If there is a silver lining in gridlock, in the slow, bumper-to-bumper traffic snarling Major League Baseball’s free-agent market, it is this: If you haven’t been paying attention, you haven’t missed much. Fifty-seven days after players officially became free agents, and four days after Christmas offered a momentary break, the offseason is still moving at a historically slow pace. The winter’s top free agents are still waiting to find homes. The game’s moneyed franchises are still resisting the annual splurge. The numbers reveal a system on hold. On Friday, former Royals closer Wade Davis agreed to a three-year, $52 million contract with the Colorado Rockies, a deal that constituted a breakthrough in this climate and pushed the total money spent on free agents past $500 million. Across the last three offseasons, aggregate spending had exceeded $1 billion by the final weeks of December. On Friday, the largest contract of the offseason still belonged to first baseman Carlos Santana, who signed a three-year, $60 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. By this time last year, teams had doled out eight deals worth at least $60 million. As a result, the Royals’ former triumvirate of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain remains on the open market, their futures more murky than they were a month ago. What once seemed like a sure thing — Hosmer, Moustakas and Cain signing long-term deals worth generational wealth — now seems more tenuous and uncertain by the day. Industry observers offer a list of theories to explain the light spending. Maybe it’s a young generation of analytical general managers who believe more strongly in the flaws of free agency; maybe it’s the cyclical nature of a number of big-market clubs — the Dodgers, Nationals, Yankees and Cubs, to name four — having few holes and little motivation to spend big. Maybe it’s the desire of those same teams — the Dodgers and Yankees, in particular — to stay under the game’s competitive-balance tax threshold and reset the punitive taxes they pay in advance of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado becoming free agents next year. (The Yankees, of course, already took on nearly $300 million by trading for Giancarlo Stanton.) And maybe it’s agent Scott Boras, too, who has five of the biggest free agents in the market, including Hosmer, Moustakas, Greg Holland, Jake Arrieta and J.D. Martinez, and appears to be in an industry-wide stare down with teams. Whatever the case — and, after all, it’s likely a combination of factors — the shape of the offseason could turn the month of January into a frenzy as free agents attempt to find landing spots before the season. Whatever the case, the Royals could find themselves weighing some unexpected scenarios as they transition to a rebuilding phase and seek to restock their farm system.
How the slow offseason could affect the Royals and their free agents
Kansas City Star | Dec 31