We are less than three weeks away from spring training. At this point in the calendar, baseball teams are usually wrapping up their offseason work and preparing for pitchers and catchers to report.
This year is different, however. This year’s Hot Stove League has been one of the most inactive in decades. In fact, you must go back 30 years, when collusion was blamed and ultimately proven, to find an offseason with this little amount of activity.
From 1985 through 1987, free agency in baseball died. Just over 10 free agents signed with new teams in those three offseason periods. The MLB Players Association filed grievances, and in 1990 the owners were required to pay $280 million to players impacted by the collusion.
There have been a few other smaller incidents where collusion was blamed since then, but nothing as significant as what happened in the late-1980s, at least until now. The collusion word is now being used as free agents are not being signed as they usually are by mid-January.
Numerous players have changed teams, so it’s not as severe as the 1980s cases. But with just a few weeks left until players will pack up and head to Florida or Arizona, there are 170 free agents who have not signed contracts. That’s a high number of players who have yet to sign at this point in the offseason.
Of the top 10 free agents ranked by the website MLBTradeRumors.com, only two have signed. That’s a big red flag. Usually, there would only be one or two stars not signed by now.
J.D. Martinez, a star offensive player, has a reported five-year, $125 million offer from the Red Sox. Boston may be bidding against themselves, as no other team seems to be involved. Other stars, like Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain are waiting for good offers.
Maybe it’s not collusion, which would be hard to prove. Maybe this is the market correcting itself. Maybe owners are tired of giving stupid contracts, which has been done too often in baseball over the years. Maybe this is just billionaires realizing they don’t want to just make every single baseball player a multimillionaire.
History has shown that outrageous contracts aren’t always worth handing out. Did Alex Rodriguez justify the $441 million he earned in his career? Albert Pujols is six years through the 10-year, $240 million contract he signed with the Angels, and as he’s gotten older his numbers have gone down compared to when he was with the Cardinals. Has Pujols been worth all that money?
Jason Heyward signed an eight-year, $184 million contract with the Cubs before the 2016 season. Heyward’s defense is still great, but he’s hit just .243 with 18 home runs in his two years with Chicago. Some Cubs’ fans will say his leadership helped the team win the World Series, but from a production standpoint, has Heyward been worth that humongous contract?
Owners may simply be getting tired of these type stories, as players are proving they’re not always worth the big money.
The Braves are not in position to need major free agents this offseason. They’ll soon start season four of their rebuilding process. Maybe next offseason will be different, but all they might need this winter is another reliever or two.
Plenty are still available, at least for now. At some time in the next few weeks, there should be a flood of signings. Whether it’s collusion or simply a market correction, baseball owners may be sending a message the era of stupid contracts may soon be ending.
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