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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.

Ahoy, San Diego: 2019 Winter Meetings Preview

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Over the weekend the baseball world will descended on San Diego, California for the 2019 Winter Meetings. Let’s talk about what’ll go down there in the next week.

 

Free Agents

So far this has been a much brisker offseason than the past two, during which it seemed like no one signed between November and February. This year, however, we have already seen top-30 free agents Zack Wheeler, Yasmani Grandal, Cole Hamels, José Abreu, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Moustakas, and Michael Pineda sign, and a handful of others have inked pacts as well.

Still, there’s a lot of work to be done. Top free agent Gerrit Cole has had some heat around him lately, with the Yankees reportedly hot on his trail, and New York has at least had a conversation with San Diego native and resident Stephen Strasburg as well. Beyond them, Anthony Rendon, Madison Bumgarner, Nicholas Castellanos, and Josh Donaldson are all looking for new employers as well.

At the end of October Rotoworld’s Matthew Pouliot ran down the top 111 free agents, from highest-ranked to lowest, to help you get a jump on who is available.

 

Trades

Free agent signings notwithstanding, we are in an age in which a lot of teams are in cost-savings mode. For that reason some big, MVP-caliber names are reportedly on the trading block, including Mookie Betts of the Red Sox, Francisco Lindor of the Indians and, perhaps, Kris Bryant of the Cubs and Nolan Arenado of the Rockies. Beyond them, there has been chatter about the Dodgers dealing Joc Pederson, the Tigers dealing Matthew Boyd and the Pirates and Rockies shopping anyone worth a bag of balls.

Whether any of those big names switch teams, it’s already been a pretty active trading season so far, and it would not be at all surprising of the transaction wire is humming in the next week. We, of course, will have near-instant breakdowns of every deal that goes down, so make sure you keep a window open with this site on it and hit refresh early and often.

 

Managers on Parade

 

Trade deals and free agent negotiations take place behind closed doors, so we can only talk about those once they happen. One of the major public activities of the Winter Meetings is when all 30 of the managers meet and greet the press.

We have a boatload of new managers this year, all of whom have had their happy little press conferences back in their home cities so far. The press availabilities at the Winter Meetings are a bit more in depth and, quite often, feature managers giving more detailed answers to their philosophies and their plans as they prepare for the 2020 season.

New at the little tables and under the bright lights this year: Jayce Tingler with the Padres, Mike Matheny with the Royals, Gabe Kapler with the Giants, David Ross with the Cubs, Derek Shelton with the Pirates, Joe Maddon with the Angels, Carlos Beltrán with the Mets, and Joe Girardi with the Phillies.

And, yes, the tradition like no other continues this year, as I will be ranking all 30 of the current managers on the basis of handsomeness. Here’s last year’s rankings. The new rankings will go up first thing Monday morning. It’s the silliest thing I do all year and, for better or for worse, it’s the thing I’m best known for. What a life I have.

 

Hall of Fame Vote

The Modern Baseball Era Committee — formerly known as the Veterans Committee — will meet on Sunday to vote in, or not vote in, new inductees for the Hall of Fame. For the past two weeks I’ve been profiling the candidates. Here are those profiles:

Committee members get four votes each. If I had four I’d give them to Whitaker, Evans, Simmons, and Miller, but you never know what the real voters will do. We’ll have the results up on Sunday evening once the vote is made public.

 

Major League Baseball vs. Minor League Baseball

One thing a lot of people don’t know about the Winter Meetings is that it’s put on, primarily, by Minor League Baseball as an organization and the vast majority of the people on the ground at the Winter Meetings either run or work for or are trying to sell stuff to minor league teams. Almost every team’s owner comes and brings along some staffers. Coaches, trainers, scouts, and other team employees who spend most of their year out in the bushes as opposed to back at the big club’s home base attend meetings and hobnob with one another.

Normally that’s all pretty routine. This year, however, it probably won’t be thanks to Rob Manfred’s plan to contract 42 minor league clubs and rearrange a great many more of them across levels and leagues.

As we noted earlier today, that scheme has set off a political firestorm and is no doubt the top agenda item and point of concern for every single minor league official and employee at the Winter Meetings. There are, reportedly, already meetings going on in San Diego about all of this. Expect some news about it at any point in the next week. At this point I’d expect anything from Manfred totally scrapping the plan, to him doubling down on it, to reports of general acrimony and possible legal action and everything in between.

 

The Boring Business of Baseball 

Outside of the transactions, the Hall of Fame stuff, the managers and the minor league contraction intrigue, we’ll likely have more mundane Winter Meetings business. Most people at the Winter Meetings aren’t there for transactions. They’re there to network, seek jobs and discuss the business of baseball like any other industry convention. Ever year we hear about a rule change or a proposal for future rule changes at the Meetings. There is no single rule change that everyone is talking about at the moment, but something will likely pop up. Sometimes we’re completely surprised with that kind of stuff.

 

The Rule 5 Draft

The final event of the Winter Meetings is the Rule 5 Draft, which will take place at 8am Pacific time on Thursday morning. You likely have no idea who most of the players who will be selected, but by next summer you may very well know some of them who are either picked or who were made available this week. Max Muncy could’ve been had by anyone a couple of years ago, went un-picked and all he’s done is rake like crazy for the team with the most wins in the National League. Given that even the combined minds of 29 front offices didn’t think he was worth a roster spot last year, you’ll be forgiven for not having any idea about the guys in this year’s Rule 5. But, if you want to at least attempt to be prepared for it, here’s a good place to start.

So, yes, there’s a lot to be done. I’ll be on the scene at the Hyatt Manchester in San Diego — and maybe a few other places around town — bringing you all the best hot stove business we have to offer and, as usual, some more fun odds and ends from baseball’s biggest offseason event.