I’ve been a legitimate baseball fan for almost 40 years. I was five years old in 1978. That was the first year my father took me to a baseball game (that I remember.) It was also the first year I collected baseball cards.
Home Runs were the stat when I was growing up. Oh sure, batting average, runs batted in, wins, earned run average and strikeouts all held value among fans, but the home run was what people paid the most attention to. It was what you hoped to see when you attended, or watched a game.
Throughout my life as a baseball fan, the home run has for the most part maintained that place atop the mountain of baseball statistics.
Most fans remember the hype that surrounded the 1998 home run race. That was the year that both Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa shattered the previously thought to be unbreakable single-season home run record of 61. Sosa would finish the season with 66, McGwire would set a new single-season record with 70 long balls.
Three seasons later Barry Bonds broke McGwire’s record by crushing 73 home runs.
The home run was king and that was that, or was it?
In the years that followed, the performance enhancing drug scandal would cast a negative light not just on the records, but on the home run totals of an entire generation of previously thought to be elite sluggers.
All of which leads us to today. December 22, 2016. It has been nearly two months since the World Series concluded. The “hot stove,” has been in full effect. There have been blockbuster trades involving ace starting pitchers.
Elite relief pitchers have seen a veritable cash windfall. Aroldis Chapman got a five-year, $86 million deal from the New York Yankees. Kenley Jansen got a five-year, $80 million contract from the Los Angeles Dodgers and Mark Melancon signed a four-year, $62.5 million deal with the San Francisco Giants.
Saves and strikeouts per nine innings pitched seem to be in high demand. Home runs?
It is almost Christmas and three of 2016’s top six home run hitters remain available on the market.
Mark Trumbo led all of major league baseball with 47 home runs. The Orioles reportedly have pulled a four-year offer for approximately $52-$55 million, leaving Trumbo with a limited list of potential suitors.
Trumbo is only 30 years old, he has hit 30 or more home runs in three of the last five seasons. He’s the reigning major league home run king and as of late December 2016 he appears to be a guy that not too many teams are all that interested in.
Edwin Encarnacion is older than 30, but at 33 years old he has established himself as one of major league baseball’s most consistent power threats. He’s hit 34 or more home runs in each of the last five seasons. In 2016 Encarnacion hit a career-best 42 long balls and added a league leading 127 RBI’s as well.
Surely a power hitter with that type of consistency would be in high demand on the lucrative free agent market?
Encarnacion may end up with a big contract, but as of now he’s a guy who turned down a four-year, $80 million offer from the Toronto Blue Jays and then watched as his market thinned out considerably.
His old team, the Blue Jays signed Kendrys Morales, a pretty good power hitter in his own right to a reasonable three-year, $33 million deal. The Houston Astros signed veteran slugger Carlos Beltran to a one-year, $16 million deal. The New York Yankees signed Matt Holiday to a one-year, $13 million deal and the Boston Red Sox came to terms with Mitch Moreland on a one-year deal for just $5.5 million.
Trumbo may be the current home run king, but Encarnacion might be the best power hitter of the decade, and yet he’s still available. The latest rumors are that Cleveland, Texas, Houston, Toronto and Oakland all have made Encarnacion an offer. If that’s true, then there’s no one standout among them, if there was then Encarnacion probably would have already accepted it.
Finally there’s Chris Carter. Carter’s name probably doesn’t scream “elite power hitter” to most fans, but the reality is that he hit 41 home runs in 2016. In 2014 as a member of the Houston Astros Carter hit 37 long balls.
Carter does hit for power but he also swings and misses a lot. He’s a career .218 hitter who has led the league in strikeouts in two of the last four seasons, both totals were higher than 200.
Carter does not present the same sort of package as Trumbo and Encarnacion do. Then again, Carter isn’t a conventional free agent. He wasn’t supposed to out there. Carter was eligible for arbitration, but rather than risk having to give their best home run hitter a raise, the Brewers decided to designate him for assignment.
Carter didn’t just hit 41 home runs in 2016. That number tied him with Nolan Arenado for the National League lead in round trippers. Those home runs were so valuable to the Brewers that they opted to cut Carter loose. They tried to trade him, but there just wasn’t enough interest. In other words, not only were the Brewers not that interested in the national league home run leader, the rest of the league wasn’t all that interested either.
There are three players who hit 40 or more home runs on the free agent market right now and aside from Encarnacion, the levels of interest in those players is at-best moderate.
They’re not the only home run hitters out there either. Mike Napoli is 35 years old, his 34 home runs played a key role in helping the Cleveland Indians get all the way to Game 7 of the 2016 World Series. Napoli has not generated that much interest yet.
Jose Bautista is 36 years old and he’s coming off an injury plagued season that saw his numbers drop off. Prior to 2016 Bautista had hit 35 or more home runs in a single season four times this decade. He’s also still a pretty good outfielder with a great arm.
Bautista does not appear to be generating much interest so far.
Times have changed for sure. Never have guys who can hit between 30 and 45 home runs been so readily available and never has there been so little interest from major league baseball teams.
Home runs might not be as valuable as I thought they were back when I was much younger, but are they as unimportant as the current crop of major league general managers seem to think they are?