It’s been a strange MLB offseason. Or maybe it’s been a normal MLB offseason, by the current standards.
Here we are on Jan. 10 and the top three players on the free-agent market (Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, A.J. Pollock) remain unsigned and the best catcher (Yasmani Grandal) was forced to take a one-year deal.
The “middle class” of baseball players is no longer getting paid like it was from around 2007-16. Front offices are smarter now and more shrewd with their investments. It means fewer albatross contracts and probably more profits for owners … but does that benefit the common baseball fan in any way?
Consider this: Free agency opened 73 days ago and there is only one position player who has signed a contract guaranteeing more than $10 million over at least three years. Andrew McCutchen. That’s it. Just five years ago, this is the kind of contract teams were giving fifth starters like Scott Feldman.
It’s a decline from even last offseason, which was a bad one for players. Last year, seven such contracts were given to position players. This offseason, Harper and Machado will obviously get them but will anyone else? At this point, a guy like Pollock might find it more worthwhile to take a high-priced one-year deal and re-test the market next year. It’s what Grandal did by agreeing Wednesday to a one-year, $18.25 million deal with the Brewers, a contract nobody would have seen coming at the beginning of the offseason.
Another ominous sign for players looking to cash in: There are reportedly no more than four teams seriously pursuing either Harper or Machado. By most accounts, it’s the Phillies, Yankees and White Sox after Machado and the Phillies, Nationals and Dodgers after Harper. That could change if a mystery team swoops in, but so far, neither race includes as many competitors as expected.
Part of that is because contenders like the Cubs and Indians aren’t looking to add payroll and teams like the Giants, Diamondbacks, Mariners and Rangers are retooling. You can’t really blame those latter four teams because they’re more than one Bryce Harper away from seriously contending. (Then again, the same could be said of the White Sox and perhaps the Phillies.)
According to USA Today, the White Sox offer for Machado is around $200 million. Before your jaw drops, we don’t know how many years were involved in that offer. If it’s five years, $200 million, that’s a fair annual salary for Machado. If it’s 8 years, $200 million, they should’ve been laughed off the phone or out of the room.
When the offseason began, nearly the entire baseball world expected Machado and Harper to get between $300 million and $400 million. MLBTradeRumors, which does a good job forecasting contracts, projected a 14-year, $420 million deal for Harper. An offer close to that now seems remote.
Unless the pace and competitiveness of free agency changes, the Phillies have even less of an excuse to not land one of the two megastars.
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