Is it just me or is this year’s Free Agent market moving at a snail’s pace? Sure, there was a flurry of activity during the Winter Meetings but since then it has been like watching grass grow. The Marlins made a big splash early by signing Heath Bell, Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle to long-term deals. The Angels also went big at the outset, inking Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. But the way the market is playing out it is starting to appear that those two teams may have overpaid.
Miami is banking that an increase in revenue will stem from the opening of their new stadium. Attendance will definitely get a boost as fans file in to see their shiny new digs. But how long before the newness wears off? I think the Marlins have a couple of things working in their favor here that might help keep fans coming back. They’ve assembled a somewhat volatile cast of characters that seem more likely to combust than cohere. Fans love a winner and will keep coming back if the Marlins do well. On the flip-side, people can’t seem to turn away from a train wreck either and the Marlins season definitely a chance to derail. Will Hanley Ramirez and Carlos Zambrano get along with new skipper Ozzie Guillen? Probably not. And what about Logan Morrison? Someone’s going to eventually be fined for tweeting during a game. Will it be LoMo or Guillen, or both? Either way it looks like there will be plenty of excitement in Miami this season.
The Angels and owner Arturo Moreno may have ruined the market with the ludicrous contract extended to slugger Albert Pujols. The ten year deal is filled with perks that make Roger Clemens‘ deal with the Astros look like an extended stay at the Motel 6. No one would argue the fact that Pujols is the best hitter in the game and the prize of this year’s Free Agent class. But what about eight years from now? Nine? Ten? Who knows, maybe $30 million per season will be the going rate for 40 year-old Designated Hitters in the year 2020. If so, and Pujols remains at least somewhat productive, the Angels will have gotten their money’s worth. Moreno and the Angels must think that will be the case as the contract includes a full no-trade clause as well as a personal services deal.
The Rangers spent quite a few greenbacks to sign Yu Darvish, paying $51 million just to talk to the Japanese import and another $60 million for six years. That seems like a pretty big gamble on a guy who has yet to throw a pitch in the majors. The Rangers are also rumored to be a favorite in the Prince Fielder sweepstakes. The Rangers continue to downplay their interest in Fielder but I don’t trust them. Fielder is looking for a big money long-term deal and there just aren’t that many teams out there with that kind of money that have a need for the first-baseman.
The remaining Free Agents appear to now be competing for their share of what little money is left over. Recent signings have all paled in comparison to the earlier deals already mentioned. The Yankees picked up Hiroki Kuroda, who had been seeking $13 million per year, for only one-year and $10 million. Something is definitely wrong with the market when the Yankees underpay for a Free Agent!
Ryan Madson had reportedly agreed to a four-year $44 million contract with the Phillies but wound up settling for $8.5 million to anchor the Reds bullpen this season. Madson’s deal also includes an $11 million option for next season. Even if the Reds pick up that option Madson will have settled for less than half of what he expected.
In addition to Fielder, plenty of serviceable Free Agents are still on the market. Players like Derek Lee, Raul Ibanez, and Vladimir Guerrero will probably have to wait and see how the Fielder scenario plays out before attracting much attention. Cody Ross, Johnny Damon, and Juan Pierre are all still looking for work as well.
Catcher was the one position that was a little thin this year. Chris Snyder was about the only decent option remaining when the Astros snatched him up earlier this week. However, there are plenty of pitchers still available. Edwin Jackson and Roy Oswalt top a long list of starters while Francisco Cordero and Fransisco Rodriguez head the list of those still looking for bullpen jobs. Former Astros Brad Lidge, Chad Qualls, and Dan Wheeler are all part of that group.
It will be interesting to see how the market plays out once it finally picks up some steam. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the rich get richer while the list of teams in rebuilding mode continues to grow. Right now teams like the Angels, Rangers, and Yankees appear to be capable of winning more than 100 games. Meanwhile teams like Houston, Oakland, and Seattle look to be ticketed for at least 100 losses. Is MLB headed for an NBA-like lack of competitive balance? The new Collective Bargaining Agreement attempts to restore order with rule changes that affect the way teams spend money on the draft. Some experts have suggested those changes could turn out to be a swing and a miss. Much like this year’s Free agent market, only time will tell.