In an offseason that’s been unlike any in big league history, it should come as no surprise that the month of March is on track for an unprecedented level of spending. While the remaining free agents at the top of the market almost certainly won’t find contracts matching the expectations they carried into the offseason, they still figure to draw some significant offers. The ongoing open-market presence of Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb, Mike Moustakas, Neil Walker, Carlos Gonzalez and Jonathan Lucroy, among others, should lead to a record-setting amount of money spent in the month of March.
Going back over the past decade, the largest contract given to any player in the month of March was Manny Ramirez’s two-year, $45MM contract with the Dodgers prior to the 2009 season. That contract represents one of just two multi-year deals worth more than $10MM per season over that span. The second belongs to Kyle Lohse, who signed a three-year, $33MM deal with the Brewers back in 2012.
In fact, over the past decade, there have only been three multi-year deals hammered out in the month of March at all, and the third was a modest two-year, $4.25MM contract for Oliver Perez with the Diamondbacks. And outside of the deals for Ramirez and Lohse, the only other player to top a $10MM salary in the month of March was Ervin Santana, who signed a one-year, $14.1MM deal with the Braves in 2013 after languishing on the market for much of the offseason after initially seeking a reported six-year deal which teams universally deemed to be too rich.
The Santana situation, perhaps, could be instructive for the likes of Lynn and Cobb. Santana’s $14.1MM salary that season was a dead match for the qualifying offer he rejected from the Royals some four months prior to signing in Atlanta. While it still seems plausible that either Lynn or Cobb could land a multi-year deal in free agency — something in the Lohse neighborhood, seemingly, would hold appeal to multiple clubs — there’s perhaps also a case to be made that thsoe players would be well-served to take a salary comparable to the one they rejected on a short-term deal and look instead to cash in next winter. Santana landed his current four-year, $55MM deal with the Twins a after a solid season with the Braves despite receiving a second qualifying offer that winter. Unlike Santana, Lynn, Cobb and Arrieta will not receive a second qualifying offer, as the CBA now stipulates that a player may receive only one in his career.
Turning to position players, the Ramirez deal stands out as a notable exception. Pedro Alvarez’s $5.75MM contract with the Orioles in 2015 constitutes the next-largest contract in recent memory, followed by Austin Jackson’s $5MM deal with the 2016 White Sox and David Freese’s $3MM deal with the Pirates that same season.
Generally speaking, those types of signings — veterans with notable flaws in their game or significant injuries in their recent past who’ve taken one-year deals at modest salaries — have typified signings in the month of March. I’ve not found a March in recent memory where the total spending topped the Ramirez year, but there are presently at least three free agents who could conceivably approach or exceed that total. Arrieta, Cobb and Lynn could all still draw that kind of money, and we certainly expected a big contract for Mike Moustakas at the outset of the offseason. Even if expectations are trending down, for Moustakas in particular, injuries could still shake things up. And it’s only fair to point out that the agent shared by Arrieta and Moustakas, the inimitable Scott Boras, is also the person who negotiated the only three prior multi-year March deals.
Barring some truly dramatic hold-outs into the 2018 season, we’re likely to see an unprecedented amount of free-agent spending over the next thirty days.