11 DRS).. Fully healthy, he rebounded in 2017, setting new career highs with 155 games, 175 hits and 54 walks and providing his typical blend of speed (26 steals in 28 attempts) and modest power (15 homers). He hit .300/.363/.440 for a 112 OPS+, nearly identical to the .300/.347/.436/113 OPS+ he&#39;d hit in the previous three seasons combined.</p><p>Defensively, the good news is that Cain proved durable enough to play 151 games in centerfield. The bad news is that his +5 DRS was his lowest total since 2012, marking him merely as a good fielder instead of a great one; his +2 UZR is in the same ballpark. Interestingly enough, he did rank fifth among all outfielders in Statcast&#39;s newfangled <a href="https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/outs_above_average" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Outs Above Average" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Outs Above Average</a>, which <a href="http://m.mlb.com/glossary/statcast/outs-above-average" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:accounts" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">accounts</a> for the probability of an outfielder making a play by taking into account the distance and direction he has to travel and the time to get there, all based on the direction, launch angle and exit velocity each batted ball. Cain&#39;s 15 Outs Above Average trailed only Byron Buxton, Ender Inciarte, Mookie Betts and Adam Engel. Meanwhile, Statcast&#39;s assessment of Cain’s <a href="https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/sprint_speed_leaderboard" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:sprint speed" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">sprint speed</a> (top four percentile) jibes with his +8 baserunning runs, which ranked third in the majors behind only Buxton and Betts (both +9). All of which suggests that his legs (and baserunning smarts) are still in excellent shape going forward, an important consideration given that facet’s centrality to his value.</p><p>Cain’s 5.3 WAR in 2017 was good for 10th in the league, and even given his 2016 absences, his 15.4 WAR over the past three seasons is <a href="https://bbref.com/pi/shareit/Ys1mu" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:tied for 16th in the majors" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">tied for 16th in the majors</a>, fifth among all outfielders. Again, he&#39;s made just one All-Star team and hasn&#39;t won a Gold Glove, though he did win three straight (2012–14) spots on <a href="https://www.baseball-reference.com/awards/wilson_def_player.shtml" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Wilson&#39;s Defensive Players of the Year" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Wilson&#39;s Defensive Players of the Year</a> teams. Based on the metrics, one can&#39;t begrudge the hardware of the Rays&#39; two-time Gold Glove winner, Kevin Kiermaier (2015–16), but it&#39;s rather galling that Cain went home empty-handed in 2013–14 while outdoing the Orioles&#39; Adam Jones in both DRS (+45 to 0) and UZR (+38 to +2) by wide margins. Even with a minimum of accolades, he&#39;s easily the best centerfielder in a free agent market where the alternatives (Dyson, Carlos Gomez, Austin Jackson, Jon Jay, Cameron Maybin) profile as part-time players or incomplete solutions.</p><p>Unlike <a href="https://www.si.com/mlb/2018/01/04/eric-hosmer-free-agency-kansas-city-royals-san-diego-padres" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Hosmer" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Hosmer</a> and <a href="https://www.si.com/mlb/2018/01/05/jd-martinez-free-agency-arizona-diamondbacks-boston-red-sox" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:J.D. Martinez" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">J.D. Martinez</a>, Cain doesn’t have agent Scott Boras bandying about $200 million contract demands, but via the WHRW, he’s got a better case for being paid big bucks (if not that stratospheric figure). In estimating Cain&#39;s value going forward, the WHRW model uses Tom Tango&#39;s <a href="http://tangotiger.com/index.php/site/comments/war-marcels-warcels" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Marcel the Monkey" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Marcel the Monkey</a> forecasting system (&quot;the most basic forecasting system you can have, that uses as little intelligence as possible&quot;) to establish a baseline based upon a 6/3/1 weighting of WAR; that is, six times his 2017 WAR plus three times his 2016 WAR plus his 2015 WAR, divided by 10. Tango&#39;s model also includes regression and an aging curve, specifically:</p><p>• 20% regression in the first year (0.8 times that weighted WAR)</p><p>• A baseline loss of 0.4 WAR per year thereafter, adjusted for age: gaining 0.1 WAR for each year under 30 and losing 0.1 per year over 30 (so -0.2 for Cain&#39;s age-32 season).</p><p>For the cost of a win this winter&#39;s series, I&#39;ve extrapolated from the results of two studies of last winter&#39;s market, a low-end estimate of $9 million per win for 2017 based upon <a href="https://www.vivaelbirdos.com/2017/2/27/14748912/cardinals-price-of-win-war-dexter-fowler-brett-cecil" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Ben Markham" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Ben Markham</a>&#39;s study of 101 free agent deals from last winter, and a high-end estimate of $10.5 million via <a href="https://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/the-recent-history-of-free-agent-pricing/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Matt Swartz" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Matt Swartz</a>’s longer-range study. I&#39;m applying the latter&#39;s 5.9% estimate for annual inflation to both. All of these figures represent a jump from last winter&#39;s series; despite the slow pace of free agent signings this winter, the industry is awash in cash, having set <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/maurybrown/2017/11/22/mlb-sets-record-for-revenues-in-2017-increasing-more-than-500-million-since-2015/#15bfd02e7880" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:a revenue record" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">a revenue record</a> for the 15th year in a row despite an attendance dip. What&#39;s more, each team is about to reap <a href="http://mlb.nbcsports.com/2017/12/15/each-owner-will-get-at-least-50-million-in-early-2018-from-he-sale-of-bamtech/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:a $50 million windfall" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">a $50 million windfall</a> from the sale of a majority stake in MLB Advanced Media (now BAMTech) to the Disney Corporation.</p><p>While no reports of actual offers to Cain have been made public, it&#39;s safe to assume he&#39;ll be getting ones in the three-to-five year range given his age (all dollar figures in millions).</p><p>Five years and $102.9 million does seem to be a big jump beyond the five years and $82.5 million Dexter Fowler received from the Cardinals last winter for his age-31 to 35 seasons, but then Cain has been far more valuable than Fowler thanks largely to his defense. Fowler&#39;s -31 DRS from 2014–16—nearly the inverse of Cain’s +34 DRS from 2015–17—limited his WAR to 8.2 in that span, and he had considerably less value on the bases than Cain as well.</p><p>At the $10.5 million per win figure, Cain&#39;s five-year forecast produces a valuation of $120 million; at $24 million per year, that would be <a href="http://legacy.baseballprospectus.com/compensation/cots/league-info/highest-paid-players/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the sixth-highest average annual value" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the sixth-highest average annual value</a> of any outfielder&#39;s contract, fitting in between Mike Trout ($24.083 million and Jason Heyward ($23 million). Again, timing is everything, including the fact that Trout&#39;s AAV includes salaries from his three years of arbitration eligibility. It’s hardly a guarantee that Cain’s deal will go that high, but it could.</p><p>Unlike the cases of Hosmer and Martinez, where charitable assumptions regarding shaky defensive metrics, injuries and intangibles are necessary to justify valuations that still don&#39;t match Boras’ asking price, Cain&#39;s case seems fairly straightforward. His age, injury history, likelihood of regression—all of those are incorporated into the model to some extent, and none of that needs to be waved off to justify a nine-figure deal.</p><p>That said, one thing that shouldn&#39;t be taken for granted is the possibility that Cain is moved out of centerfield, either because of the presence of a superior gloveman (the Blue Jays&#39; Kevin Pillar, for example) or the desire to keep Cain healthy as he ages. The <a href="https://www.baseball-reference.com/about/war_explained_position.shtml" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:positional adjustments" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">positional adjustments</a> in Baseball-Reference&#39;s version of WAR are such that a full season in righfield is about 9.5 runs less valuable than one in center; currently, a centerfielder is valued at +2.5 runs per 1,350 innings (about 150 games) while a rightfielder is valued at -7 runs. Translated from stathead to English, the defensive demands of centerfielder are such that teams can sacrifice a bit of offense, playing a below average hitter there. It’s much easier to find a player who’s a good enough hitter and competent fielder to play rightifeld.</p><p>On a prorated basis, Cain&#39;s DRS in rightfield (+33 per 1,350 innings), has actually been higher than in center (+20 per 1,350 innings), but he has just 977 1/3 innings under his belt there, which amounts to about two-thirds of a season. If we apply a bit of regression, assuming he&#39;d be &quot;only&quot; +24 over a full complement of innings, we can tweak the above projection by docking him an extra 0.45 wins per year—a gain of four runs relative to the average fielder at each position, coupled with the 9.5 run loss in value for the position shift—at some point. Referring to the valuations in the table above, let’s suppose that the shift kicks in for 2021 (0.8 WAR, instead of 1.2) and &#39;22 -0.3 WAR instead of 0.2). Via the revised numbers, Cain would produce 9.1 WAR over the life of a five-year deal, worth $92.4 million in the low estimate and $107.8 million in the high one. That’s still more than the first-cut five-year valuation for Martinez ($84.4 million) as well as last year’s contract for Fowler.</p><p>Chances are that a team moving him before that isn’t thinking in terms of five years; at the low end, a four-year deal with a move to rightfield for 2020 yields 8.5 WAR and a valuation of $85.3 million, while at the high end, the valuation would be back up to $99.5 million.</p><p>Given the number of teams who’ve expressed interest in the multitalented Cain, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him bring home a five-year deal. I think he’ll do more to live up to whatever contract he lands than either Hosmer or Martinez. </p>
What Is Lorenzo Cain Really Worth? More Than You May Think

Eric Hosmer is the player most indelibly linked to the Royals' surprise 2014 AL pennant and 2015 championship, but Lorenzo Cain may have done more to help those teams achieve glory. Taking advantage of his outstanding speed and athleticism, the fleet-footed centerfielder coupled above-average offense with elite defense during the Royals’ pennant runs, and he's more or less continued to do so in the two seasons since. Now a free agent, the going-on-32-year-old centerfielder ranked fifth in The Reiter 50, but as with Hosmer and 16 of the other top 20 from among that group, he remains unsigned at this writing.

To date, several teams have shown interest in Cain, with the Rangers, Blue Jays and Brewers doing so most recently and the Giants and Mets checking in earlier this winter. No dollar figures have been tossed around, at least publicly, but we can get an idea of the range of possibilities via my What's He Really Worth system, a model that incorporates a player's last three years of performance, a projection of his future value, and estimates of the market cost for a win, the rate of inflation and an age-related decline.

Though he's played in the majors for parts of eight seasons, it's fair to call Cain a late bloomer. Drafted out of a Florida high school by the Brewers in 2004, he was slowed by a strain of his posterior collateral ligament in 2009 and didn’t make his major league debut until 2010, when he was 24 years old. Traded to the Royals as part of the Zack Greinke blockbuster in December 2010, he played just 67 major league games over the next two seasons due to the unexpected hot play of Melky Cabrera (2011) and further lower-body injuries (2011–12). He led all MLB outfielders with 24 Defensive Runs Saved, but hit for just an 80 OPS+ in 2013 (.251/301/.348)—his age-27 season—and looked like a bottom-of-the-lineup type who could be useful, but hardly a championship-caliber player.

Cain made dramatic improvements at the plate in 2014 (109 OPS+) and again in '15 (125 OPS+), becoming less pull happy but generating more hard contact and swiping 28 bases in each season. In 2015, he set career highs with 140 games, 16 homers—as many as he'd managed in the previous three seasons—and 7.2 WAR (Baseball-Reference version), the league's fourth-highest total. That same year, he made his lone All-Star team, dashed home with the pennant-winning run in the ALCS against the Blue Jays (he'd won ALCS MVP honors the year before) and helped the Royals to their first championship in 30 years.

Unfortunately, a left hamstring strain and a left wrist sprain each cost Cain about a month of the 2016 season. He played in just 103 games overall, and just 30 after June 28, shifting to rightfield—a position where he'd split time for most of his Kansas City career, generally with Jarrod Dyson coming off the bench late to take over center—due to the hamstring injury. Even with just a league average offensive contribution (100 OPS+), he produced a respectable 2.9 WAR thanks to his outstanding defense (+11 DRS).. Fully healthy, he rebounded in 2017, setting new career highs with 155 games, 175 hits and 54 walks and providing his typical blend of speed (26 steals in 28 attempts) and modest power (15 homers). He hit .300/.363/.440 for a 112 OPS+, nearly identical to the .300/.347/.436/113 OPS+ he'd hit in the previous three seasons combined.

Defensively, the good news is that Cain proved durable enough to play 151 games in centerfield. The bad news is that his +5 DRS was his lowest total since 2012, marking him merely as a good fielder instead of a great one; his +2 UZR is in the same ballpark. Interestingly enough, he did rank fifth among all outfielders in Statcast's newfangled Outs Above Average, which accounts for the probability of an outfielder making a play by taking into account the distance and direction he has to travel and the time to get there, all based on the direction, launch angle and exit velocity each batted ball. Cain's 15 Outs Above Average trailed only Byron Buxton, Ender Inciarte, Mookie Betts and Adam Engel. Meanwhile, Statcast's assessment of Cain’s sprint speed (top four percentile) jibes with his +8 baserunning runs, which ranked third in the majors behind only Buxton and Betts (both +9). All of which suggests that his legs (and baserunning smarts) are still in excellent shape going forward, an important consideration given that facet’s centrality to his value.

Cain’s 5.3 WAR in 2017 was good for 10th in the league, and even given his 2016 absences, his 15.4 WAR over the past three seasons is tied for 16th in the majors, fifth among all outfielders. Again, he's made just one All-Star team and hasn't won a Gold Glove, though he did win three straight (2012–14) spots on Wilson's Defensive Players of the Year teams. Based on the metrics, one can't begrudge the hardware of the Rays' two-time Gold Glove winner, Kevin Kiermaier (2015–16), but it's rather galling that Cain went home empty-handed in 2013–14 while outdoing the Orioles' Adam Jones in both DRS (+45 to 0) and UZR (+38 to +2) by wide margins. Even with a minimum of accolades, he's easily the best centerfielder in a free agent market where the alternatives (Dyson, Carlos Gomez, Austin Jackson, Jon Jay, Cameron Maybin) profile as part-time players or incomplete solutions.

Unlike Hosmer and J.D. Martinez, Cain doesn’t have agent Scott Boras bandying about $200 million contract demands, but via the WHRW, he’s got a better case for being paid big bucks (if not that stratospheric figure). In estimating Cain's value going forward, the WHRW model uses Tom Tango's Marcel the Monkey forecasting system ("the most basic forecasting system you can have, that uses as little intelligence as possible") to establish a baseline based upon a 6/3/1 weighting of WAR; that is, six times his 2017 WAR plus three times his 2016 WAR plus his 2015 WAR, divided by 10. Tango's model also includes regression and an aging curve, specifically:

• 20% regression in the first year (0.8 times that weighted WAR)

• A baseline loss of 0.4 WAR per year thereafter, adjusted for age: gaining 0.1 WAR for each year under 30 and losing 0.1 per year over 30 (so -0.2 for Cain's age-32 season).

For the cost of a win this winter's series, I've extrapolated from the results of two studies of last winter's market, a low-end estimate of $9 million per win for 2017 based upon Ben Markham's study of 101 free agent deals from last winter, and a high-end estimate of $10.5 million via Matt Swartz’s longer-range study. I'm applying the latter's 5.9% estimate for annual inflation to both. All of these figures represent a jump from last winter's series; despite the slow pace of free agent signings this winter, the industry is awash in cash, having set a revenue record for the 15th year in a row despite an attendance dip. What's more, each team is about to reap a $50 million windfall from the sale of a majority stake in MLB Advanced Media (now BAMTech) to the Disney Corporation.

While no reports of actual offers to Cain have been made public, it's safe to assume he'll be getting ones in the three-to-five year range given his age (all dollar figures in millions).

Five years and $102.9 million does seem to be a big jump beyond the five years and $82.5 million Dexter Fowler received from the Cardinals last winter for his age-31 to 35 seasons, but then Cain has been far more valuable than Fowler thanks largely to his defense. Fowler's -31 DRS from 2014–16—nearly the inverse of Cain’s +34 DRS from 2015–17—limited his WAR to 8.2 in that span, and he had considerably less value on the bases than Cain as well.

At the $10.5 million per win figure, Cain's five-year forecast produces a valuation of $120 million; at $24 million per year, that would be the sixth-highest average annual value of any outfielder's contract, fitting in between Mike Trout ($24.083 million and Jason Heyward ($23 million). Again, timing is everything, including the fact that Trout's AAV includes salaries from his three years of arbitration eligibility. It’s hardly a guarantee that Cain’s deal will go that high, but it could.

Unlike the cases of Hosmer and Martinez, where charitable assumptions regarding shaky defensive metrics, injuries and intangibles are necessary to justify valuations that still don't match Boras’ asking price, Cain's case seems fairly straightforward. His age, injury history, likelihood of regression—all of those are incorporated into the model to some extent, and none of that needs to be waved off to justify a nine-figure deal.

That said, one thing that shouldn't be taken for granted is the possibility that Cain is moved out of centerfield, either because of the presence of a superior gloveman (the Blue Jays' Kevin Pillar, for example) or the desire to keep Cain healthy as he ages. The positional adjustments in Baseball-Reference's version of WAR are such that a full season in righfield is about 9.5 runs less valuable than one in center; currently, a centerfielder is valued at +2.5 runs per 1,350 innings (about 150 games) while a rightfielder is valued at -7 runs. Translated from stathead to English, the defensive demands of centerfielder are such that teams can sacrifice a bit of offense, playing a below average hitter there. It’s much easier to find a player who’s a good enough hitter and competent fielder to play rightifeld.

On a prorated basis, Cain's DRS in rightfield (+33 per 1,350 innings), has actually been higher than in center (+20 per 1,350 innings), but he has just 977 1/3 innings under his belt there, which amounts to about two-thirds of a season. If we apply a bit of regression, assuming he'd be "only" +24 over a full complement of innings, we can tweak the above projection by docking him an extra 0.45 wins per year—a gain of four runs relative to the average fielder at each position, coupled with the 9.5 run loss in value for the position shift—at some point. Referring to the valuations in the table above, let’s suppose that the shift kicks in for 2021 (0.8 WAR, instead of 1.2) and '22 -0.3 WAR instead of 0.2). Via the revised numbers, Cain would produce 9.1 WAR over the life of a five-year deal, worth $92.4 million in the low estimate and $107.8 million in the high one. That’s still more than the first-cut five-year valuation for Martinez ($84.4 million) as well as last year’s contract for Fowler.

Chances are that a team moving him before that isn’t thinking in terms of five years; at the low end, a four-year deal with a move to rightfield for 2020 yields 8.5 WAR and a valuation of $85.3 million, while at the high end, the valuation would be back up to $99.5 million.

Given the number of teams who’ve expressed interest in the multitalented Cain, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him bring home a five-year deal. I think he’ll do more to live up to whatever contract he lands than either Hosmer or Martinez.

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