It is now Christmas day and many of the top free agents are still available including names such as Yu Darvish, Eric Hosmer and J.D. Martinez. The sluggish pace of the market is a result of a few factors, the first couple being Shohei Otani’s posting and
shortstop new owner Derek Jeter’s dismantling of the Miami Marlins. With the majority of the MLB contending for the services of Otani and/or Giancarlo Stanton, free agents have had to be patient for these dominos to fall before teams turned their attention to their likeness. However, now that these two stars have found new homes with the Angels and Yankees respectively, one would imagine that the market would have picked up pace. Instead, negotiations have continued at a slow clip, with the only notable signings coming in the form of SS Zack Cosart (Angels, 3 years/$38 million) and 1B Carlos Santana (Phillies, 3 years/$60 million).
For comparison, last year at this time, the majority of major free agents had already been signed, but teams are being more patient this time around opting to build their teams through trades and top prospects, while they wait out the demands of players’ agents. This can largely be attributed to last year’s Collective Bargaining Agreement which has discouraged larger market teams from going over the luxury tax line of $197 million by increasing the penalty for consecutive years of spending overage. This modification was put in place with the intention of making the league more competitive, which makes sense, because it is admittedly hard for a team like the Milwaukee Brewers to be considered on the same playing field with a payroll of $63 million when going up against the LA Dodgers with a payroll exceeding $240 million. In turn, these big market teams are curbing their traditional heavy spending methods in an effort to get beneath that 197 million-dollar threshold – and it’s working. Despite six teams (Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, Cubs, and Giants) paying the luxury tax last year, all but the Red Sox seem positioned to avoid the penalty in 2018.
So what does that mean for this free agent class? Well, for starters, there is less money to go around and that is especially bad news when two of the top free agent hitters, J.D. Martinez and Eric Hosmer, have Scott Boras as their agent. As his reputation affirms, Boras is seeking multi-year deals worth big money for his prized players – seven years and $200 million plus – to be exact. He has dubbed J.D. Martinez the “King Kong of Slug” and Eric Hosmer as the elite talent that will take a team to “Playoffville.” While Boras’ demands are likely farfetched (especially in this year’s market), it is not hard to imagine that he will produce the offseason’s largest contracts in these two players. What will make his job harder this year however, is the new CBA, which is limiting teams’ willingness to get into bidding wars – the very thing that allows him to reel in the crazy contracts his clients dream of.
The reality is that Martinez and Hosmer will likely sign for far less than the 7 year, 200 million dollar benchmark that Boras has established, but even when they do, what’s next for the rest of the free agent crop? The usual suspects that can be counted on to make a least one major splash each year are scrambling to get under the $197 million threshold. Is someone like 3B Mike Moustakas, who is coming off a productive .272/38-homer year, supposed to get a 100 million dollar contract from the Tampa Bay Rays? Or the Oakland Athletics to sign Jake Arietta to a multi-year deal? These are good players that will find new homes one way or another, but as the offseason drags into January they are going to have to temper their expectations as the reality of a new MLB market sets in.
As the calendar flips to 2018, one of either Boras or the teams with which he’s negotiating will have to blink at some point and contracts for the Hosmer/Martinez slugging duo will get done. After a couple months of waiting, this will finally set the market for the offseason and for better or worse, determine the earning capacities of remaining free agents. However, until then, the rest of the league will be waiting and watching as teams and agents alike adapt to the complexities that the new CBA has introduced to the 2017-2018 offseason.