The list of higher profile free agents has not dwindled as expected as we exit 2015 and start the new year. Several big name players are still available, many that most pundits thought would have signed by now. Obviously, a multi-year payday is the goal of major leaguers headed into free agency, but if the desired offers that don’t materialize, what is the best alternate plan of action available?
This year’s free agent class was flush with pitching and a guy named Jason Heyward that everyone was fawning over. With starting pitching at a premium and several quality arms on the market, the top pitchers plus Heyward have combined to reach deals worth over $1 billion over the life of their contracts. The pace of signings has now slowed and one has to wonder if the real reason is that clubs are holding out in the hope that the price of the remaining free agents will fall to a more team-friendly level. The amount of money flowing into major league baseball right now is crazy, but will all of the remaining players find the deals they seek or will some be caught in limbo?
Truth be told, most of these players are probably going to end up with a respectable deal eventually. The real question is whether or not any of them would be better off negotiating a one-year deal and taking their chances next offseason, when the free agent class will be much weaker. In fact, a couple of these guys might have come out ahead by accepting the $15.8 million qualifying offer from their 2015 clubs.
Players typically go the one year route when coming off a poor season during their walk year. Injuries often facilitate the desire for this type of contract as well. Chris Davis and Justin Upton are two that come to mind that might have the best opportunity to pull off signing a one-year deal. Davis has reportedly turned down the Baltimore Orioles offer of 7 years, $150 million to stay with the club. The Orioles owner, Peter Angelos, seems to have an affinity for the slugging first baseman, but has not budged northward on the offer. Other teams have had interest; but no deal seems to be imminent. Davis could probably move to the head of the free agent class after 2016 were he to put up another season of numbers similar to 2015.
The risk for Davis is that he would be getting another year older and be taking the chance that if his power numbers began to drop that teams would back off on a high dollar deal. There is also the fact that he is a Scott Boras client and his players usually don’t settle for deals like this. Davis does have the advantage of being able to play multiple positions, and seems to be on the lower end of the scale for a risk of his skills diminishing at an early age. Chances are that he will end up back in Baltimore on a multi-year deal, but would also be a prime candidate to re-sign for one year and test the market again in 12 months.
Justin Upton is another player in line for a multi-year deal, but he is part of the logjam of outfielders that are still on the board. Upton could possibly gain benefits from a one-year deal similar to what Nelson Cruz did with the Orioles in 2014. The class of outfielders that become free agents after 2015 will be very thin and a season spent in a hitter-friendly ballpark could set Upton up for the big multi-year payday he is after.
A short term deal is certainly not what these players have in mind, but if a better market looms in 2016, someone may roll the dice on playing in a preferred destination and maximizing their value. Davis and Upton are just a couple of examples in the current market, which appears has stalled for the moment. One thing is certain. Each of these players will be playing somewhere in 2016; it’s just a waiting game to see how the economics of this market play out.