Is not signing free agents a matter of simple ‘common sense?’

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The free agent market is ice cold. Big name free agents aren’t coming off the board and the players who are signing are doing so for very low money, often to re-up with the teams they played for last year. Is something fishy going on, or is it just a case of savvy front offices imposing some sanity on a once-over-heated market independently from one another?

Sports Illustrated offers some insight:

Owners claim they are only exercising common sense . . . [an MLB official] pointed out, among other things, that close to $50 million is being paid out to players no longer performing, that players on long-term contracts spend more time on the disabled list, and that performance progressively falls off in each year of a multiyear pact. “I just told [clubs] what I’ve been telling them all along, that they were crazy and running themselves into bankruptcy,” says [the MLB official]. It also has not gone unnoticed that the more successful clubs in recent years have not resorted to signing free agents.

Is that compelling to you? Believable? Maybe yes, maybe no.

Before you answer, let me note that all of that material from above comes from the December 9, 1985 issue of Sports Illustrated, in which the free agent being unable to find a lucrative deal was Kirk Gibson and the MLB official whose name I bracketed over was then-chairman of MLB’s Player Relations Committee Lee MacPhail, who died several years ago. As we all know, the excuses offered at the time were bogus and there was, in fact, an active collusion conspiracy going on, orchestrated from MLB’s head office itself.

I’m not saying that collusion is happening now, mind you. I have no evidence of that and I would not lodge such a serious accusation without evidence. I am merely offering a history lesson. I am reminding you that the sorts of statements we’ve been hearing of late about how owners are only exercising common sense and how rationality, not a conspiracy, dictates not signing free agents are nothing new. They can be offered in a genuine fashion and may be now, but they were the disingenuous answers that were given back in a time when collusion was afoot.

Which is to say that, if your favorite team is not actively trying to make itself better, don’t just settle for the pat and broad “we’re just exercising common sense” answer or references to bad contracts handed out in the past or the time aging players stay on the disabled list. Based on that “the more successful clubs in recent years have not resorted to signing free agents” comment, don’t even buy in to the “hey, look what the Cubs and Astros did with their rebuilds” line.

Sure, it may be true, but Major League Baseball clubs have not earned the benefit of the doubt on such matters. They offered all of that stuff in disingenuous fashion in the past, and while it may be genuine now, we are under no obligation to believe clubs when they say so.

Zack Britton’s season over, TJ surgery comeback out of time

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK — Zack Britton‘s season is over, his comeback from Tommy John surgery cut short after just three relief appearances for the New York Yankees.

New York put the 34-year-old left-hander on the 60-day injured list and selected the contract of right-hander Jacob Barnes from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Britton was removed after throwing a tiebreaking wild pitch in a 2-1 loss to Baltimore, an outing that lasted just nine pitches. The two-time All-Star had Tommy John surgery on Sept. 8, 2021, and made eight minor league injury rehabilitation appearances starting Aug. 24 and three big league appearances beginning Sept. 24. He threw 36 pitches to nine batters with a 13.50 ERA, six walks and one strikeout.

“Kind of running out of time here and having a little bit of fatigue last night, it’s like one of those things, you don’t want to power through that and reach for more and then do some damage as you’re coming back,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “He’s in a good spot heading into the offseason.”

Britton had hoped to be able to help the Yankees in the postseason. He is eligible for free agency after the World Series.

“It’s just that final sharpness,” Boone said. “At this point in the season, just kind of up against it there. But he worked his tail off to put himself in this position and give himself an opportunity and certainly admire that.”

Barnes, 32, started the season with Detroit and was released on June 18 after going 3-1 with a 6.10 ERA in 22 relief appearances. He struck out 10 and walked nine in 20 2/3 innings.

Barnes signed a minor league contract with Seattle, made four relief appearances for Triple-A Tacoma, then was brought up by the Mariners and designated for assignment two days later without playing in a game. He refused an outright assignment, signed back with the Tigers and made five appearances at Triple-A Toledo. Released by the Mud Hens, he signed with Scranton on Aug. 30 and had a 2.25 ERA in 10 games for the RailRiders.

Boone said reliever Clay Holmes will not go on the IL after receiving a cortisone injection for inflammation in his right rotator cuff. If the Yankees had put Holmes on the IL, he would not be available for the Division Series.

After playing his first game since Sept. 4 and going 0 for 3, DJ LeMahieu said his injured right second toe felt fine. He is in a 2-for-41 slide.

“It felt good to play again,” LeMahieu said. “I felt like a baseball player.”

Matt Carpenter, sidelined since breaking his left toot on Aug. 8, ran on the field and will be among players reporting to training camp for Double-A Somerset, where there will be eight or nine pitchers. Boone anticipates Carpenter being available for the postseason as a pinch-hitter or designated hitter.

Right-hander Frankie Montas, sidelined since Sept. 16 by inflammation in his pitching shoulder, has resumed throwing.

“I don’t know about the Division Series,” Boone said, “more likely beyond.”