Trends in baseball are as familiar and fleeting as they are on Wall Street. The New York Yankees and Mets are joining other teams in the waiting game before signing any of the middle and upper-tier free agents or making trades, which points to the pendulum swinging back to the owners.
It’s entirely possible both the New York Yankees and Mets will reach MLB Opening Day without signing any of the free agents still on the board. The baseball landscape is undergoing a quiet but still evident change affecting many of the players who have waited six years for this to come.
And when all is said and done, a good portion of these players are not likely to be happy campers.
Yonder Alonso gets two years and $16 million from the Cleveland Indians. His contract includes a third-year vesting option for $8 million in 2020. Mitch Moreland signs with the Boston Red Sox for $13 million and three-year deals go to Tyler Chatwood ($38 million Cubs), Zack Cozart ($38 million Angels) and Wade Davis (Colorado $52 million).
Justin Uptonis the only free agent to sign a contract longer than three years this offseason. He re-signed with the Angels to the tune of five-years $106 million.
The Yankees have signed no one while Sandy Alderson’s lone signee is Anthony Swarzak, a two-year, $14 million pact.
Where are those five and six-year deals we became so accustomed to seeing?
The Nationals signed free agent Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126 million contract at the Winter Meetings in December 2010, a deal that shocked people around baseball and one they are still reeling from. The Yankees didn’t flinch at that time as well when they inked Jacoby Ellsbury or the eight-year, $180 million they handed out to Mark Teixeria after a bidding war with the Red Sox.
Scott Boras, baseball’s super-agent, is finding the going tough even though he represents two of the top three free agents on the market in Jake Arietta and J.D. Martinez (Yu Darvish representing the other). Boras would never even think about letting Arietta or Martinez sign a three-year deal. He’d go with a one-year contract and come back next season before he’d even consider that blasphemy.
Some in the media are giving attention to the Yankees supposed interest in Darvish, but that seems far-fetched and beyond the scope of what the team is trying to accomplish now, especially with regards to keeping under the luxury tax threshold. Back in the day, by now the Yankees would have signed both Arietta and Darvish to lavished six-year deals at $100 million a pop.
The Mets splurged when they picked up Swarzak as an addition to their sagging bullpen. And as they continue to cry poverty, they are more likely to go the trade route to improve the team. The same has become true of the Yankees as well.
The trade market is as exasperating as the free agent market, though, in the sense that everyone is looking for the same thing, which is young and controllable talent, especially if they are a starting pitcher. Witness the trouble the Yankees are having in their attempts to convince the Pirates to give Gerrit Cole up. Ditto the Mets and their efforts to snare Josh Harrison away from the same Pirates to fill a gaping hole at second base.
Acting frugal yet not cheap has become the way of the land in baseball. General managers are younger and smarter these days, and they do their analytics homework before they even place a call to another team about a trade or inquiring about any of the free agents still on the open market.
Who’s going to blink first?
We’re into January now and all signs point to several free agents who remain unsigned as spring training gets underway in six weeks. We could find the same thing with players like Cole and Manny Machado, who’ve been “on the block” so long it’s become laughable.
Everyone seems to be waiting for the “big one.”
Stand by, don’t hold your breath despite all the rumors clogging the airwaves and print. The waiting has just begun and we might need an air-conditioner to go along with the Hot Stove before this thing is over.