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Peter Abraham

Baseball’s free agent market is a waiting game

First baseman Eric Hosmer remains an unsigned free agent.file/charlie riedel/AP

Take a look at the long list of free agents still unsigned and it’s not at all difficult to put together a sure playoff contender.

Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn, and John Lackey would be the rotation. Think Lackey is all done? Andrew Cashner, Jaime Garcia, and Chris Tillman are available.

Greg Holland can be your closer with Addison Reed, Tony Watson, and Bud Norris setting him up. You could try to squeeze another year out of Koji Uehara, too.

The lineup will produce plenty of runs. All-Stars Eric Hosmer (first base), J.D. Martinez (right field), Mike Moustakas (third base), and Lorenzo Cain (center field) are the main pieces with Jonathan Lucroy (catcher), Neil Walker (second base), J.J. Hardy (shortstop), and Jay Bruce (DH) also starting.


Jon Jay and Carlos Gomez can split left field. Eduardo Nunez will come off the bench at a few spots. You can find at-bats for Todd Frazier.

With spring training less than seven weeks away, that so many worthwhile players remain available is not unprecedented. But it’s certainly unusual.

Cleveland DH Jay Bruce is among the many free agents still on the market.file/gregory shamus/Getty Images

Only six of the top 20 free agents listed by have signed. In the 12 years since he founded the now-indispensable website, Tim Dierkes can’t recall such inaction.

Through Friday, only nine free agent position players had signed major league contracts for next season. Counting pitchers, the largest free agent contract has been three years and $60 million for new Phillies first baseman Carlos Santana.

Twenty-four of the 30 teams have signed at least one free agent. But half of those teams have signed only one. Of the 46 players signed, 24 are relief pitchers.

The Rockies and Phillies have been the biggest spenders on free agents so far. Three franchises known for big payrolls — the Red Sox, Dodgers, and Yankees — have combined to invest only $25 million on three free agents.


The Red Sox retained first baseman Mitch Moreland for two years and $13 million. The Yankees brought back lefthander CC Sabathia for one year and $10 million. The Dodgers took on reliever Tom Koehler for $2 million.

So if you are exasperated with how long it is taking the Red Sox to add a potent hitter to their lineup, know that they’re not alone in letting the market unfold slowly.

Teams better understand that long-term contracts for free agents are perilous. The Red Sox released Pablo Sandoval last season and will be responsible for approximately $40 million through 2019.

Hanley Ramirez, signed to a four-year, $88 million deal before the 2015 season, has a .784 OPS since, a steep drop from the .873 OPS he had previously.

David Price has so far cost the Sox $60 million for a 3.84 ERA and 46 starts over two seasons.

The same has been true in other markets. The Yankees have little use for Jacoby Ellsbury, who has three years and $68.4 million left on his contract. The Angels are burdened with Albert Pujols for four more seasons and $114 million. Jason Heyward has a .669 OPS since signing with the Cubs for seven years and $184 million.

If waiting into January results in a smaller contract for Martinez, Bruce, or another hitter, it’s understandable why Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski is sitting back.

There is nothing up yet with J.D. Martinez, although the Red Sox might be waiting for his price to come down.file/ralph freso/AP

Another factor: Teams are eager to get under the competitive balance tax threshold — if only for one year — to reset the penalties. Under the new collective bargaining agreement, there are far more incentives to stay under.


The Red Sox got under last season. The Yankees are Dodgers are set up to stay under the $197 million mark in 2018. It will be a $46.7 million decrease for the Dodgers.

There’s also greater incentive to sign your own players to extensions and take better control of when your payroll will fluctuate.

So settle in. At some point players will instruct their agents to make deals as spring training draws closer. At the same time, teams will find a price point where they’re comfortable.

Arrieta, Darvish, Hosmer, Martinez, and the rest will play baseball for somebody in 2018. But for now, just like fans, they’re waiting.



BALTIMORE (9) — Pedro Alvarez; dh-1b; Ryan Flaherty, 2b; Craig Gentry, of; J.J. Hardy, ss; Jeremy Hellickson, rhp; Ubaldo Jimenez, rhp; Wade Miley, lhp; Seth Smith, of; Chris Tillman, rhp.

BOSTON (6) — Fernando Abad, lhp; Blaine Boyer, rhp; Rajai Davis, of; Eduardo Nunez, inf; Addison Reed, rhp; Chris Young, of.

CHICAGO (2) — Mike Pelfrey, rhp; Geovany Soto c.

CLEVELAND (4) — Craig Breslow, lhp; Jay Bruce, of; Austin Jackson, of; Boone Logan, lhp.

DETROIT (1) — Anibal Sanchez, rhp.

HOUSTON (4) — Carlos Beltran, dh; Tyler Clippard, rhp; Francisco Liriano, lhp; Cameron Maybin, of.

KANSAS CITY (8) — Melky Cabrera, of; Trevor Cahill, rhp; q-Lorenzo Cain, of; Alcides Escobar, ss; q-Eric Hosmer, 1b; q-Mike Moustakas, 3b; Peter Moylan, rhp; Jason Vargas, lhp.


LOS ANGELES (10) — Andrew Bailey, rhp; Jesse Chavez, rhp; Yunel Escobar, 3b; Ricky Nolasco, rhp; Bud Norris, rhp; Cliff Pennington, inf; Brandon Phillips, 2b; Ben Revere, of; Fernando Salas, rhp; Huston Street, rhp.

MINNESOTA (5) — Matt Belisle, rhp; Bartolo Colon, rhp; Dillon Gee, rhp; Glen Perkins, lhp; Hector Santiago, lhp.

NEW YORK (3) — Todd Frazier, 3b; Jaime Garcia, lhp; Matt Holliday, dh.


SEATTLE (6) — Gordon Beckham, inf; Jarrod Dyson, of; Carlos Ruiz, c; Danny Valencia, 1b-3b.

TAMPA BAY (7) — Peter Bourjos, of; q-Alex Cobb, rhp; Lucas Duda, 1b; Logan Morrison, 1b; Trevor Plouffe, 3b; Colby Rasmus, of; Sergio Romo, rhp.

TEXAS (5) — Andrew Cashner, rhp; Carlos Gomez, of; Miguel Gonzalez, rhp; Jason Grilli, rhp; Mike Napoli, 1b.

TORONTO (5) — Brett Anderson, lhp; Darwin Barney, 2b; Jose Bautista, of; Miguel Montero, c; Michael Saunders, of.


ARIZONA (5) — Gregor Blanco, of; Jorge De La Rosa, lhp; David Hernandez, rhp; J.D. Martinez of; Adam Rosales, inf.

ATLANTA (2) — R.A. Dickey, rhp; Jason Motte, rhp.

CHICAGO (8) — q-Jake Arrieta, rhp; Alex Avila, c; q-Wade Davis, rhp; Brian Duensing, lhp; Jon Jay, of; John Lackey, rhp; Rene Rivera, c; Koji Uehara, rhp.

CINCINNATI (3) — Bronson Arroyo, rhp; Scott Feldman, rhp; Drew Storen, rhp.

COLORADO (6) — Alexi Amarista, inf; Carlos Gonzalez, of; Ryan Hanigan, c; q-Greg Holland, rhp; Jonathan Lucroy, c; Mark Reynolds, 1b.


LOS ANGELES (6) — Yu Darvish, rhp; Andre Ethier, of; Curtis Granderson, of; Franklin Gutierrez, of; Chase Utley, 2b; Tony Watson, lhp.

MIAMI (4) — Mike Aviles, inf; A.J. Ellis, c; Dustin McGowan, rhp; Ichiro Suzuki, of.

MILWAUKEE (2) — Matt Garza, rhp; Neil Walker, 2b.

NEW YORK (1) — Jose Reyes, inf.

PHILADELPHIA (4) — Andres Blanco, inf; Clay Buchholz, rhp; Hyun-Soo Kim, of; Daniel Nava, of.

PITTSBURGH (3) — Joaquin Benoit, rhp; John Jaso, 1b; Chris Stewart, c.

ST. LOUIS (2) — q-Lance Lynn, rhp; Seung-Hwan Oh, rhp.

SAN DIEGO (2) — Erick Aybar, ss; Craig Stammen, rhp.

SAN FRANCISCO (3) — Matt Cain, rhp; Jae-Gynn Hwang, 1b-3b; Michael Morse, ib-of.

WASHINGTON (10) — Matt Albers, rhp; Joe Blanton, rhp; Alejandro De Aza, of; Stephen Drew, 2b; Edwin Jackson, rhp; Howie Kendrick, of-2b; Adam Lind, 1b; Oliver Perez, lhp; Ryan Raburn, of; Jayson Werth of.

Peter Abraham can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.