Once or twice a year (and that’s historically at the most), you see a “name” free agent unable to find an acceptable deal before Spring Training rolls around. Given that Spring Training is about a month and a half long, that isn’t necessarily a prohibitive issue for the player, but given that teams like to settle in for the season long before that point, and players are getting to know each other and the coaching staff, it’s certainly not preferred.
This year? With an unprecedented volume of players still unsigned in mid-January? With pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training in a month? We might see a tremendous volume of players only first signing with new teams after the rest of those teams have started working out together.
And the possibility of one of the biggest names waiting until Spring Training is already on the table, as Jon Heyman reports that, “Miami acquaintances of Martinez say he is willing to ‘hold out,’ certainly into spring training, for what he believes should be his market value.” Martinez, 30, is the biggest bat on the market, and a Scott Boras client, so taking his time to get a monster contract was always likely. But after reportedly receiving five-year offers, Martinez will continue to wait, even if it means another month or more.
Boras, of course, represents other prime free agents this year (including Jake Arrieta), and if he believes the best strategy for all of them is to wait out the waiting out of the front offices, then this market could be a slog for even longer. Maybe the “Spring Training” threat being teed up this early will help move things along … or maybe it will just make everyone dig in their heels further, with teams figuring it’ll be the players who become more desperate first. After all, those players have lives to live – not just the life-changing money they’re seeking, but the literal life planning that comes with not knowing where your job is going to be and where your family is going to live.
I guess it could make for an exciting run-up to Spring Training, but it’s making for a frustrating December and January. I can only imagine how difficult it is for a number of players – maybe not so much the superstars like Martinez, but the middle-tier free agents who can’t realistically find a team until more of the market shakes out.