When the Orioles traded Zach Davies for Gerardo Parra, the move received mixed reactions from fans. On one hand, it addressed a glaring need in the outfield for the O's, who at the time were right in the middle of the wild card picture. On the other hand, they were giving up a future asset that was most likely a half-season rental.
Now that the Orioles have lost ground in the playoff race, that second group of fans is starting to get louder. If the O's keep playing this way and Parra leaves in the winter, the trade will have essentially netted nothing. But the guys in the warehouse are almost certainly thinking about an extension. Dan Duquette made it very clear how much he likes Parra as a player, and outfield will probably be a massive need for the Orioles going into free agency. So, what kind of contract would it take to bring back Parra?
During his age-28 season, Parra is having a career year at the plate. Despite that, 2013 was a far better year overall for him in terms of WAR according to both Fangraphs and Baseball Reference. His Gold Glove-level defense that season carried him to a season worth 4.5 fWAR and 6.1 bWAR. In 2014, he had a weak year, and both sites had him within a half win of replacement level. This year, he's hitting better than ever before, but his defense has regressed a bit and his offensive output has been helped in a big way by a crazy .354 BABIP. Because of that, he's probably going to end up somewhere around 2 WAR for 2015.
Looking back to this past winter, the closest free agent comp for Parra appears to be Melky Cabrera. Cabrera's three seasons prior to free agency were a career-best year in 2012 (4.5 fWAR / 4.7 bWAR), a terrible injury-plagued 2013 (-0.8/-0.1), and a pretty good 2014 (2.4/3.1). That's a similar trajectory to Parra's 2013-2015.
Cabrera ended up getting 3 years and $42 million from the White Sox, but Parra likely won't match that. On one hand Parra will be about 2 years younger than Cabrera was, which should make him more desirable. But on the other hand, there are a few reasons why Cabrera was a more sought-after free agent than Parra probably will be. First, Cabrera was a slightly more valuable player during his season immediately preceding free agency, especially if you prefer Fangraphs' version of WAR. Second, the majority of his value came from offense, which teams tend to spend more cash on. Third, his down year in 2013 can be attributed partially to injury - Cabrera only got about half a season's worth of PAs due to a nagging knee injury. It's harder to ignore Parra's 2014 season, when he had nearly 600 plate appearances and OPSed .677 without any injury issues to point to.
There's another big thing working in Baltimore's favor here: the sheer number of free agent outfielders. Parra will be competing for dollars with the likes of Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes, Ben Zobrist, and Alex Gordon, as well as lesser options like Denard Span, Austin Jackson, Dexter Fowler, and Colby Rasmus. Hell, some ambitious team may even see a full time outfielder in Chris Davis, or perhaps something even more ridiculous (*cough* Hanley Ramirez *cough*). Regardless, the point is that there are a LOT of options in the outfield for teams looking to spend, so I don't see free agent outfielders getting overpaid due to a lack of supply in the same way that guys like Nick Markakis have in the recent past.
Using Dave Cameron's model for free agent contracts, Parra's contract would be around 3 years / $30 million if he's projected as around a 2-win player each season. The free agency calculator on Beyond the Box Score produces a similar result for his yearly salary based on his past 3 seasons. I'd be surprised to see a contract much bigger than that 3/$30 level, and I could even see the money getting a little lower since supply and demand is working in favor of the buyers.
Regardless of your opinion on the Parra trade, what's done is done. The prospect the O's gave up for him is gone, and shouldn't factor into what they do from here on out. So, looking at Parra purely as a free agent, should the Orioles bring him back? Do you agree with my estimation of what his contract would look like? What would you be willing to pay for him? Let me know in the comments below.