Last year people were questioning why the so many Free agents were on the market so long last year. Many blamed it on the Giancarlo Stanton trade talks. The winter meetings opened up with the signing of Shohei Ohtani and people expected a flood of offers going to names like Yu Darvish, Mike Moustakas, Wade Davis and Eric Hosmer. The winter meetings went by with by with very little fan fare. The names like Hosmer and Moustakas seemed to linger out there for a long time. The big news last year was trades mostly by the Marlins. Stanton to The Yankees, Marcell Ozuna to the Cardinals, Christian Yelich to the Brewers and Dee Gordon to the Mariners. Evan Longoria to the Giants. Ian Kinsler to the Dodgers. Matt Kemp to the Dodgers. Hosmer and Moustakas were not signed until AFTER Spring Training started! Big contracts were rare 8 years $144 million from the Padres to Hosmer. 6 years $126 million from the Cubs to Darvish
This year has shaped up much the same Last year fans all over were salivating over this free agent class, Byrce Harper, Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, Craig Kimbrell, Dallas Kuechel. However there was virtually NO Free Agent action during the winter meetings The Cardinals traded for Paul Goldschmidt, four days before to the winter meetings. Patrick Corbin signed with Nationals two days before the meetings. There have been a number of signings since the winter meetings. Mostly 2nd tier older players like Lance Lynn, J. A. Happ, Andrew McCutchen but like last year as well it is to relatively shorter contracts. It looked like the Dodgers were making room dealing Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp and Alex Wood to the Reds for Homer Bailey and 2 minor league players, then they released Bailey. It all seemed to be moves to make room for Machado or Harper. What they have done is pick up A.J. Pollack and are reportedly trying to make a deal for J.T. Realmuto.
Of the 84 MLB Free Agent deals this year only Corbin's 6 year deal is longer than 4 years. 6 players got 4 year deals and 7 players got 3 year deals. 70 of the 84 Free Agent deals are 1year(50) and 2 years(20)
So what's the hesitation when it comes to big names and big deals? To me, it does come down to length of contract vs value and performance. If I were a GM it I would have to think what is my return for the money and years I am offering? I think this is primarily true of mid and small market teams. large market teams like Yankees and Dodgers that are close to the luxury tax don't seem to be willing to go over as much as they used to.
Recently on the show MLB NOW on 1/24/19, John Smoltz addressed the slowness of the last two years on the free Agent Market and in particular regarding Harper and Machado. He said "what we have seen is ten year contracts don't win championships, at least we haven't seen it yet. A la A-Rod. Texas was never going to win a championship with that contract. It was all about real estate."
He does have a point In fact the Rangers finished last place the 3 years after acquiring A-rod. Even after the Yankees acquired A-Rod AND assumed most of the contract it still took 7 years for the Rangers to make the postseason again. He also referenced Pujols saying that the deal has not looked good in the long term. He went on to say that GMs and owners are trying to weigh what is more important putting fans in seats of winning a championship. He made the point that these 10 year mega deals hamper the ability of a club's ability to get the extra reliever or bat off the bench if you need to get one during season.
Eric Byrnes also weighed saying (paraphrasing) "with analytics you have one player worth 20 wins over 10 years but you have a chance with for the same or less money to get 2 or 3 players worth 30 wins over the next 5 years it would be irresponsible to sign the one player."
It seems that GMs are thinking in just that direction.
Here is this quote from Jim Crane Owner and Chairman of the Houston Astros on long term contracts. Per MLB NOW on 1/28
"I think that teams are very focused on value, and some of the deals that have been thrown out with Harper and Machado I think are long term deals. I don't think that you will see many more 10-yeare deals in this business anymore because the analytics are so good and a lot of those deals Never work."
Looking at 4 ten year contracts to Cano, A-Rod, Pujols and Stanton, the facts would seem to back up Jim Crane's statement.
A-Rod - 10 years $250 million deal with Texas traded him 3 years later with no post season appearances.
Pujols - 10 years $240 million deal, He will be a Free Agent in 2022 Only 1 post season appearance which they were swept min 3 straight by KC.
Cano - 10 years $240 million deal in his 5 years in Seattle they never finished higher than 2nd place and no postseason appearances.
Stanton -13 years $325 million He was with Miami from 2010-2017 he was given his contract in 2015 the marlins have never finished higher than 3rd from 2015-2017.
So that is 43 years of contracts totaling $1,055,000,000.00 of those 43 years of which 18 years were realized by the teams offering the contract, with only 3 post season games. This is what GM's looking at 100s of millions invested in a contract that often times never plays out and delivers very little reward in terms of post season hardware.
So while the players may claim collusion on the part of the owners. While fans clamor for the bright shinny new toy. It boils down to what John Smoltz said, it is buts in the seats vs end of the year hardware. So it would seem Money Ball is back in style at least in some ways.
In part 2 I will focus on the Cardinals
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