The free-agent market has been historically ugly this winter, and the start of spring training won’t end the freeze.
Eventually, something must give in this impasse.
There’s a season to be played, and it will begin March 29 no matter how many players remain out of work.
There are about 100 free agents on the market but, realistically, only eight impact players. These are the players who potentially will receive in excess of $50 million, with four almost guaranteed of earning more than $100 million.
Sure, maybe not by the opening of spring training camps next week, but certainly by Opening Day.
That said, let’s end this absurdity now. Here are the elite eight, and where they should land:
RHP Jake Arrieta
The best pitcher in baseball in 2015, he seemed destined for a Price/Clayton Kershaw-type megadeal.
Yet, along came nagging injuries, reduced velocity and concerns about his violent delivery and how it could lead to arm problems before his next contract expires.
One of the biggest fears for teams seeking Arrieta: What do the Cubs know about him that the rest of baseball doesn’t? The Cubs and Arrieta barely even engaged in contract talks this winter, leaving a reunion as unlikely as a Bill Belichick comedy show.
Agent Scott Boras could again be relying on old pal Ted Lerner to save the day.
Destination: Nationals, five years, $120 million.
RHP Yu Darvish
He was eyeing a deal like the six years for $206.5 million that Zack Greinke got, or perhaps a seven-year, $217 million pact like David Price got in 2015.
Darvish isn’t going to get close to either.
But he will be paid.
Several teams have offered him five-year deals, and he would like to at least get the six-year, $130 million contract that Johnny Cueto received two years ago with the Giants.
Three teams badly need him — the Cubs, Twins and Brewers — but he continues to wait to see if the Yankees or Dodgers can move some contracts to make it work.
Considering he has no desire to sit out all season before those two teams can clear money to stay under the luxury tax threshold, there’s one team that stands out among the rest.
Destination: Cubs, five years, $125 million.
1B Eric Hosmer
Hosmer is Exhibit A in commissioner Rob Manfred’s argument that it’s the agents and the players holding up the market, not the teams.
Hosmer has been sitting on two seven-year offers for at least a month. The Padres have offered a seven-year, $140 million contract, and the Royals have raised the ante to about $147 million over seven years.
There’s a debate among Hosmer’s friends as to whether he’d prefer to stay in Kansas City or try to be on the ground floor of the Padres’ restoration to greatness, but there’s no secret to the delay. He’s holding out for a nine-year deal, just like Prince Fielder back in 2012 with the Tigers, or least an eight-year, $184 million deal like outfielder Jayson Heyward received two years ago with the Cubs. Given the way that older free agents are valued nowadays, it’s not hard to see why Hosmer would want an eighth year — he would be 35 at the end of a seven-year deal.
Destination: Padres, seven years, $150.5 million, with a vesting eight-year option.
OF J.D. Martinez
Martinez had $200 million dreams after hitting 45 homers and driving in 104 runs in just 119 games last season with the Tigers and Diamondbacks. If this were a few years ago, he might have really gotten that seven-year, $210 million deal. But not in 2018.
Martinez’s value is being more closely compared to the five-year, $106 million contract extension Justin Upton received in November with the Angels, not the $295 million remaining in Giancarlo Stanton’s deal.
The Red Sox, who desperately need a slugger, offered him a five-year deal for about $125 million nearly two months ago and continue to wait. They want to win, and would love a right-handed power hitter, but they don’t want to be stupid about it, either. Why bid against themselves when the only offer for Martinez is a one-year deal from the Diamondbacks?
Martinez can say he’s frustrated all he wants, and threaten not to play in Boston, but if he’s not careful, the Red Sox’s patience may evaporate. This winter, they had trade discussions with the Indians for Edwin Encarnacion, according to team officials with direct knowledge of the talks, but didn’t want to part with outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr.
Maybe those talks are revisited. Maybe GM Dave Dombrowski calls the Tigers and lets them know they’re willing to take on at least half of the remaining $192 million in Miguel Cabrera’s contract. Maybe panic sets in from both sides.
Destination: Red Sox, five years, $130 million, with an opt-out after 2019.
3B Mike Moustakas
No one is mistaking Moustakas for George Brett, but he’s a premier third baseman who hit a team-record 38 home runs for the Royals. Yet not a single team is publicly showing interest. The free-agent compensation with draft pick forfeitures scared away the Giants and Angels. The Mets opted for Todd Frazier. The Cardinals insist they’re set with Jedd Gyorko and would prefer someone with versatility.
He needs to find a place where he can join a great team, put up monster numbers in a homer-friendly park, and hit the market again next year.
Destination: Yankees, one year, $14 million.
RHP Lance Lynn
He’s an old-school soul who’ll take the ball every fifth day, eat up innings and get ornery when he leaves a game.
He had hopes of a Homer Bailey-type deal — the six-year, $105 million the right-hander got with the Reds in 2014, before he was a free agent.
Now Lynn just wants a job, knowing someone is going to get a fierce competitor at a bargain. And almost every team could use him.
The Orioles have shown the most interest of late, but keep wondering why the Cardinals haven’t made any attempt to bring him back.
Destination: Orioles, three years, $57 million.
RHP Alex Cobb
Hey, wasn’t he supposed to be signing with the Cubs like two months ago?
Cobb grew up in the Rays organization. The only major-league pitching coach he has known, Jim Hickey, is now with the Cubs, and his first manager, Joe Maddon, is with the Cubs, and everyone understood when he kept saying he wanted to be a Cub.
The Cubs even said they were interested in him becoming a Cub.
Money just got in the way.
Cobb wants to be paid like a premium starter, a No. 2 starter in virtually any rotation, with his filthy arsenal of pitches. Yet, despite the fact he stayed virtually injury-free last year, going 12-10 and pitching 177 „ innings with a 3.66 ERA, the Cubs point out that last year was the first time he won more than 11 games. Last year was the first time he pitched more than 166 innings. And he still has never had 30 starts in a season.
Cobb, waiting for his price,
has been patient, but so has every other team.
Destination: Brewers, four years, $65 million.
Closer Greg Holland
He was the steal of the winter last year, signing a one-year, $7 million deal with another $7 million worth of incentives with the Rockies, saving a league-high 41 games and leading them to the playoffs.
He believed he was going to turn that gamble into a goldmine, so he declined a $15 million option for 2018 and rejected a $17.4 million qualifying offer. Then contract negotiations ended in December when the Rockies instead signed free agent Wade Davis to a three-year, $52 million contract.
Today, Holland remains unemployed with no one clamoring to sign him, particularly after his 6.38 ERA the second half of last season. The Nationals continue to say they’re not interested, and the Cardinals say they don’t need him. Eventually someone is going to break.
Destination: Cardinals, two years, $25 million.
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