Maybe we missed it, but the trend towards an end to long-term contracts was there even last season when the longest MLB free agent signing was a mere four years. It’s the same this offseason with a little wrinkle added. No team is in a rush. Black Friday came and went, and now it’s more likely Valentines Day may come and go as well.
For the most part, various MLB general managers are cut from the same cloth these days. They’ve all served their time as assistants to the assistant, they’re all relatively young, they are all well-versed in baseball analytics, and most of all, they are prime worshippers and evaluators of young talent.
When I was a teen growing up in the sixties (that’s 1960s for you young ones), we had a saying that rings true today: Never trust anyone older than 30. We meant it in a different, more political sense of course, but as you look at the landscape of the top free agents remaining on the market today, guess what? They’re all over 30, and they’re all asking for contracts of five-to-eight years that will carry them onto the same stage as Albert Pujols, and possibly even Giancarlo Stanton before their contracts expire.
Major league teams are rebelling, or maybe re-thinking is a better word, and the biggest signing of the year thus far occurred just the other day when the Colorado Rockies inked Wade Davis to a three-year deal valued at $52 million.
Meanwhile, the meat of the market in players like Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, and J.D. Martinez remains not only unsigned but with little meaningful chatter indicating they are anywhere close to signing for the 2018 season.
They’ll all get signed eventually, of course. But there is no apparent rush on either the player or team’s sides to make it happen in a hurry.
And with that, it seems to me that teams, and more specifically, general managers, are confident in something former President Barack Obama said in a completely different context.
"It doesn't matter where you start, it matters where you end up." —President Obama #CollegeOpportunity
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) January 16, 2014
In baseball, that translates to it doesn’t matter where you start the season, it only matters where you finish the season.
So, starting a season, for instance, without a Jake Arrieta hardly matters if you are the Houston Astros who negotiate a deal in August with the Detroit Tigers for Justin Verlander. Or, if you are the Yankees and you have Brian Cashman working his magic, you haul in Sonny Gray, Tommy Kahnle, and Todd Frazier to help push you over the top. The Dodgers? They do the same, scooping up Yu Darvish for their playoff run.
Black Friday has become overrated even in the context of baseball. And there are always bargains out there, provided you are patient and keep your eye on the prize. And let’s face it, if you had your eye on an iPhone 10 or whatever it is now, there’s a good chance you can find an even better deal on an iPhone 9 and still be satisfied with what the phone delivers.
We all sit here waiting for the shoe to drop. And today, we get this report from Yahoo Sports and others that the Cubs and Cardinals are THE two teams locked in a battle for Arrieta. But don’t be surprised if a new and different report surfaces tomorrow. And the next day.
A good portion of MLB fans will welcome the change seeing the dollar numbers going down along with the length of contracts being offered, but I believe it’s more. These superstars will not be denied any money over the course of their career IF they continue to perform at a high level. They’ll just need to earn that money in shorter increments. And that, I also believe is good for baseball.
Which, by the way, opens up a whole new can of worms when the glut of free agents on the market next season that includes the likes of Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Clayton Kershaw, and others at this time next year. The dreaming begins, even now.
Will the more conservative pattern continue, or will baseball once again open the gates to long-term and ultra-expensive signings of these stars?