This week has been a FREE AGENT BONANZA, what with TWO PLAYERS signing multi-year deals … totaling $27.5 million. Robbie Grossman got two years and $10 million. Blake Treinen got two years and $17.5 million. I am not kidding when I say that’s a bonanza for this offseason.
As Jeff Passan wrote before those two signings, it’s not just that this offseason has been slow relative to the normal offseason earlier in the current CBA. It’s not even that it’s been slow relative to those notably cold 2018 and 2019 offseasons (remember the collusion talk?). It’s that it’s ABSURDLY slow compared to those. Signings so far this offseason are barely over $200 million, and Passan explains:
How meager is that? Well, by Jan. 1, 2020, teams had committed almost $1.95 billion — more than nine times as much spending as this season. And while spending on the Class of 2019-20 was the richest of the previous decade, teams exceeded $1 billion combined in that same time frame (through Jan. 1) in seven of the previous 10 seasons and averaged slightly more than $1.2 billion, according to [ESPN producer Paul] Hembekides’ research. Even the most parsimonious free-agent periods dwarfed the spending this year: around $580 million in 2017-18 and $695 million in 2018-19.
We know that the pandemic’s impact on finances and revenue projections are the primary driver here, but the extent is just so eye-popping. Consider this: since the qualifying offer decisions in early November, of the top 12 remaining domestic free agents on MLBTR’s rankings … not a single one has signed. James McCann’s four-year deal with the Mets stands as the top free agent signing of the offseason, and he was the 13th ranked domestic free agent coming into the offseason. Oh, and then you have to go another 12(!) names until you get to the next guy who has signed (reliever Trevor May, also with the Mets).
You already knew it had been ridiculous, but come on. That’s mind-blowing stuff here on January 7.
In the NL Central, there has been one free agent signed to a big league deal. ONE. Jonathan Holder, a reliever the Cubs signed for $750,000.
Eventually we’re going to get more certainty on the start of the season – though no one seems to think the dates are changing at this point – and the 100+ free agents remaining will find jobs. But with more teams actively cutting payroll than adding to it, I really can’t say I expect the deals to be great. Sure, the guys who’ve signed so far have mostly landed deals in the range you’d expect for them, but (1) they were almost all short-term, (2) a very small number of teams are doing the signing, and (3) those guys were clearly specifically targeted early on for signing by specific teams.
For the Cubs, the offseason’s progress is right in line with what they needed in order to have a chance to land some solid free agents. We don’t know how much money they have available to spend, but we know they were always going to be waiting things out. So the fact that the market is STILL overloaded with options bodes well for their approach. Though the same is true for all the other teams that haven’t spent yet, including those in the NL Central.
A stray thing to wrap this up. This was in response to the Cleveland Indians’ now razor-thin payroll, but it applies much more broadly to this offseason and the CBA negotiations that loom:
The players have fought hard against a cap for decades for good reason. But at some point, you're just cutting yourself off from the benefits of a revenue-sharing system, *AND* teams are already treating the luxury tax as a de facto salary cap. So … help yourselves out.
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) January 7, 2021