Written By Jason Voorhees
We are exactly two months away from opening day for the Phillies in 2019 and yet the two major free agent "mega stars" remain unsigned. In fact, only one player (Patrick Corbin) from the original MLB Top 10 List provided by Jim Duquette in October has signed a contract. Up until a few weeks ago...there were at least 50 Bryce Harper/Manny Machado rumors on a daily basis.
Since Manny Machado's agent Dan Lozano ripped Bob Nightengale and Buster Olney for false reports about his clients potential destinations and contract offers, the rumor well had suddenly went dry. The Harper/Machado "rumors" that were swirling around on Twitter had slowed to a snails pace. Up until today. On Monday, Bob Nightengale was once again reporting that the Phillies are still heavy favorites to land Bryce Harper and that the White Sox are favorites for Manny Machado.
Then, in dramatic fashion another Bryce Harper related tweet. This time from MLB THE SHOW Twitter Handle. What exactly did it say you ask? "You'll want to keep an eye on this account tomorrow...just saying." Can you say cryptic?
At this point, its a waiting game to see which player will blink first. Who will sign the first contract and who will get the larger payday. Major League Baseball Free Agency has become a crap shoot. Free Agency is supposed to be the crème de le crème when it comes to the major league sports offseason. Just look at NFL, NBA, and even NHL "Free Agent Frenzies" for how big of a deal these systems have become. Then look at MLB, where it has become the exact opposite...extremely slow, boring, and downright disappointing.
I can remember as a young kid how exciting the MLB "Hot Stove" used to be. It was the premier free agent offseason in the sporting world and there was always so much fun and drama attached to it. The "Hot Stove" used to be synonymous with baseball winter meetings when major free agent signings or trades would be discussed or consummated. Rumors of these deals were often leaked or floated which would cause a major stir in and around the MLB community. This was MLB free agency at its finest.
Then, along the way something bad happened...
The past few years have led to a drastic decline in free agent activity in and around the meetings, which has led to players signing much later into the free agent period. Here we are today, January 28th and we still have nine of the top ten free agents still available on the board. This is a sad state of affairs for the league. Just one of a large number of reasons that this league is heading on a crash course for its next major "labor strike."
Just look at last year for one example...our own Philadelphia Phillies finally signing the Top Free Agent Pitcher Jake Arrieta who waited until March 11th to sign his 3yr 75 Million Dollar Contract last year.
The free agent system that MLB has going for itself now cannot be good for the benefit of the league. First of all, it makes sense that the best players in the sport want to get as much money as possible and that they want to be paid comparable to other players in their peer group. That's easy to understand and I cant fault the player for this. However; when the best players are waiting to sign its making it more difficult for the lower tier free agents to get "their payday."
Teams are becoming more and more reluctant to shell out the long term contract. This could be due to so many teams getting burned by players in the past that have not performed up to par. One great example of this on the Phillies was Ryan Howard's contract extension that was signed in 2010. The deal was a 5yr/125 Million Dollar payout...a deal at the time that was only bested by Alex Rodriguez as far as average annual value goes. Of course, we all know too well how that contract panned out. A minus 4 on the WAR scale over the life of the contract. In simple terms...PUTRID.
Now I am in no way comparing g a 30year old Ryan Howard to a 26 yr old Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. The latter are both much younger and just beginning their prime as compared to the 30yr old Howard who had already past his better seasons. Nonetheless...what I am saying is that I once again can see how this type of situation would cause teams to be more hesitant when distributing out the next big contract. So I think that this may be the biggest contributing factor to these mega stars lack of interest this season.
Of course, the lack of interest has led to a lack of potential suitors which has ultimately cost Machado and Harper a ton of cash. The usual suspects (New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, Saint Louis Cardinals, New York Mets, etc) have either bowed out already or were never ever really involved. Coming into this season, both players were expected to reach deals that would at least hit 300 million, with some people projecting Bryce Harper to break the 400 million threshold. Instead, neither player will come close to getting the projected number and as mentioned...the long term contract fear may be the biggest factor.
So the lack of signings of the top free agents has basically put the free agency period on hold. This has been bad in so many ways. As mentioned earlier...it has hurt second and third tier free agents because now they are being forced to wait and may loose out on suitors as the bigger names fall off the board. It has also put a damper on potential trades which could effect teams future plans as we get closer and closer to spring training. Even in the Phillies case...what happens if we are waiting on Harper and he decides to sign with the Nationals instead. Then what do we do?...
Do we go to PLAN B and sign Machado. Well...then we have Machado. And all of a sudden the team is scrambling to trade Mikael Franco or Cesar Hernandez...depending on whether or not Manny is willing to play shortstop or third base. What if we sign Harper...do we then trade away Nick Williams or Odubel Herrerra. There are so many "what ifs" and that's just touching on the Phillies situation. Imagine other teams dilemmas. I guess some would say that's a great spot to be in and a good problem to have.
In retrospect, its fair to say that this whole free agent "hot stove" thing has become a huge debacle. Major League Baseball should be ashamed of itself at this point. Many players and agents have spoke out already against the current system. However, one may say what can the league do. Hands are tied at this point. Not a "ton" of teams looking to spend and still a fairly large crop of free agents to choose from. Of course...I would say hogwash. The league needs to step in and take a close look at this current trend and the decline in past few seasons of the free agent frenzy.
The league needs to step in and say...hey guys...we need to make some changes to the current format. Maybe institute a fine for players that don't sign by a certain deadline. Maybe make the final deadline February 1st. Then, at least the majority of players would be forced to sign deals at a much quicker fashion or risk being penalized. This would at least eliminate the situation that we find ourselves in this year...with 15 of the top 25 free agents yet unsigned. Also, it would make the MLB offseason relevant once again. Right now...they are in fifth place in the big 4 of professional sports. That's not a good place to be in heading towards a labor stoppage.
When will this endless winter of baseball end? No one seems to have an exact date or time. One things for sure. The endless rumors and chatter that had seemed to die for a bit will continue at a feverish pitch. Where will Bryce and Manny land no one knows exactly. What is known is that this is just the beginning of the ugly sweater that is also known as baseball free agency.
Something must be done soon folks. This is downright embarrassing for a league that has traditionally called itself the top echelon sporting event in America. It still pales to comparison with Americas Game. A good starting point would be free agency. Fix this and possibly fix major league baseball. Until then guys...Bryce Yourself for many more rumors to come.
About Jason Voorhees
Jason resides in Norristown, PA and writes about all things sports and heavy metal music.