Hot Stove Gone Cold?

Written and Media by Anthony Stephenson.

November 1, 2017, at approximately 11:59 P.M., the last pitch of the 2017 Major League Baseball season was thrown as the Houston Astros won the World Series. This marked the end, yet the beginning of the 2018 season. The teams that did not make the playoffs have already been looking at the pending free agents and their payroll flexibility to see what free agents can address their needs.

Logo of 2017 MLB Winter Meetings. Media from MiLB.

The first five days after the World Series concluded were for qualifying offers. November 6, 2017, was when the free agency for every player officially opened up. December 10-14 marks the start and end of MLB Winter Meetings. It is during these meetings that all 30 MLB teams and their representatives come together to discuss league business and conduct off-season trades and transactions. This point in time usually marks the opening fireworks for the MLB free agency bonanza, otherwise known as the “hot stove.”

Has the hot stove gone cold?  By now, almost all free agents should be signed and preparing to report for spring training. That is not the case this year. Marquee free agents such as Lance Lynn, Jake Arrieta, and slugging outfielder J.D. Martinez all remain unsigned. Yes, at this time every year there will still be free agents looking for a team that needs their services, but this situation is unheard of.

Picture of Bush Stadium. Media by Anthony Stephenson

There are enough notable free agents this season to compose a team of strictly free agents and be really competitive with a pitching rotation headlined by Jake Arrieta and Lance Lynn, paired with a line-up loaded with the likes of J.D. Martinez, Mike Moustakas, and Logan Morrison.

The question that remains at the end of the day is, “Why do so many big names remain unemployed?” My first reason would be that teams are getting smarter by not wanting to spend big money on long-term contracts. Most free agents want 5+ years and well over 100 million dollars. While these players may have lived up to that type of contract the past couple seasons, general managers are well aware of the risk of locking players up for more than 2 or 3 seasons, especially ones that are already 30-33 years old.

They use past examples of bad contracts as the reasoning behind not taking such risks. From the likes of Albert Pujols to Alex Rodriguez, you can see why they would avoid giving older players that are heading toward the back end of their prime a long, lucrative deal. You pay for a player’s prime years, not their last few decent years.

Another reason this is happening is because of the youth movement. Teams are drafting smarter and developing better than ever before. There was a time where you could say that having a 19 or 20-year-old called up in the MLB was as rare as winning the lottery. Nowadays, that is not the case. We can thank players like Mike Trout, Kris Bryant, Francisco Lindor, and Bryce Harper, and the success they have had. Organizations would rather gamble on their young, in-house talent rather than risk overpaying and putting themselves into financial ruins for the upcoming years. 

2018 pending free agent Bryce Harper. Media from MLB.

The other point I would like to make regards the 2019 free agent class. Next year’s free agent class may be the most loaded free agent class in MLB history. Headlined by Clayton Kershaw (player option), Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, Dallas Keuchel, and Bryce Harper, the talent is just as deep as the list of names. The main point in this class is two of the guys that I listed above: Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. Super-Agent Scott Boras is their agent, and the chatter around the league is that they both will get 400 million+, with Harper having a chance to eclipse 500 million. This is important because young players set the market. With these young players yet to hit the market and receive a contract, it’s hard for organizations to want to pay big money for veterans when the faces of the league have yet to get paid. Teams also realize that you pay for what you get, and what you get is a 26-year-old superstar player just now hitting his prime versus a 30-33-year-old veteran who, more than likely, is on the decline.

Although baseball is known for the actual sport itself, it is also largely a business. If you make one bad business decision, it can hamper your team and organization for years to come.

In conclusion, it is wise to keep a close eye on the rest of the big names. Teams are in need of talent and the standoff will end eventually. As stated by GU student Logan Murphy, “Moves will be made in free agency because it is only a matter of time. Teams have held out because of a combination of things such as teams not wanting to make a mistake that will hurt the franchise but also realizing that the future is brighter in the next offseason.” Keep your eyes out for a free agency follow-up article!


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