With the Winter Meetings wrapped up and holiday season in full swing, we’re left looking at an unprecedentedly slow free agent market. The ongoing logjam, in spite of resolution for the Giancarlo Stanton and Shohei Ohtani situations, lends credence to the theory that there are structural forces at play that may be shifting the typical signing calendar.
Some have wondered whether this state of affairs represents a major threat to players’ earnings. Most top free agents have yet to find a match and there’s a big-market luxury tax limbo line forming in the center of the dance floor, after all.
Of course, there are still some conceivably one-off factors that may be influencing things. If nothing else, all industry players are to some extent still waiting to see how a new CBA will impact strategy. A broad youth movement in the game may be a background feature here. The trade market may still be sorting itself out, due in part to the fact that there are only a few pure selling clubs — some with big trade pieces are also weighing other significant additions, while other conceivable rebuilders seem not to be interested in a tear-down.
Still, it’s remarkable how full the free agent cupboard is with just a dozen days left in the 2017 calendar. Just 17 of MLBTR’s top 50 free agents have locked up deals to this point (by MLBTR ranking, with predicted contract value in parentheses):
- 12. Carlos Santana, Phillies, 3/$60MM (3/$45MM)
- 13. Zack Cozart, Angels, 3/$38MM (3/$42MM)
- 18. Mike Minor, Rangers, 3/$28MM (4/$28MM)
- 19. Brandon Morrow, Cubs, 2/$21MM (3/$24MM)
- 21. CC Sabathia, Yankees, 1/$10MM (2/$24MM)
- 24. Juan Nicasio, Mariners, 2/$17MM (3/$21MM)
- 25. Bryan Shaw, Rockies, 3/$27MM (3/$21MM)
- 29. Tyler Chatwood, Cubs, 3/$38MM (3/$20MM)
- 30. Jake McGee, Rockies, 3/$27MM (3/$18MM)
- 34. Welington Castillo, White Sox, 2/$15MM (2/$14MM)
- 36. Anthony Swarzak, Mets, 2/$14MM (2/$14MM)
- 37. Steve Cishek, Cubs, 2/$13MM (2/$14MM)
- 38. Brandon Kintzler, Nationals, 2/$10MM (2/$14MM)
- 41. Tommy Hunter, Phillies, 2/$18MM (2/$12MM)
- 43. Pat Neshek, Phillies, 2/$16.25MM (2/$12MM)
- 49. Michael Pineda, Twins, 2/$10MM (2/$6MM)
- 50. Miles Mikolas, Cardinals, 2/$15.5MM (2/$10MM)
Of course, some other players have also signed fairly significant contracts:
- Honorable Mentions – Joe Smith (2/$15MM), Mitch Moreland (2/$13MM), Fernando Rodney (1/$4.5MM)
- Others – Luke Gregerson (2/$11MM), Yusmeiro Petit (2/$10MM), Drew Smyly (2/$10MM), Hector Rondon (2/$8.5MM) Mike Fiers (1/$6MM), Fister (1/$4MM), Chris Iannetta (2/$8.5MM)
The top ten players on MLBTR’s board remain unsigned (not including Masahiro Tanaka, who did not opt out). Only three position players from the list are under contract. None of the top starters have put pen to paper. Meanwhile, teams have gone wild for setup arms — which arguably suggests some trepidation at more significant spending. The top three relievers (Wade Davis, Greg Holland, and Addison Reed) are still available, but otherwise many of the top bullpen pieces are under contract.
At the same time, though, there are some indications that we could still see things shake out in a relatively typical way, even if the process and timing are different. The clear run on relievers shows that teams can still act quickly and dole out large contracts when the dominoes start to fall at a given position. Those players that have signed to date have performed well; among the top fifty, they’ve secured contracts collectively guaranteeing about 11% more than MLBTR had predicted as a group. While the Dodgers and Yankees won’t drive top-end spending this year, the opportunities presented by top free agents will surely still prove tantalizing to other organizations.
Who holds the cards with about two months until camps open? That’ll be sorted out in an unusual time frame and will still be impacted by uncertainty in the trade market. Most broadly, the full narrative of the 2017-18 offseason has yet to declare itself, but that’s also a fact that’s notable in and of itself.