While it would not have been unthinkable a couple years ago that a major Scott Boras client’s free agency would stretch into January, it didn’t happen all that often. And things going all the way into February – when Spring Training begins! – just didn’t happen with major, top-tier free agents.
But this is the new normal. Teams have tightened the pursestrings – or at least the strings on whatever it is that contains the length of deal they’re willing to offer – and free agency is suddenly much more of a December-February endeavor than a primarily November-December affair.
But, hey, we’re here in January. So can we finally expect to see the big fish sign, and maybe break the dam on the huge glut of remaining free agents? Maybe, maybe not.
Per Jeff Passan – newly of ESPN – Manny Machado is still expected to sign before Bryce Harper, but the latter’s free agency could still take a long time: “Harper’s willingness to wait for a contract he deems suitable is real, according to a source who said he could see Harper’s free agency stretching into February.”
Last year, we saw many of the top free agents – Yu Darvish, Eric Hosmer, Jake Arrieta, JD Martinez – signing after the calendar had flipped to February – and having seen what this market looks like compared to last year’s, there’s little reason not to expect the same this year. I’d be shocked if Harper signs any sooner than the final week or so of January at this point. (Maybe he’s just waiting for the Cubs to get those big TV bucks …. )
That doesn’t mean it’s not disappointing for those of us who believe the sport is not helped by this kind of extremely protracted free agency for some of its best and brightest. Not only does it hurt the lower-tier free agents by way of the trickle down waiting process, but it also turns what has historically been a huge buzzy baseball advantage into an ugly, dragged out bicker-fest between the league and players association. It’s been quieter on that front this year than last year, but just wait – if free agency still looks this slow in a couple weeks, you’re going to hear more fighting, especially after the surprising word that player salaries went down last year for the first time in a very long time.
So, then, you should expect to see things heat up on the Machado front soon – perhaps even with a decision just dropping upon the world in the coming days. If that happens soon, then maybe we can start hearing about more robust negotiations going on with respect to Harper (and hopefully word that he and Scott Boras are taking those offers back to the Cubs for a check-in).