What we're seeing in this abnormally slow Hot Stove market in Major League Baseball is an acknowledgement among executives that free agency, by and large, is a bad deal for ballclubs. Often, you are paying players based on their past performance, not their future value. And because clubs did such a good job locking up their young stars earlier this decade, the free-agent pickings rate on the slim side.
To illustrate the point, here's a squad of players who would have been free agents this winter had they not inked extensions earlier. It's interesting to look at how some cases are clear victories for the signing clubs no matter what happens from here, while others present the possibility that the player's remaining contract is either in line with -- or perhaps even ahead of -- what he might have commanded in this market.
Note: I'm including surplus value calculations. This is a general idea of how a player's performance value has exceeded the size of his paycheck. To get these figures, I multiplied each player's Baseball Reference-calculated Wins Above Replacement mark from the life of the contract, to date, by $8 million (a rough-but-reasonable estimate of the value of a win in the open market) and subtracted the amount of money he made in that span. It is nothing more than an approximation.
C: Salvador Perez, Royals
Age for 2018 season: 28
Original contract: 10 years, $59.5 million from 2012-21, plus $6 million signing bonus*
Surplus value so far: $132 million
Remaining contract: 4 years, $48.3 million
This one gets an asterisk because the original five-year, $7 million deal (plus three options) was so Royals-friendly that, after winning the 2015 World Series (in which Perez was the MVP), Kansas City took the rare step of ripping up the back end of the original deal and giving Perez a lot more money. Initially, the Royals were only on the hook for a total of $14.75 million for the years 2017-19 (assuming they would have picked up all three option years). Now, those three years are guaranteed at a total of $24.1 million, and Perez has two more guaranteed years on top of that for a total of $28.4 million. He got the $6 million signing bonus, too.
Video: Perez is a terrific backstop on defense and with bat
So far, the largest catching contract in this free-agent market is Welington Castillo's two-year, $15 million deal with the White Sox. Even though there are questions about how long the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Perez can or should stay behind the dish full-time, he would have easily beaten that.
1B: Paul Goldschmidt, D-backs
Age for 2018: 30
Original contract: 5 years, $32 million from 2014-18, plus '19 option
Surplus value so far: $172.3 million
Remaining contract: 1 year, $11.1 million for 2018, plus $14.5 million team option for '19
The D-backs signed Goldschmidt to this extension just 193 games into his big league career and then immediately watched him finish second in the National League MVP Award voting in the first season after the deal was completed. That's a dream scenario for a club. Arizona CEO Derrick Hall has said in the past that he'd like Goldschmidt to be a "Diamondback for life," but that conversation has publicly cooled with Goldy now just two years away from free agency. Were he a free agent today, Goldschmidt would have a decent argument as a $200 million player, even in a market like this.
The Giants' Brandon Belt (five years, $72.8 million) is next on our first-base depth chart.
2B: Jose Altuve, Astros
Age for 2018: 28
Original contract: 4 years, $12.5 million for 2014-17, plus options for '18 and '19
Surplus value so far: $199.5 million
Remaining contract: 1 year, $6 million, plus $6.5 million team option for '19
If Altuve had hit free agency immediately after the Astros' run to the World Series and his own run to the American League MVP Award, forget the $200 million asking price that Eric Hosmer and J.D. Martinez entered this market with. Altuve could have aimed considerably higher. The Astros signed him to this deal midway through their 111-loss season in 2013. Both team and player have come a long way since then.
Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis and his six-year, $52.5 million deal are also at this position, but the Indians have had trouble finding the right trade value for Kipnis this winter after his injury-prone 2017.
SS: Brandon Crawford, Giants
Age for 2018: 31
Original contract: 6 years, $75 million for 2016-21
Surplus value so far: $39.4 million
Remaining contract: 4 years, $60.8 million
Here's an interesting one, because this is the free-agent market that forced Zack Cozart to move off the shortstop position despite his absurdly good 2017 season, and Crawford, who is only a year younger than Cozart, was one of many Giants players who had a dramatic offensive downturn in the midst of the club's 98-loss finish. Cozart signed for three years, $38 million, so Crawford's deal looks pretty good by comparison. The value of one of the best shortstop gloves in the game has been bought at a favorable rate for the Giants, but it will be interesting to see how Crawford's bat responds in 2018 and on.
3B: Kyle Seager, Mariners
Age for 2018: 30
Original contract: 7 years, $100 million for 2015-21, plus '22 option
Surplus value so far: $86.1 million
Remaining contract: 4 years, $76 million, plus $15 million option for '22
Though he would go on to wear a Players' Weekend jersey bearing the name "Corey's Brother" in 2017, Kyle was the first of the Seager siblings to ink a nine-figure deal. Seager had established himself as a durable power bat with a good glove at the hot corner, and though 2014 was, to date, his only All-Star appearance, he really hasn't done anything to change that reputation in the years since.
Video: Kyle Seager is the No. 10 third baseman right now
But with Seager entering his age-30 season, this is another guy whose contractual guarantee over the next four years looks pretty solid at a time when free-agent price tags are being driven down. Again, compare his guarantee to what Cozart got -- or simply observe that a productive 29-year-old third baseman named Mike Moustakas is still lingering out there -- and Seager's sitting pretty.
LF: Matt Carpenter, Cardinals
Age for 2018: 32
Contract: 6 years, $52 million for 2014-19, plus '20 team option
Surplus value so far: $82.8 million
Remaining contract: 2 years, $28 million, plus $18.5 million team option for '20
(Let me apologize here for the fact that two of my outfielders are actually infielders. In focusing on the best the market would have had available, I didn't have a lot of great outfield examples to work with. And, anyway, both of the infielders in question have at least set foot in the corners of the outfield in the big leagues, so we can get away with it!)
Carpenter didn't become a Major League regular until he was 26, so he's the oldest guy on this list. It made all the sense in the world for him to jump at a big payday when he did, and he's made good on it by cranking out a 125 OPS+ over the first four years of the deal, primarily out of the leadoff spot. He's also moved all around the infield and could be asked to move back to third base if the Cards wind up adding another first baseman between now and Opening Day. Some fans might have an issue with his glove and his baserunning, but this guy has been pliable and productive.
CF: Mike Trout, Angels
Age for 2018: 26
Original contract: 6 years, $144.5 million for 2015-20
Surplus value so far: $171.4 million
Remaining contract: 3 years, $102.3 million
Again, the surplus value figure I'm citing here only covers the years covered by the contract. If I apply the calculation to the entirety of Trout's career, to date, he has been worth $397.8 million in surplus value.
Video: SEA@LAA: Trout nabs Haniger at home on 94.8-mph throw
It goes without saying that Trout would do better than $100 million over three years in the open market. The question is how high it would go. You've seen the speculation that Bryce Harper could become baseball's next $400 million man next winter, and there's no reason to believe Trout wouldn't have matched or exceeded that total in this scenario. Had he not extended with the Angels, big-market clubs would have plotted their long-term payrolls around the possibility of adding Trout to their outfield.
As it stands, Trout is still currently set to enter the market before his age-29 season. Or maybe there will be another extension with Anaheim. There were reports after this deal was signed that Trout's side had initially broached the possibility of a 14- or 15-year pact that would have essentially made him an Angel for life.
RF: Josh Harrison, Pirates
Age for 2018: 30
Original contract: 4 years, $27.3 million for 2015-18, plus club options for 2019-20
Surplus value so far: $38.4 million
Remaining contract: 1 year, $10.25 million, plus $10.5 million team option for '18 and $11.5 million for '19
To repeat, we're taking some liberties with the lineup construction here, but versatility is one of Harrison's chief selling points. And with Harrison publicly proclaiming he wants to be traded if the Pirates aren't serious about contending this season, this seems like a good time to discuss his overall appeal to other clubs.
Video: Josh Harrison indicates desire for trade from Bucs
Given the value placed upon versatility in today's game, it is possible Harrison could have landed the three years and $32.25 million left on his Buccos deal -- but with the final two years guaranteed. That said, he has yet to match the 2013 season (.315/.347/.490 slash, 13 homers and 38 doubles) that earned him the extension in the first place. Last season was the first since that 2014 campaign in which he produced a league-average OPS+. And as he enters his 30s, it's fair to wonder how long the quality glove work will continue. He might not love being married to Pittsburgh at the moment, but this still rates as a solid deal for both sides.
Starting pitcher: Carlos Carrasco, Indians
Age for 2018: 31
Original contract: 4 years, $22 million for 2015-18, plus two club options
Surplus value so far: $89.1 million
Remaining contract: 1 year, $8 million, plus $9 million team option for '19 and $9.5 million for '20
Had Carrasco not signed this deal, he arguably would have been the top starter -- ahead of Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta -- in this free-agent market, deserving of a nine-figure deal.
But looking back, you can understand why Carrasco opted for security over that possibility. The first five years of his big league career featured an ERA over 5.00 and Tommy John surgery. Furthermore, Carrasco signed his deal shortly after the discovery of a heart condition that required noninvasive surgery. Between Carrasco's deal and the five-year, $38.5 million extension Corey Kluber signed after the first of his two AL Cy Young Awards, the Indians have tremendous value at the top end of their rotation.
Danny Duffy, who inked a five-year, $65 million extension with the Royals prior to 2017, would also be in good position in this market.
Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor, MLB.com columnist and MLB Network contributor. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.