Bryce Harper? Manny Machado? Who Cares?

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Bryce Harper? Manny Machado? Who Cares?

Shane Palma, Editor in Chief

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This time last year, I wrote an article regarding the stagnant MLB free agent market and the unwillingness of teams to pay up for these “highly coveted” players. J.D. Martinez, Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, and Eric Hosmer all wasted away a 2018 offseason which saw one of the longest players/management standoffs in baseball memory.  Why was this happening? Well, the logical and most accepted answer was that many teams were waiting for the more enticing free agent frenzy of 2019… and here we are!

“Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will be signed by Christmas, and given two of the largest deals in MLB history. Craig Kimbrel will become the game’s highest paid closer, plus teams will have gone through a strenuous bidding war for the groundball specialist Dallas Keuchel. I’ll put all my money on it.”

– Shane Palma, 2018

But the stagnant market has not only reemerged, it is more depressed than even last year. And my predictions have been as off as John Starks in game 7 of the 1994 NBA Championship Series against the Houston Rockets.

Instead of waking up to: MANNY MACHADO TO THE PHILLIES,  I’m rolling back into bed thanks to the headline: WHITE SOX SIGN BRANDON GUYER. Really? This is the hot stove everyone was clamoring about? You know what, let’s hold a press conference for the Marlins’ recently signed Curtis Granderson and his minor league contract! Better yet, we should have a parade throughout the streets of Toronto for Freddy Galvis. I mean at this point, fans have started caring less if Bryce Harper could make the transition from outfield to first base, and more about what team will give Bartolo Colon a chance to play in his 22nd major league season!

I’m sorry, this whole situation ignites its own flame inside of me that burns hotter than the Arizona sun beating down on new Diamondback Wilmer Flores (that was for the Mets fans). But while I cool down, I have to believe that there is some reasonable explanation for these megastars to be without a team only days before pitchers and catchers are to report for spring training. Let’s take a look at some of the factors.

Location, market size, talent and fan base. All of these are considered by free agents before making a decision on what team to sign with, and recent trends are demonstrating that the franchise has the upper hand in negotiations. For those of you who are familiar with the Marvel series, you will understand my analogy of Thanos to MLB management. With the snap of their fingers, general managers can wipe away half of a roster (Derek Jeter with the Marlins), or restore a team to relevancy (Brodie Van Wagenen and the Mets). Long gone are the days when a Jacoby Ellsbury or Chris Davis can command a lucrative, multi-year contract that is disproportionate with their future contributions on the diamond. Here’s a fun fact to ponder. Davis’ batting average and initial contract amount were only separated by seven digits in 2018 ($161 million vs. .168 batting average). Teams realize the unnecessary nature of signing older players to ten-year deals that often leave them with unproductive players in their late 30s. The cons simply outweighs the pros, especially when your “franchise player” is taking up one-third of your designated cap space. Obviously, the players want to be fairly compensated for their worth to the team. And free agency is the only time where they can expect to do so. But both sides may have to reconsider during the collective bargaining negotiations whether the current agreement needs to be drastically altered. But for now, I’m taking the side of the owners. For all I care, Harper and Machado can sit out the entire season before I give either of them a $300 million contract. If asked to decide between the two, my response would be neither. Let another team have that problem down the line.