One of the things that baseball analysts get asked a lot is whether a team should sign or trade for a particular player. Generally, this focuses on star players, simply because there isn't a lot of hot-stove intrigue about who will land Gerardo Parra.
But the truth about stars is that there's a price at which any star isn't worth the money or the prospects; there's a price point out there at which you'd prefer to sign Parra than Bryce Harper. Rather than continue to pick on Parra, let's get Kenny Loggins in your head and look at the signs for the highway to the free-agent danger zone.
The largest source of risk in free agency tends to be overexuberance about star players.
This is a lesson that has generally been poorly learned throughout baseball history until recently. While it makes financial sense to sink your money into stars -- it's far more difficult to develop a star than an average player on your own -- many teams and even more fan bases tend to drastically overrate just how dependable a star's future is.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera contracts, which are sterling examples of paying for a player's past rather than his future. Neither was remotely overrated in his prime, both players are Hall of Fame locks based on those primes. Setting up blockbuster deals for Pujols and Cabrera starting at their age 32 and 33 seasons, respectively, was never going to have a happy ending -- and this isn't with the benefit of hindsight.
One fortunate thing for heavy-spending teams this offseason is that two of the biggest names, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, are young for free agents, both in their mid-20s. It should also be remembered that this is no guarantee of a nice, smooth aging curve.
Matt Kemp wasn't an old player when the Dodgers gave him an eight-year, $160 million contract after his .324/.399/.586, 8.3 WAR (FanGraphs) season in 2011 at age 26. He has been worth only 10.1 WAR over the seven seasons since. The $142 million contract given to 28-year-old Carl Crawford turned out even worse, at only 3.7 WAR.
Each of the top 10 free agents (based on the ZiPS rankings) comes with a risk that teams need to seriously consider, lest they be the one at the top of a "worst contracts" article three years from now.