Last year, between the beginning of February and end of March, twenty players signed guaranteed major league deals. Most of these were not among the very largest free agent contracts signed that offseason, but five were worth over $10MM and five came with multi-year commitments.
That does not appear to be the case this time around. Perhaps because there was no second Masahiro Tanaka saga to whistle a time out on signings — Yoan Moncada, exciting as he may be, will not be going straight into a big league lineup — the market has not waited around.
Looking at the remaining un-signed free agents, who are of course led by James Shields, it is difficult to see a large number of MLB deals being awarded. Excepting Shields, the one truly premium player left to choose a team, the pickings are fairly slim for clubs aiming to do more than add depth.
It would be rather surprising if any of Francisco Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano, Burke Badenhop, and Joba Chamberlain fail to secure a big league pact. Several of those right-handed relievers ought still to have a chance at multiple years, too. With the deals signed by similarly-situated rehabbing pitchers, Brandon Beachy still ought to command a 40-man spot. Newly-minted free agent Dayan Viciedo should see enough to demand as well, and Cuban middle infielder Hector Olivera seems destined to get big league money, although he is still not technically a free agent.
Beyond that, however, it does not seem that there are any locks to get a big league commitment. Among pitchers, Chris Young got strong results last year, but he is 36 and had less promising peripherals. Much the same is true of southpaw Joe Beimel. Back-of-the-rotation stalwarts Kevin Correia and Roberto Hernandez had their struggles last year and are reaching their mid-30’s.
On the position player side, Scott Hairston has just not put up passable numbers as a bench bat over the past two seasons. Everth Cabrera and Rickie Weeks still present talent up the middle, but each has various (and varying) issues that limit their appeal. Eric Young swiped 30 bags again last year, but had a .610 OPS.
To be sure, several of the players just noted will end up signing MLB contracts. All it takes is two competing clubs with need and reasonably available roster spots. And perhaps a few guys will lose jobs with one team but sign big league pacts with another (a la Kevin Frandsen last year).
But my money says that there will be significantly fewer big league signings this February and March than there were in 2014 — perhaps even half or less of last year’s twenty. And we are highly unlikely to see the same kind of value and length of contract that we did the spring prior.
Of course, that does not mean that you should tune out from MLBTR over the coming months. Quite the contrary: there remain several intriguing trade scenarios around the league, and don’t forget that extension season is just getting ready to kick into action.