Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that the Players Association is holding a free agent camp in Bradenton, Fla., starting this week. It shows unity among the players who are in this unforeseen situation of unemployment. There are some very good players among the 100 or so free agents still looking for work. While the camp is a noble undertaking, is this the snapshot Major League Baseball wants to show its audience?
For a sport already lagging behind the NFL and the NBA in popularity among millennials, some of the best players in the game aren’t signed.
Whether this effort moves the needle, who knows? It’s obvious the owners have exercised the collective bargaining agreement they so wisely negotiated and gained the upper hand. They were able to take control of free agency and escalating contracts by essentially implementing a soft salary cap in the luxury tax.
Even the teams that normally dive into free agency headfirst are now resetting their payrolls so they don’t have to pay the tax and aren’t subjected to the other penalties associated with going over. How on earth did the MLBPA go along with this?
The free agent camp basically becomes a discount store, where scouts will try to pick off a one-year bargain among some players who would normally have received multiyear deals.
It seems public sentiment has always been against the players as fans believe they are overpaid. Yet a majority of owners are making record profits. Do you really think the Red Sox suffered a hardship when they had to eat the remaining $39 million on Pablo Sandoval’s deal? Likely not. It was more of an embarrassing concession that they didn’t pick the right player for the environment. But then again, free agency is a crapshoot. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose.
While the owners seem to control this situation, don’t forget that fan bases want their teams to be complete. They don’t want their organizations to “cheap out” and leave a major need unfilled. You can count on one hand the teams that don’t need a pitcher to complete their rotation or bullpen. There are several teams that need another piece in their lineup. There are teams that need quality, veteran depth.
So the owners don’t have the full advantage in this situation.
As for the players, not all free agents can adhere to the Scott Boras method of holding out as long as possible for the right deal. Give Boras credit, he has the confidence and fortitude to hold out his elite clients out for as long as it takes. Of course, even those clients have a breaking point, when they throw up their hands and say, “OK, I need a job. I have to sign even if it’s not nearly for what I think I’m worth.”
Boras clients — the major players in the market — will likely stay clear of the union camp since they have their own trainers. The camp, which will be run by former Astros manager Bo Porter, won’t allow personal trainers. So that will keep some players away.
The union tried this before the 1995 season, after the player strike, but while 150 players were invited only about 40 or so showed up in Homestead, Fla. The 2018 version may not be any different.
Elite free agents such as Jake Arrieta, J.D. Martinez, and Eric Hosmer will likely wind up getting close to their asking prices in the end (Yu Darvish and the Cubs reportedly have reached agreement on a $126 million, six-year contract). It could be that teams wind up getting bargains on the next-level guys like Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn, Logan Morrison, Carlos Gonzalez, etc. We’ve already seen Todd Frazier sign a slightly below-market deal with the Mets for two years at $17 million. We had pegged Frazier for at least a three-year, $36 million contract.
The camp should create some interesting sidebars for the players and teams. What if the Yankees get Mike Moustakas on a one-year pillow contract and Moustakas ends up hitting 40 homers and then get a bigger deal next year, similar to what Adrian Beltre did with the Red Sox?
In the end, the players won’t win in this stalemate. You won’t see many contracts north of five years. Hosmer may get one of them given that he’s still only 28, but the analytics are slanting in favor of younger players and teams are moving fast in that direction.
Maybe it’s a market correction. Maybe it’s the CBA being slanted toward the owners. The two sides went from a spirit of cooperation to attacking each other now at every turn.
Whatever is going on, having this many good players without jobs isn’t a good look for baseball.
Porter playingan important role
Bo Porter managed the Astros amid their tanking years. After he got fired, the next guy, A.J. Hinch, reaped the benefits.
Porter’s Astros lost 111 games in 2013, and he was fired late the next season with a 59-79 record. He became a special assistant to former Braves GM John Coppolella but resigned after Coppolella was fired by Atlanta and banned by MLB for the international signing scandal. Porter now works with the Players Association.
“I took the job to help the players and do what I can to continue to lift the game of baseball,” Porter said. “It evolved that there was a realistic chance that this camp could happen so we could provide support and a stable ground for our players and provide them with a preseason routine and regimen as they await where their destination might be.
“I’ll tell you, this has been a great team effort starting with [union executive director] Tony [Clark] to provide this opportunity for our players. The players know they’re supported. The IMG facility is first class, over 500 acres and the players have access to all of the facilities and workout areas. We have trainers who have a lot of experience and we’re providing all of the things players would have access to in a normal spring training setting.”
Porter said he has no idea how many players will attend. He said making the players aware of the option is being handled by Clark and his staff, but Porter has recruited an arsenal of coaches that includes former Red Sox reliever Tom Gordon, Jamie Quirk, Dave Winfield, Jeffrey Hammonds, Derrick May, and Dmitri Young.
“It will be run just like a normal spring training. I think it’s mutually beneficial to teams as well as the players who leave our camp because it’ll be as if they’ve been in spring training the entire time and will leave our camp ready to play,” Porter said.
Porter added, “We’re focusing on one thing and one thing only — prepare the players for the 2018 season.”
Apropos of nothing
1. Could it really be that the Rays have settled on a site for a new stadium in the Ybor City section of Tampa? The Hillsborough County Commission announced Friday that if the process goes smoothly, a stadium could be ready by 2022 or 2023. The Rays need to submit a stadium design and also work out an exit plan from St. Petersburg, paying the city for the remainder of the lease at Tropicana Field, which expires in 2027 at $3 million per year. The new stadium will cost upward of $700 million, so the big issue, as always, is the financial breakdown. How much is owner Stuart Sternberg willing to pay? This is where stadium plans always get hung up. Ask Larry Lucchino, who is going through it in Pawtucket.
2. Our good friend Rick Swanson, whom we refer to as the “Fans’ Commish,” is always looking for cutting-edge products and services to help players optimize their performance. He mentions MAT (Mindful Athlete Training), the world’s first mental skill metric called bioQTM invented by Dr. Lee Picariello, a clinical sport psychologist. A statement on his website reads: “BioQTM functions as a training baseline as well as a marker of mind-body efficiency — it’s the intangible factor that now has a metric. This is the first measure of a professional athlete’s ability to get in ‘the zone’ and assess how long they can stay there. bioQTM is comprised of four circuits: an athlete’s ability to BE CALM, GET FOCUSED, STAY ENGAGED, and ACHIEVE INTEGRATION.” It’s an interesting concept as teams continue to find new ways to make their players perform their best.
3. As Pawtucket and Worcester duke it out for the PawSox’ new stadium, I was interested to learn that the South Weymouth Naval Air Station has shown interest.
4. One thing the players should have insisted on in the CBA is the addition of one spot to the active roster. In this day of reliever-dominated rosters, some teams carry only three bench players. The 25-man roster has become obsolete and it taxes position players. That happened to Xander Bogaerts last year.
5. The Mets have done a great job rebuilding their offense, spending $39 million for three years on Jay Bruce, $17 million for two years on Todd Frazier, and also resigning Jose Reyes.
6. Pitchers are pretty annoyed about commissioner Rob Manfred possibly implementing a 20-second pitch clock, but hitters aren’t exactly pleased either. Most hitters like to plan their strategy between pitches. Of course, hitters are often guilty of stepping out of the box, a rule that wasn’t enforced enough in 2017.
Updates on nine
1. J.D. Martinez, OF, free agent — While it’s been written that the Diamondbacks may have a multiyear offer on the table for Martinez, it doesn’t seem plausible they can afford Martinez given Zack Greinke’s enormous contract and that they have to take care of Paul Goldschmidt long term. Unless, of course, ownership has authorized general manager Mike Hazen to go all out for Martinez, who was really impressive for Torey Lovullo’s club last season.
2. Domingo Santana, RF, Brewers — The Diamondbacks were very interested in Santana, but the Brewers were trying to obtain one of Arizona’s starting pitchers. Many believe the pitcher they had their sights on was lefty Patrick Corbin, but the Brewers were rebuffed. Milwaukee has excess in the outfield after signing Lorenzo Cain and trading for Christian Yelich and are looking to flip an outfielder (Santana or Keon Broxton) for a pitcher.
3. Ryan Braun, LF, Brewers — One veteran executive threw out the possibility of the Red Sox taking a shot at Braun as an alternative to signing Martinez. Braun, 34, is signed through 2020 on a five-year, $105 million deal. He’s scheduled to earn $20 million, $19 million, and $17 million the next three seasons. Braun battled injuries in 2017 but he’s certainly capable of hitting the long ball (302 career homers and six seasons with more than 30) and has a career OPS of .905.
4. Logan Morrison, OF/1B, free agent — Morrison turned down a two-year, $20 million offer from the Indians, according to a major league source, before Cleveland signed Yonder Alonso. He may not get that good of an offer again. Morrison hit 38 homers for the Rays last year, but that kind of production could be an aberration.
5. Jake Odorizzi, RHP, Rays — All of the attention has been focused on Chris Archer as a possible trade chip for the Rays, but Odorizzi is getting even more attention on the trade market, according to one major league source. The Orioles, Twins, Brewers, Cubs, and Yankees are among the teams that have made inquiries.
It would appear the Rays are ready to unload him.
6. Martin Prado, INF, Marlins — If Prado didn’t have the albatross of a $13.5 million price tag, he would likely be sought-after. The Marlins would like to move the veteran and are willing to eat some of the salary. The Marlins have also been surprised at the lack of interest of former Yankees second baseman Starlin Castro.
7. Brock Holt, UTL, Red Sox — It’ll be interesting to see whether the Red Sox entertain trade options for Holt if they feel Blake Swihart will be their utility player. Several teams would love to get Holt, but the Red Sox still want to see how well Swihart handles that role.
8. Eduardo Nunez, INF, free agent — How is his balky right knee? That’s an unanswered question. He’s an attractive player who gave the Red Sox a tremendous boost last year. The Yankees, Mets, Rays, and Braves are interested in him as a starter. The Red Sox would use him to fill in for the injured Dustin Pedroia and serve a utility role.
9. Yu Darvish, RHP, free agent — Reports Saturday have him going to the Cubs. The Twins had been on Darvish from the start of free agency, and with Ervin Santana missing 10-12 weeks after finger surgery, the urgency grew for the Twins, who reportedly made Darvish an offer north of $100 million. “The Twins have a great opportunity to be top dog in that division,” said an American League GM. “They get Darvish or [Jake] Arrieta, they [can] be that.”
From the Bill Chuck files: “Only two players hit over .300 when behind in the count last season: Justin Turner (.313) and Yuli Gurriel (.302). Even Jose Altuve hit ‘only’ .298. Hanley Ramirez hit .199 and Jackie Bradley Jr. hit .197.” Also, “Over the last two seasons, third basemen Kris Bryant has played 306 games and hit 68 homers, drove home 175 runs, and whiffed 282 times, while Todd Frazier has played 305 games and hit 67 homers, drove home 174 runs, and whiffed 288 times. The difference is that Bryant hit .293 and Frazier hit .220.” . . . Happy birthday, Brian Daubach (46), Todd Benzinger (55), and Ben Oglivie (69).
Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.