Here’s a narrative you’ve probably heard this offseason: free agency is back because non-playoff teams are trying to make a splash. On its face, it makes a lot of sense; the Angels, White Sox, Rangers, Reds, and Diamondbacks have all made meaningful additions to their rosters this year. Star players are headed to non-playoff teams, hoping to tip the scales of 2020 in their favor.
And yet, that narrative leaves out some inconvenient truths. Of the top three free agents this offseason in our Top 50, two signed with playoff teams. Sixteen free agents who were worth 2 or more WAR last year have signed so far; of those 16, 10 are headed to teams who played in October this year.
Only last year, all three of the top free agents (Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, and Patrick Corbin) signed with teams who hadn’t made the playoffs the previous year. Is the 2019-2020 offseason truly the year of non-playoff teams getting fancy, or are we merely falling victim to narrative?
I decided to look at this question a few different ways, because it’s a complicated issue. First, I painted with a broad brush. I took every offseason free agent signing since the end of the 2001 season. I looked…