It’s 2018, and while everyone is eagerly wishing their family and friends happiness, health and prosperity, is it too much to ask to put an end to baseball’s dullest off-season in nearly 25 years?
We haven’t had a more boring and dreary off-season since the 1994-1995 work stoppage.
It has been 62 days since the Houston Astros won their first World Series championship in a seven-game thriller over the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the only real drama we’ve seen is Shohei Ohtani signing with the Los Angeles Angels and Giancarlo Stanton traded to the New York Yankees.
The hot stove market, with 136 free agents still unemployed, barely has the flicker of a pilot light.
Just nine position players have signed major-league contracts this winter, and only two players – first baseman Carlos Santana (three-year, $60 million) with the Philadelphia Phillies) and All-Star closer Wade Davis (three-year, $52 million) with the Colorado Rockies – have received contracts in excess of $50 million.
Sure, that will end sometime before the start of the season. All-Star first baseman Eric Hosmer has a seven-year offer from the San Diego Padres, which would make him the highest-paid player in franchise history. Outfielder J.D. Martinez has a five-year offerfrom the Boston Red Sox. Yet, neither have signed a contract.
The top two starting pitchers, Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta, have been wined and dined, but still haven’t found a team willing to meet that six- or seven-year asking price.
Why, of the top 10 free agents – including five represented by Scott Boras – only Davis has signed.
It’s been that ugly of a winter.
The Baltimore Orioles did their best to liven the party by dangling third baseman/shortstop Manny Machado two weeks ago, but even with the White Sox and Cubs in strong pursuit, GM Dan Duquette has yet to see a tempting offer.
Derek Jeter, scorched by a town-hall meeting in which the Marlins fans conveyed their contempt, is now letting teams know that they are open for business on everyone, including disgruntled outfielder Christian Yelich and catcher J.T. Realmuto. Still, there’s a better chance of Jeffrey Loria returning as owner than Jeter being overwhelmed by trade proposals for either player this late in the winter.
There are only 42 days left before pitchers and catchers report to spring training, so logic tells us that we should have a wild frenzy these next six weeks.
Then again, we thought the same when Ohtani and Stanton found homes, only for the free-agent market to remain as dormant as the Cleveland Browns’ Super Bowl parade route.
It’s time for the stare-down contest to end, with everyone coming to realization that the days of George Steinbrenner, Gene Autry and Mike Ilitch providing blank checks to every free agent who might give them a chance for a championship are over.
This is a new era in baseball run with teams run by Ivy League graduates, employing more folks in their analytic departments than veteran baseball scouts, refusing to let their heart short-circuit their brain power.
No one wants to be stuck in position like the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves, who swung a blockbuster trade on the surface with the likes of former All-Stars Adrian Gonzalez and Matt Kemp, but in reality was only baseball’s version of money-laundering of bad contracts.
The game has never been more vibrant financially, but with a luxury tax in place that functions more like a salary cap, teams are being much more cautious.
It’s actually a miserable time to be a marquee free agent considering the big boys, the New York Yankees, Dodgers and Boston Red Sox, refuse to partake in the free-agent party. They’ve spent a grand total of $25 million this winter.
Oh sure, the Chicago Cubs still need a front-line starter, and would be willing to bring back Arrieta on a four-year deal for about $110 million, but sorry, they refuse to dish out a six-year deal. The Red Sox won’t give Martinez a seven-year, $210 million contract, and aren’t about to start bidding against themselves. The Yankees swear up and down they won’t go above the $197 million luxury tax in 2018, and will wait out the Pittsburgh Pirates for ace Gerrit Cole instead of spending big money in free agency. And the Dodgers, who had a $244 million payroll last year, haven’t signed a marquee free agent outside their organization since Andrew Friedman came into office.
A year from now, all bets are off.
We should be graced with the greatest free-agent bonanza in baseball history with Bryce Harper and Machado hitting the market, as well as Clayton Kershaw, Dallas Keuchel, Josh Donaldson, Craig Kimbrel, Zach Britton, Adam Jones and AJ Pollock.
Yet, that’s 10 months from now when dollar signs will be lighting up the skies.
For now, it’s time to take care of business. Free-agent closer Greg Holland and the St. Louis Cardinals seem like a natural fit. Free-agent outfielder Jay Bruce’s power will play nicely in San Francisco. The Yankees need Cole if they want to take advantage of Stanton and Aaron Judge’s power. Outfielders Andrew McCutchen, Billy Hamilton, Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo will be in trade talks. And you just know that Los Angeles Angels GM Billy Eppler, who has improved his team more than anyone this winter, has something up his sleeve.
We’ve got only a few precious weeks to spice up this dull winter.
Please, for all 30 teams, can we make it a New Year’s resolution to turn on that hot stove burner once and for all?
It’s beyond time.