Wade Davis

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The slow offseason, illustrated

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We’re just a few hours from entering 2018 and many very talented free agents remain unsigned, like J.D. Martinez and Jake Arrieta. This is quite an abnormal development. To illustrate this, I took the top-10 free agents as listed by MLB Trade Rumors each year and marked their signing dates on my brilliantly-created calendars with an X, assembled into the slideshow below.

In 2010, eight of the top-10 free agents signed by the new year. In 2011, seven had signed by the new year. 2012, six. 2013, six. 2014, eight. 2015, five. 2016, seven. This year, only two have signed — Carlos Santana and Wade Davis. That’s a stark departure from previous years. My inclusion of Santana in the top-10 is debatable as Masahiro Tanaka was originally in MLBTR’s top-10, but he chose not to opt out of his contract with the Yankees. So, I replaced him with Santana. One could’ve argued someone like Alex Cobb merited going into the top-10 over Santana, which would have reduced that number to one instead of two.

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Here’s the data in table form if you want to fool around with it yourself:

Season Rank Name Position Date Years Amount Team
2011 6 Victor Martinez 1B/DH Nov. 26, 2010 4 $50,000,000 Tigers
2011 5 Adam Dunn 1B/DH Dec. 3, 2010 4 $56,000,000 White Sox
2011 4 Jayson Werth OF Dec. 5, 2010 7 $126,000,000 Nationals
2011 8 Mariano Rivera RP Dec. 7, 2010 2 $30,000,000 Yankees
2011 10 Derek Jeter SS Dec. 7, 2010 3 $51,000,000 Yankees
2011 9 Paul Konerko 1B/DH Dec. 8, 2010 3 $37,500,000 White Sox
2011 2 Carl Crawford OF Dec. 11, 2010 7 $142,000,000 Red Sox
2011 1 Cliff Lee SP Dec. 15, 2010 5 $120,000,000 Phillies
2011 3 Adrian Beltre 3B Jan. 5, 2011 5 $80,000,000 Rangers
2011 7 Rafael Soriano RP Jan. 18, 2011 3 $35,000,000 Yankees
2012 10 Jonathan Papelbon RP Nov. 14, 2011 4 $50,000,000 Phillies
2012 3 Jose Reyes SS Dec. 7, 2011 6 $106,000,000 Marlins
2012 1 Albert Pujols 1B/DH Dec. 8, 2011 10 $246,841,811 Angels
2012 4 C.J. Wilson SP Dec. 8, 2011 5 $77,500,000 Angels
2012 8 Aramis Ramirez 3B Dec. 13, 2011 3 $36,000,000 Brewers
2012 7 Jimmy Rollins SS Dec. 19, 2011 3 $38,000,000 Phillies
2012 9 Carlos Beltran OF/DH Dec. 23, 2011 2 $26,000,000 Cardinals
2012 5 Yu Darvish SP Jan. 18, 2012 6 $56,000,000 Rangers
2012 2 Prince Fielder 1B/DH Jan. 26, 2012 9 $214,000,000 Tigers
2012 6 Edwin Jackson SP Feb. 2, 2012 1 $11,000,000 Nationals
2013 9 Hiroki Kuroda SP Nov. 20, 2012 1 $15,000,000 Yankees
2013 5 Melvin Upton OF Nov. 29, 2012 5 $75,000,000 Braves
2013 8 Dan Haren SP Dec. 7, 2012 1 $13,000,000 Nationals
2013 1 Zack Greinke SP Dec. 10, 2012 6 $147,000,000 Dodgers
2013 2 Josh Hamilton OF/DH Dec. 15, 2012 5 $125,000,000 Angels
2013 4 Anibal Sanchez SP Dec. 17, 2012 5 $80,000,000 Tigers
2013 7 Edwin Jackson SP Jan. 2, 2013 4 $52,000,000 Cubs
2013 6 Nick Swisher 1B/DH Jan. 3, 2013 4 $56,000,000 Indians
2013 3 Michael Bourn OF Feb. 15, 2013 4 $48,000,000 Indians
2013 10 Kyle Lohse SP March 25, 2013 3 $33,000,000 Brewers
2014 4 Brian McCann C Dec. 3, 2013 5 $85,000,000 Yankees
2014 2 Jacoby Ellsbury OF Dec. 7, 2013 7 $153,000,000 Yankees
2014 8 Hiroki Kuroda SP Dec. 7, 2013 1 $16,000,000 Yankees
2014 1 Robinson Cano 2B Dec. 12, 2013 10 $240,000,000 Mariners
2014 10 Mike Napoli SP Dec. 12, 2013 2 $32,000,000 Red Sox
2014 3 Shin-Soo Choo OF Dec. 27, 2013 7 $130,000,000 Rangers
2014 5 Masahiro Tanaka SP Jan. 22, 2014 7 $155,000,000 Yankees
2014 7 Matt Garza SP Jan. 26, 2014 4 $50,000,000 Brewers
2014 9 A.J. Burnett SP Feb. 16, 2014 1 $16,000,000 Phillies
2014 6 Ervin Santana SP March 12, 2014 1 $14,100,000 Braves
2015 6 Victor Martinez 1B/DH Nov. 14, 2014 4 $68,000,000 Tigers
2015 8 Russell Martin C Nov. 18, 2014 5 $82,000,000 Blue Jays
2015 4 Hanley Ramirez SS Nov. 25, 2014 4 $88,000,000 Red Sox
2015 5 Pablo Sandoval 3B/1B Nov. 25, 2014 5 $95,000,000 Red Sox
2015 9 Nelson Cruz OF/DH Dec. 4, 2014 4 $58,000,000 Mariners
2015 10 Yasmany Tomas OF/3B Dec. 9, 2014 6 $68,500,000 Diamondbacks
2015 2 Jon Lester SP Dec. 15, 2014 6 $155,000,000 Cubs
2015 7 Melky Cabrera OF Dec. 16, 2014 3 $42,000,000 White Sox
2015 1 Max Scherzer SP Jan. 21, 2015 7 $210,000,000 Nationals
2015 3 James Shields SP Feb. 11, 2015 4 $75,000,000 Padres
2016 7 Jordan Zimmermann SP Nov. 30, 2015 5 $110,000,000 Tigers
2016 1 David Price SP Dec. 4, 2015 7 $217,000,000 Red Sox
2016 3 Zack Greinke SP Dec. 8, 2015 6 $206,500,000 Diamondbacks
2016 2 Jason Heyward OF Dec. 15, 2015 8 $184,000,000 Cubs
2016 8 Johnny Cueto SP Dec. 16, 2015 6 $130,000,000 Giants
2016 9 Alex Gordon OF Jan. 6, 2016 4 $72,000,000 Royals
2016 4 Justin Upton OF Jan. 20, 2016 6 $132,750,000 Tigers
2016 5 Chris Davis 1B/DH Jan. 21, 2016 7 $161,000,000 Orioles
2016 6 Yoenis Cespedes OF Jan. 26, 2016 3 $75,000,000 Mets
2016 10 Ian Desmond SS Feb. 29, 2016 1 $8,000,000 Rangers
2017 7 Jeremy Hellickson SP Nov. 14, 2016 1 $17,200,000 Phillies
2017 1 Yoenis Cespedes OF Nov. 30, 2016 4 $110,000,000 Mets
2017 6 Dexter Fowler OF Dec. 9, 2016 5 $82,500,000 Cardinals
2017 9 Ian Desmond SS/OF Dec. 13, 2016 5 $70,000,000 Rockies
2017 3 Aroldis Chapman RP Dec. 15, 2016 5 $86,000,000 Yankees
2017 4 Justin Turner 3B Dec. 23, 2016 4 $64,000,000 Dodgers
2017 10 Ivan Nova SP Dec. 27, 2016 3 $26,000,000 Pirates
2017 2 Edwin Encarnacion 1B/DH Jan. 5, 2017 3 $60,000,000 Indians
2017 5 Kenley Jansen RP Jan. 10, 2017 5 $80,000,000 Dodgers
2017 8 Mark Trumbo 1B/OF/DH Jan. 20, 2017 3 $37,500,000 Orioles
2018 1 Yu Darvish SP
2018 2 J.D. Martinez OF
2018 3 Eric Hosmer 1B
2018 4 Jake Arrieta SP
2018 10 Carlos Santana 1B Dec. 20, 2017 3 $60,000,000 Phillies
2018 5 Mike Moustakas 3B
2018 6 Lorenzo Cain OF
2018 7 Wade Davis RP Dec. 29, 2017 3 $52,000,000 Rockies
2018 8 Lance Lynn SP
2018 9 Greg Holland RP

Last week, I wrote about how the competitive balance tax is affecting free agent signings. The CBT essentially functions as a soft salary cap because teams don’t want to pay the penalty. The Associated Press reported that the Dodgers were hit with a $36.2 million luxury tax, followed by the Yankees at $15.7 million. That’s a lot of money, especially for the Dodgers. Earlier this month, the Dodgers made a trade with the Braves to re-acquire Matt Kemp in exchange for a handful of players, allowing them to spread their obligations over two seasons instead of one. The CBT, with the threshold now at $197 million, is very clearly a concern for wealthier teams now.

Another factor is the rate of success signing top-10 free agents. A cursory glance at the list above reveals a lot of misses and most teams are understandably hesitant to repeat those mistakes. The reasons for that are manyfold, but a big one is that teams are now signing their talented prospects to contract extensions well before they become eligible for free agency. As a result, players become free agents later in their careers, past their primes. Teams signing free agents are taking on more post-prime years than they were before. Players that do hit free agency before or during their prime are either not as talented as their peers that signed extensions or reached the major leagues at a young age (like Bryce Harper if and when he becomes a free agent).

Earlier this month, Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti also said that, as a result of every organization now having implemented an analytics department, teams are starting to value players very similarly. That is true just as much of free agents as it is about players involved in trades. If Teams A, B, C, and D all value Free Agent Guy at a maximum of $70 million over three years, then he isn’t likely to get his asking price of five years and $125 million because those teams aren’t as likely to get into a bidding war against each other.

These factors — the CBT, history, and analytics — have created a chasm between what players want and what teams are willing to pay. That’s why we’re seeing a majority of the top free agents remain teamless going into the new year. For team owners and executives, this is a great development. For players, agents, and people who care about labor issues, this isn’t heading in a good direction and must be addressed when the next collective bargaining agreement is negotiated. The players’ share of league revenues continues to decline.