When did it become bad to reach free agency? Over the past few off-seasons the free agent market has been slower than a traffic jam on the Cross Bronx Expressway and it seems like this situation will not improve any time soon. Currently two big name free agents remain unsigned, closer Craig Kimbrel and starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel.
It’s difficult to pinpoint one specific reason for this lethargic market, but the opinions of the players and their agents are clear. Many players have been outspoken on the issue of free agency, including Houston Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander, a free agent to be after the 2019 season. Verlander, like many others, feels that teams are not doing enough to be competitive and should be pursuing free agents in a more aggressive manner.
The Miami Marlins and the Baltimore Orioles are prime examples of teams that have no intention of competing this year due to their bleak situations. No impactful talent ready to help the big-league club and far too many holes to fill leaves these teams in an abyss, one that has a solution utilized by many before them. A complete rebuild. Suffering now to accumulate assets like prospects and financial flexibility so that in a few years they will have the opportunity to be an organization with sustainable success. Examples like the Houston Astros, Verlander’s team, are a light at the end of the tunnel for the Marlins and Orioles, proof that this can work. Verlander may not like it but teams can do whatever they deem is best for their organization.
Another issue that is plaguing free agency is that teams are now paying for what they will get, not for past performance. It is difficult to accept but it is a logical business practice. The Angels and Tigers agreed to substantial deals with stars Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera, and if you asked them how they feel about it now I am sure they will express some regret. These two players were mega stars that produced immensely throughout their careers, but unfortunately injuries have significantly cut down on their playing time and their production has suffered. To over pay for an older star must be a calculated risk, because the payroll and the franchise’s success may hinge on it.
This leaves the players in a very strange predicament and is now shining a light on the importance of extensions. It used to be that a player would wait until his contract was up to reach free agency and cash in on his achievements, but the recent free agent market freeze is making every player around the league re-evaluate that way of thinking.
Recently Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado agreed to an 8 year, $260 million contract, a substantial deal. Who knows how long he would have had to wait on the market next year when he would’ve been a free agent, or if he would have reached the AAV of $32.5 million a year. Stars are taking notice and may begin to take advantage of the extensions their current employers are offering. The free agent market is starting to become a dark, unfriendly place, and more players may prefer to avoid it.