The great free-agent freeze of 2018-19 is still going on even as summer approaches -- Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel, after all, remain unsigned -- but two months into the season is a good time to look back on what transpired in the offseason and give some early grades. Here are some of the major offseason signings and how they have worked out so far:
The $300 million men
Bryce Harper, Phillies (13 years, $330 million) -- There are a lot of positives here as the Phillies are in first place, attendance is up more than 9,000 fans per game and Harper has played every game. His defense has been vastly better than last season and he has hit three of the 30 longest home runs of the season. On the other hand, he is hitting .243/.364/.475 with 10 home runs -- a relatively soft number considering 69 players had already hit 10 before Harper reached double digits Wednesday -- and was tied for the major league lead in strikeouts entering Wednesday. He ranked 84th in the majors in wOBA and the Phillies didn't give Harper $330 million to be the 84th-best hitter in the game.
He's drawing walks and one hot streak will increase his current pace of 27 home runs to 30-something. Still, the strikeouts are a growing concern -- up 7.2 percent from last season and more than 10 percent from two seasons ago. One thing to wonder about is his approach at the plate, especially with nobody on. He's hitting .306 with runners in scoring position and .299 with men on base, but just .168 with the bases empty. The same thing happened last season, when he hit .290 with runners in scoring position, .303 with men on and .214 with the bases empty. Maybe he's trying too hard to hit home runs with nobody on. Maybe he needs to view himself as a hitter more than a power hitter. Selling out for power with nobody on isn't working. Grade: C-
Manny Machado, Padres (10 years, $300 million) -- Machado is hitting .264/.348/.433 with nine home runs, numbers that are below his established norms as he has averaged .284/.345/.511 with 36 home runs the past four seasons. His strikeout rate is high for him, but there may also be some park effects going on here:
2015-2018 home (Camden Yards): .304/.368/.568
2019 home (Petco): .250/.333/.380
2015-2018 road: .268/.324/.463
2019 road: .283/.363/.495
The sample sizes for 2019 are too small to make a judgment just yet, so this is more of a "keep an eye on it" situation for now. Machado has also hit .301/.374/.516 in May and he did seem to be pressing a bit in April, perhaps overeager to justify the big contract right way. His versatility has been important as he has slid over to handle shortstop in the absence of Fernando Tatis Jr.
In the long term, the early bet is that Machado's contract looks like the better deal, in large part because he's going to have much more defensive value and Harper's strikeout problems remain an unsolved issue. In the short term, Machado has helped make the Padres relevant and exciting again. Grade: B
Patrick Corbin, Nationals (6 years, $140 million): It's not Corbin's fault the Nationals have been the most disappointing team in the majors. He's 5-2 with a 2.85 ERA and strong peripherals. (By the way, FanGraphs ranks Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Corbin first, second and 16th in pitching WAR, proof only that even a great trio of starters can't always carry a pitching staff.) Corbin hasn't been quite as dominant as he was in 2018 -- his swing-and-miss rate is down 6 percent -- and there are some who believe that throwing as many sliders as he does is a risky bet for long-term health, but for now he has been terrific. Grade: A-
Nathan Eovaldi, Red Sox (4 years, $67.5 million) -- I liked this signing as Eovaldi had made some adjustments last season, most notably adding a cutter to his upper-90s fastball, while also walking just 20 batters in 111 innings. There was some concern that he was getting paid for his big postseason performance, but there were reasons to believe in his improvement.
Of course, Eovaldi has a long list of injuries, including two Tommy John surgeries, and has qualified for the ERA title just once in his career, so the $67.5 million contract came with an even greater caveat than usual of "if he stays healthy." He made four starts and is now on the injured list after surgery to remove "loose bodies" from his elbow. He's scheduled to throw a simulated game Thursday or Friday, so he could be back in a few weeks. Grade: Incomplete
Yusei Kikuchi, Mariners (3 years, $43 million): Kikuch's contract includes a bunch of options, including a fourth-year player option at $13 million or a series of team options that could raise the total value of the contract to seven years, $109 million. He has been solid, pitching like the mid-rotation starter he was projected to be. The Mariners have been careful with his pitch counts (over 100 just once) and the porous Seattle defense hasn't helped, but he has kept his ERA under 4.00. Grade: B
J.A. Happ, Yankees (2 years, $34 million): Happ had been one of the most consistent starters the four previous seasons, going 58-29 with a 3.48 ERA while averaging 172 innings. After going 7-0, 2.69 with the Yankees after a trade with the Blue Jays last season, re-signing him felt like a pretty easy call for Brian Cashman, even though Happ was entering his age-36 season. Two things have happened on the way to his 5.09 ERA: His fastball velocity has dipped from 92.0 mph to 90.6 and he has been one of those pitchers burned by the rabbit ball (14 home runs in 58⅓ innings, including nine in 30⅓ innings at Yankee Stadium). There was always going to be some home run risk with Happ at Yankee Stadium, so there is a chance this could turn into another Sonny Gray situation in which he struggles at home. Grade: C-
The most expensive free agent in Rays history
Charlie Morton, Rays (2 years, $30 million) -- This looks like one of the best bargains of the winter as Morton is 5-0 with a 2.54 ERA while ranking in the top 10 among MLB starters in batting average allowed and strikeout rate. He doesn't go deep into games (he hasn't recorded an out in the seventh inning all season), but he limits hard contact and gives the Rays a chance to win. Grade: A
The Dodgers' big gamble
A.J. Pollock, Dodgers (5 years, $60 million) -- Pollock had three big strikes against him in free agency: 1. He has been injury-prone; 2. He had a sizable home/road split in his Diamondbacks days, hitting .266/.324/.434 on the road; 3. He was a 31-year-old center fielder at a time when you don't see many 32-year-old center fielders. The Dodgers gave him $60 million anyway, which ... well, good for A.J. Pollock. The Dodgers weighed all these risks against their need for a right-handed bat and a center fielder who would allow them maximum flexibility with Cody Bellinger. Sure enough, Pollock played 28 games, didn't hit and landed on the injured list with a staph infection in his right elbow. He's expected to miss two months. The Dodgers haven't really missed him. The reasoning behind signing Pollock was obvious and he was in demand as the only legit center fielder on the market, but all the concerns about him popped up one month into a five-year contract. Grade: D
The former MVP
Josh Donaldson, Braves (1 year, $23 million) -- Donaldson was one of the first free agents to sign, agreeing to a deal with the Braves in late November -- and betting on himself to have a big season after an injury-marred 2018. That hasn't quite happened as Donaldson's strikeout rate is sky high and the home run total -- at least in comparison to the going rate -- doesn't stand out. He has been a valuable contributor and gets on base, but the emergence of Austin Riley (playing left field for now) also means Donaldson will probably be shopping for a new team next season. Grade: B
Andrew McCutchen, Phillies (3 years, $50 million) -- Given the way the market unfolded, the Phillies probably overpaid a bit for McCutchen. He has basically produced the same numbers as Harper -- .257/.375/.446 entering Wednesday -- at a much lower salary. He has even started nine games in center field and his defense in left has been very good. Grade: B
Michael Brantley, Astros (2 years, $32 million) -- The Astros needed a left-handed bat and Brantley looked like the perfect match from the outset of free agency. The Astros got him on a fairly risk-free, two-year deal and he's off to a great start with a .330/.386/.547 line with 10 home runs (he hit 17 in 143 games with Cleveland in 2018). Looks like he'll be headed to his third straight All-Star Game. Grade: A
Prior to the 2018 season, coming off a wild card in 2017, the Twins waited out the market and signed Logan Morrison and Lance Lynn on the cheap (along with relievers Fernando Rodney, Zach Duke and Addison Reed). The moves didn't help much as the five players produced a combined 1.1 WAR, but Derek Falvey and Thad Levine deployed a similar strategy this offseason and the early returns are much better.
Jonathan Schoop, Twins (1 year, $7.5 million) -- An All-Star in 2017, Schoop hit just .233/.266/.416 last season and the Twins jumped on him with an early December signing. He still swings at everything, but -- like everyone on the Twins -- he's hitting for power and is making enough contact to hit .260. Grade: B+
Nelson Cruz, Twins (1 year, $14.3 million) -- The Twins also hold a 2020 option on the 38-year-old slugger. He was off to a solid start before a wrist strain sidelined him. Cruz is also a good clubhouse presence and it's hard to go wrong with a one-year deal on a player who hit at least 37 home runs the past five seasons (four of those playing home games in a tough park in Seattle). Grade: B
Marwin Gonzalez, Twins (2 years, $21 million) -- Despite his value as a utility guy, Gonzalez didn't sign until late February and was viewed as one of the winter's best bargains. He promptly hit .167 in April. He has turned it around in May and has started at four positions, plus DH. Grade: C
Martin Perez, Twins (1 year, $4 million) -- This could be the best bargain of the winter as Perez, coming off an absolutely dreadful season with the Rangers when he was one of the worst starters in the majors, added a cutter, ditched his slider and is 7-1 with a 2.95 ERA. He has one of the best soft contact rates in the game, which has allowed him to work around the walks and so-so strikeout rate. Grade: A+
In addition, the Twins claimed C.J. Cron off waivers and he's hitting .271/.337/.536 with 13 home runs. Falvey and Levine didn't break the bank -- those five players will make $41.8 million in 2019, $13.2 million less than division-rival Detroit is paying Miguel Cabrera and Jordan Zimmermann -- but all five transactions are paying dividends. Guess who has the best record in the majors?