WHERE ARE ALL MUH FREE AGENT SIGNINGS?!
Yes, somehow, we’re less than a week away from Christmas and a vast majority of the top MLB free agents have yet to pick a 2018 home. Earlier in the offseason, we theorized that the impending/expensive trade of the 2017 NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton and the unusual free agent journey of two-way Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani were holding things up – and they probably didn’t help the pace – but here we are two weeks later, on the other side of the Winter Meetings, and we still have basically nothing to show for it.
Jeff Todd (MLB Trade Rumors) took an updated look at the site’s pre-offseason MLB Top 50 Free Agent rankings to see how things have progressed, and, as you can imagine, there hasn’t been much to report!
So far, of the original top 50 free agents per MLBTR, only 17(!) players have signed. And of the top 20 free agents on that list, only 4(!!!) have come off the board:
12. Carlos Santana: Phillies, 3/$60M
13. Zack Cozart: Angels, 3/$38MM
18. Mike Minor: Rangers, 3/$28M
19. Brandon Morrow: Cubs, 2/$21M
21. CC Sabathia: Yankees, 1/$10M
24. Juan Nicasio: Mariners, 2/$17M
25. Bryan Shaw: Rockies, 3/$27M
29. Tyler Chatwood: Cubs, 3/$38M
30. Jake McGee: Rockies, 3/$27M
34. Welington Castillo: White Sox, 2/$15M
36. Anthony Swarzak: Mets, 2/$14M
37. Steve Cishek: Cubs, 2/$13M
38. Brandon Kintzler: Nationals, 2/$10M
41. Tommy Hunter: Phillies, 2/$18M
43. Pat Neshek: Phillies, 2/$16.25M
49. Michael Pineda: Twins, 2/$10M
50. Miles Mikolas: Cardinals, 2/$15.5M
When it’s December 19th and the largest finalized free agent deal is for just three years and $60 million for Carlos Santana you know something is up (for what it’s worth, the Cubs, with three signings and $72M already in future commitments, are doing their part).
Something’s much different about this offseason than year’s past, and it got us curious about just how far off this year is from last year. Consider for a moment, last year’s group of MLB Trade Rumors top 50 free agents.
By this time last season (December 19th), 14 of the top 20 talents had already signed their deals, with two more guys signing by the 22nd.
On top of that, we had already seen far more money thrown around, including Yoenis Cespedes (4/$110M), Aroldis Chapman (5/$86M), Dexter Fowler (5/$82M) and many others. So what’s the deal? Well, a few things that are all somewhat related (next year’s free agent class, the luxury tax threshold, and the current position of baseball’s biggest spenders).
The Yankees and Dodgers, for two examples, are clearly trying to get under and stay under the luxury tax threshold so that they can rest the penalties before next winter. The Giants, for another, are in a bit of an in-between phase after finishing as one of the worst teams in baseball next season (who also happen to be behind the best team in baseball). The Phillies are not *quite* ready to fully turn the corner, and are probably also eyeing next winter. And the Nationals already have a pretty loaded team, especially considering the return of Adam Eaton.
It’s not like the Red Sox, Rangers, and Cubs can just sign everybody else (and even they have luxury tax and future offseason implications to keep in mind).
But even beyond the big-spenders, you can see how next year’s fantastic free agent class could be depressing this year’s market. Imagine you’re a middle-tier spending team (Twins, Blue Jays, Cardinals, Braves, Diamondbacks, etc.), looking to make a big splash. Would you rather force an imperfect fit for slightly less dollars this winter, or save up and go big next offseason when you can target pretty much any type and quality of player you want? You could see how even the value shoppers could be impacted.
So, then, we sit here with a much, much less active free agent flow than we’ve been accustomed to in recent years.