Spring training has begun, and while recent announcements by the Cubs and Padres of nine-figure deals (with Yu Darvish and Eric Hosmer, respectively) have quieted cries of collusion from the player’s union, the unemployment level of top free agents remains historic. Specifically, five of MLBTR’s top ten free agents (excluding Masahiro Tanaka, who never actually reached free agency) are still unsigned. The recent mega-contracts have overshadowed the urgency of the situation for these free agents, as they’ve got barely more than a month left to find jobs before Opening Day. As each day passes, it becomes more difficult to simply assume that Jake Arrieta, Mike Moustakas, Lance Lynn, Greg Holland and Alex Cobb will all agree to terms before that time comes.
The market on the above players isn’t totally cold as of now. On the contrary, there seems to be some buzz surrounding many of them. Here’s what we know at the moment…
Arrieta and his representatives were said to be “having dialogue” as recently as four days ago, and it’s believed that there’s real interest being explored. At the same time, though, there appears to be a gap between the two sides’ bargaining positions. There have also been multiple recent reports that the Phillies don’t want to lock themselves into a long-term deal to improve their rotation. While Darvish fell short of expectations with a $126MM guarantee, Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports says Boras is attempting to convince front offices that Arrieta compares more favorably to David Price, Max Scherzer and Zack Greinke. The oft-vehement Boras apparently sees Darvish as an “analytics phenom”, but describes analytics as a “management excuse to keep salaries down.” He also says that Arrieta beats Darvish in something he calls “prestige” value. Heyman lists seven teams as potential landing spots for Arrieta, believing he’s most likely to land with the Nationals, Brewers or Phillies.
Moustakas seems to have little traction with any MLB club at this point. The Braves have engaged his camp, but there seems to be no evidence that a deal is likely to come together. The White Sox have also been loosely linked to him. It’s highly unlikely that he’ll return to Kansas City at this point, as the Royals would apparently rather give Cheslor Cuthbert a shot at third base as they begin to rebuild. Moose reportedly has plenty of one-year offers on the table, but it’s not clear whether he’ll receive any significant multi-year offers at this point in the offseason.
Lynn hasn’t been forced to dramatically lower his asking price, and last we heard, the Twins preferred him to the other options available on the market. Earlier reports suggest he’s received interest from seven or eight teams in recent weeks, including the Orioles, Brewers, Nationals, and Mets in addition to the aforementioned Twins. For his part, Lynn believes there’s “nothing really to worry about — at this moment.“
Holland has the coldest market on this list, at least publicly. The Wade Davis signing seemingly eliminated the possibility of a reunion with the Rockies, and in nearly two months since then, the only public mentions of Holland have been from the Nationals and the Cardinals. Both of those mentions were negative, with the former saying they weren’t very high on him and the latter expressing trepidation about giving a big contract to a closer. Of course, those teams could still be suitors if Holland’s asking price drops far enough, and so could the Indians. I also mentioned the Astros, Rangers, Cubs and Brewers as potential fits back in mid-January.
Cobb reportedly had an offer from the Cubs earlier in the offseason that was said to be in three-year, $42MM range. His camp passed on it, and his market has little in the way of clarity at this point. The Twins showed interest at one point, while the Mets would reportedly explore signing him if his asking price drops far enough. That’s about the only direct link between him and an MLB club we’ve heard about in recent months, though. The Orioles seem to believe he’s too expensive, and the Cubs might not have a clear role for him following the Darvish pact.
A lot can happen in one month; the free agent action so far in February should serve as a prime indicator of that. But at this point it looks possible that one or more of the top ten free agents could hold out into the regular season in hopes of nailing down a guarantee to his liking. With that in mind, I’d like to ask the readers two questions. How many of these players do you think will still be unemployed when the first pitch is thrown on Opening Day, and who do you think is most likely to be unsigned by that point?