Slow Going on FA Market This Off-Season

The spring camps begin to open in less than five weeks. There’s plenty of work still to be done on the open market. Only 31 of the 166 players to file for free agency have agreed to terms.

Twelve of the 31 are relief pitchers, and none of the 31 received more than a three-year guarantees, although it should be noted that Wade Davis did receive an annual average value of $17.3 million for the three-year guarantee he received from the Rockies, a record for a reliever. Times have changed – at least for this year – in the pursuit of free agents.

In major league history there have 6,852 seasons in which a player 35 or older has played, according to Baseball-reference.com. In only 51 of those seasons has a player qualified for the battling title and had an average of .300 or higher. Six players combined for 26 of those seasons – Ted Williams (6), Barry Bonds (5), Babe Ruth (4), Stan Musial (4), Edgar Martinez (4) and Hank Aaron (3).With the world of analytics it is not out of the questions that teams no longer are in a hurry to sign lengthy contracts with free agents in their 30s. They may pay more per year on a shorter deal, but they don’t want to get hung out with major contractual obligations but a less-than-anticipated return.

Tony Gwynn

Since the advent of free agency in 1977, 326 players have had 502 at-bats or more after during 35 and only 19 of them hit a composite .300, and only six who have hit better than .310 – Tony Gwynn (.350), Barry Bonds (.322), Paul Molitor (.314), Kirby Puckett (.314), Will Clark (.313) and Tony Fernandez (.311).

In terms of pitching, there have been 103 pitchers make at least 50 starts at the age of 35 or older since free agency began, but only 38 of them have a composite EA below 4.00, and just 10 have an ERA lower than 3.50 – Randy Johnson (3.23), John Smoltz (3.28), Kevin Brown (3.30), Rick Reuschel (3.31), Nolan Ryan (3.31), Dennis Martinez (3.34), Chris Carpenter (3.35), Hiroki Kuroda (3.36), Roger Clemens (3.38) and Steve Carlton (3.48).

Miike Moustakas

Only four of the remaining 135 free agents on the market this season are under 30 – Mike Moustakas (29), Addision Reed (28), Eric Hosmer (27), and Trevor Rosenthal (27). And Rosenthal has undergone Tommy John surgery, and will spend the coming season rehabbing.

A team could sign Rosenthal to a small guarantee with an option for future seasons, or he could find himself in the same situation as Greg Holland two years ago. Holland went unsigned for the 2016 season, although the Royals allowed him to rehab at their facility, and then signed with the Rockies in 2017, and led the NL with 41 saves.

Holland, however, declined an option for 2018 and is among those 151 free agents seeking a job for 2019.

There also is reason to believe that the Luxury Tax has had an impact, particularly with teams like the Dodgers and the Yankees, two of the traditionally big spending teams. Coming off having to pay a 50 percent luxury tax on salaries that exceeded $195 million in 2017, the Dodgers, for example, had seen their luxury tax reach 50 percent of the amount over the luxury tax. By having a payroll that does not require a luxury tax in 2018 _ which will be $197 million in 2018–  the Dodgers luxury tax would reset to 20 percent if they exceed the $200 million luxury tax trigger in 2019.

And 2019 could be an interesting free agent crop, featuring Bryce Harper, who doesn’t turn 26 until next October, and Manny Machado, who turns 26 in July.

They will be entering what should be the prime of their careers, and already have established themselves as impact players.

That sets them up to impact the open market next off-season

Signed Free Agents

Free Agent 2017 Club 2018 Club Guaranteed Salary   
Catchers  
Wellington Castillo Orioles White Sox 2 years-$15 million
Chris Iannetta D-Backs Rockies 2 years-$8.5 million
Nick Hundley Giants re-signed 1 year-$2.5 million
Rene Rivera Cubs Angels 1 year-$2.8 million
First Basemen
Yonder Alonso Mariners Indians 2 years-$16 million
Mitch Moreland Red Sox re-signed 2 years-$13 million
Carlos Santana Indians Phillies 3 years-$60 million
Second Basemen
None
Third Basemen
Zack Cosart Reds Angels 3 years-$38 million
Shortstops
None
Outfielders
Jay Bruce Indians Mets 3 years-$39 million
Starting Pitchers
Jhouyls Chacin Padres Brewers 2 years-$15.5 million
Tyler Chatwood Rockies Cubs 3 years-$38 million
Doug Fister Red Sox Rangers 1 year-$4 million
Yovani Gallardo Mariners Brewers 1 year-$2 million
Hisaki Iwakuma Mariners re-signed minor league deal
Michael Pineda Yankees Twins 2 years-$10 million
CC Sabathia Yankees re-signed 1 year-$10 million
Fernando Rodney
Relief Pitchers
Tony Barnette Rangers re-signed 1 year-$1.5 million
Steve Cishek Rays Cubs 2 years-$13 million
Wade Davis Cubs Rockies 3 years-$52 million
Zach Duke Cardinals Twins 1 year-$2.15 million
Luke Gregorson Astros Cardinals 2 years-$11 million
Brandon Kintzler Nationals re-signed 2 years-$10 million
Jordan Lyles Padres re-signed 1 year-$1 million
Jake McGee Rockies re-signed 3 years-$27 million
Mike Minor Royals Cubs 3 years-$27 million
Brandon Morrow Dodgers Cubs 2 years-$21 million
Pat Neshek Rockies Phillies 2 years-$16.5 million
Juan Nicasio Cardinals Mariners 2 years-$17 million
Yusmeiro Petit Angels A’s 2 years-$10 million
Fernando Rodney D-Backs Twins 1 year-$4.5 million
Bryan Shaw Indians Rockies 3 years-$27 million
Joe Smith Indians Astros 2 years-$15 million
Anthony Swarzak Brewers Mets 1 year-$4 million
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