As spring training quickly approaches and baseball fans who are braving the cold winter temperatures are hopeful that the MLB off-season kicks into gear, the hot stove has been nothing more than lukewarm to this point of the off-season. With some of the top free agents on the market still uncertain of where they might be playing this upcoming season, fans are wondering what is holding up the potential big signings.
This is off-season is dramatically different from years past when players were going into December locking up large long-term contracts with various teams. What has changed? What is causing this conservative spending or complete lack of moves in general? Finally, where do the Phillies fit into all of this?
One large factor is the mindset of modern Major League Front offices. Most of, if not every team in the league, have invested in their baseball operations departments. Expansion in these departments across every major league team has led to higher levels of analysis on players and their value to a team. This off-season has already shown new market trends which include high levels of investment in relief pitchers and devaluation of front-line starters over the age of 30 or with an injury history.
As a result, teams like the Rockies have gone out and signed three top bullpen arms including Wade Davis, Jake McGee, and Bryan Shaw to a sum of over $100 million in contracts. While not as extreme (or to the top end talent degree), the Phillies have signed Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek for a combined $30 million-plus. Meanwhile, top free agent starters Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Lance Lynn, and Alex Cobb to this point have not even sniffed deals that have met their demands. Teams are simply trying to mitigate the risks that come with signing these types of players to long-term deals. As history has shown, most players falter to the end of their long-term deals which restricts a team’s options in the later years of the deal.
This year’s conservative mentality is also due in part to the next off-season storm of free agents headlined by Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Clayton Kershaw (if he opts out) and Dallas Keuchel. Teams who have spent big money in the past are trying to stay under the luxury tax threshold this year in order to potentially go over it next year. The penalties for teams that are repeatedly in the luxury tax continue to go up and up. So, in order to avoid this, teams are dumping contracts on rebuilding teams and looking to acquire players on team-friendly contracts.
The Phillies will not have to worry about that this year (and likely next year) as they currently sit with four players under contract for 2018 while the rest of the team is under team control or are on a various stage of arbitration. They have done a good job over the last few years of signing smart contracts and developing their young core players. Then this off-season signing a big name like Carlos Santana validates to future free agents that this Phillies team is not just going to be a payday but a playoff contender quickly.
As the market continues to develop slowly, look for some free agents to potentially jump on short-term deals that could yield more money. Some middle-tier players might have to take a risk and bet on themselves with a one-year deal to hopefully get larger contracts in the future. If this becomes the case, the Phillies will certainly be in on some of these players due to the great financial position.