The winter’s unusually slow free agent market has led to a number of major signings in March, though the 2017-18 offseason hardly has a monopoly on late signings. It was on this day in 1981 that Carlton Fisk signed a five-year, $2.9MM deal to join the White Sox, concluding a very unusual (and unexpected) trip through the free agent process for the star catcher. Fisk’s deal with the Red Sox was up after the 1980 season but, under baseball’s rules at the time, he was still under Boston’s control as long as the team mailed him a new contract by December 20, 1980. Red Sox GM Haywood Sullivan, however, mailed contracts to both Fisk and Fred Lynn a day late, leading to arbitration hearings that eventually resulted in Lynn being dealt to the Angels and Fisk being declared a free agent. Fisk went on to spend the next 13 seasons in Chicago, further adding to a resume that eventually led to enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.
Some notes from around the sport as we head into the new week…
- Could the lack of free agent activity lead to more young players accepting early-career extensions? ESPN.com’s Buster Olney (subscription required) wonders if this could be the case, as “cautionary tales are swirling throughout baseball right now” as players and agents wonder if this offseason could be a harbinger of future free agent droughts. Players with more limited or one-dimensional skillsets, for instance, might jump at taking a guaranteed deal early rather than risk facing a cold market once they hit free agency. In the words of one agent, “The lesson to be learned is that for a lot of players, if you get offered a fair deal when you’re young, you should take it — to make sure you get paid. Then, if you get to free agency later, that can be the bonus on top.”
- Mike Rizzo has built the Nationals into a contender and wants to remain as the team’s general manager, so the Washington Post’s Thomas Boswell isn’t sure why ownership doesn’t seem to be in a rush to extend Rizzo’s contract. Rizzo is entering the last year of his deal, and though he said last month that he was “confident” a new agreement would be settled, there hasn’t been any news on that front in the interim. Boswell wonders if the Lerner family has held off on an extension since they could be considering letting Rizzo leave if the team again falls short in the postseason — if this isn’t the case, however, it makes little sense to put Rizzo and the franchise itself through an awkward lame-duck period.
- The Cardinals optioned catching prospect Carson Kelly to Triple-A today, seemingly solidifying Francisco Pena’s spot as Yadier Molina’s backup. Pena was a non-roster invite to the Cards’ spring camp, and though neither Pena or Kelly hit much, the team would prefer to see Kelly continue his development with regular playing time in the minors rather than spending most of his days on the Cardinals’ bench. “[Kelly] needs to play,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny told MLB.com’s Joe Trezza and other reporters. “He’s still too young with too high of a ceiling not to go and be ready. If something happens, we need him to step in and be our guy. There are not going to be a whole lot of repetitions to get here.” As Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch notes, Pena’s defense has helped his case in a camp that also saw catchers Steven Baron and Andrew Knizner impress the team.