With the record-shattering deals we’ve seen just this week, it’s fair to wonder if the lethargic free agency periods of recent memory in Major League Baseball are a thing of the past.
If one thing is clear, it is that teams will still pay top dollar for elite talent. As for the rest of the free agents, that remains to be seen.
Last off-season, we saw Bryce Harper and Manny Machado sign contracts worth at least $300 million. And this week alone, Stephen Strasburg (Nationals) and Anthony Rendon (Angels) reportedly agreed to $245 million deals, while Gerrit Cole and the Yankees agreed to terms on a nine-year, $324 million contract. That’s a combined $814 million investment in just three players.
But what about everyone else?
It’s no secret that the middle class of free agents have had trouble finding work the last couple of off-seasons. Agents waited out the market only to see many established veterans have to wait until deep into free agency — and in some cases, even until after the regular season started — to sign contracts. And even then, most deals were for essentially pennies on the dollar.
Last year, Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel, both former all-stars still in their prime, each waited until the middle of the season before signing with the Cubs and Braves, respectively. And their contracts were nothing special. Keuchel received a one-year deal, while Kimbrel signed for three years — and neither contract was close to what either was expecting heading into free agency.
While the big-time contracts for the elite players at the top of the market this off-season show teams are willing to spend, we still don’t know if free agency has truly been fixed. What comes next is the real test.
What kind of contract will Hyun-jin Ryu receive? How about Madison Bumgarner or Yasiel Puig?
These are good, but not great players, and they are safe bets to sign lucrative contracts, and soon.
What about the next tier of free agents — the Mitch Morelands, Neil Walkers, and Todd Fraziers of the world? They’re established veterans who would normally command multi-year deals, but have settled for one-year contracts in recent off-seasons due to the slow-moving market.
If we see the B and C class free agents sign multi-year contracts, only then can we say free agency is fixed. Until then, we have to wait and see.