In his latest exploration of the stagnant free-agent market, Yahoo’s Jeff Passan reports that free agents have begun to discuss the possible organization of a training camp that would “mimic their typical spring work.” Pitchers and catchers are set to begin reporting for Spring Training in just three weeks, of course, and there are well over 100 unsigned players still seeking employment for the upcoming season.
While the five-year deal for Lorenzo Cain established a new high-water mark for free agents this winter both in terms of contract length and guaranteed money, Passan suggests that other top free agents aren’t necessarily expected to follow. Despite a recent report that Yu Darvish is expected to reach an agreement in the next few days, Passan hears differently, writing that teams throughout the league don’t think that any of Darvish, Jake Arrieta, Eric Hosmer or J.D. Martinez is close to signing. (Certainly, that can change in a hurry with an improved offer from even one potential suitor.)
More broadly, Passan again explores the lack of spending throughout the league in an offseason environment that has been increasingly governed by some teams’ strict adherence to avoiding luxury tax penalization. Prior to the latest wave of collective bargaining negotiations, Passan adds, the league was prepared for the luxury tax line to jump as high as $215MM and considered it a major victory when the bar was raised to $195MM last year and $197MM in 2018. (The tax threshold will increase to $206MM in 2019, $208MM in 2020 and $210MM in 2021.)
While the luxury tax only serves as a direct deterrent for Major League Baseball’s top spenders and thus cannot be viewed as some form of panacea to explain the woefully slow winter, it’s unquestionably slowed things at the top end of the market. Officials from both the Yankees and Dodgers acknowledged to Passan that they’d have spent more this offseason had the tax barrier been higher. And the Giants, of course, have openly stated on multiple occasions that they, too, are looking to reset their penalty level by narrowly staying under the tax line. It stands to reason that they could’ve been more involved in the outfield market with some extra breathing room in that regard.
Exactly how the remainder of the offseason plays out obviously can’t be known, but Passan indicates that players are continuing to encourage one another to hold firm and not cave into lesser deals in a sense of panic as Spring Training approaches.
At some point, it seems fair to wonder, too, if that sense of panic will hit teams that view themselves as hopeful contenders but have multiple glaring holes on the roster. The Orioles, for instance, have been seeking three starting pitchers as well as a left-handed-hitting outfielder but have yet to address any of those needs in a meaningful way. The Nationals still could use a fifth starter and an upgrade behind the plate. The Twins have made a trio of bullpen upgrades but still have clear rotation needs. Eventually, there will have to be a landslide of agreements, though that’s been the common refrain for weeks and there’s still little in the way of actual results.