- Jamie Squire/Getty
- Jake Arrieta and other MLB free agents waited longer to sign this offseason than in past years.
- Eric Hosmer and JD Martinez are a couple of the many players who signed contracts for less than they are worth.
- Teams are taking a new approach to free agents and shifting the market by spending less.
Baseball’s Opening Day has arrived after a slow offseason that produced chatter about low pay offered to free agents. The hot stove stayed cool and some of the game’s best stars earned below their pay grade.
So many players were still available in March that the players’ union (MLBPA) opened a spring training camp for free agents. Many of the players who inked new deals did so at a great discount for teams.
The lack of signings and devaluation of players who did sign shows a major shift. Although the cause is unknown, it is clear that players are not being paid as much. Team owners actively engaged in collusion against players in 1987 and whispers of the c word resurfaced this winter.
Even super agent Scott Boras wasn’t able to use his shrewd business tactics to sign players this offseason – and his clients, including Jake Arrieta, have suffered.
Boras’ roll call of clients who entered the 2017 offseason as free agents was a who’s who of MLB all-stars. Eric Hosmer won four of the last five AL Gold Gloves despite being an offense-first first baseman. JD Martinez is a feared slugger who was a valuable asset at last season’s trade deadline. Jake Arrieta has earned a well-deserved status as ace of the Chicago Cubs.
Martinez did eventually sign a deal – a contract for five years and $110 million – on February 19. Hosmer took an eight-year deal with an average annual value of $18 million, but had to wait until spring training started. Arrieta eventually came to the Phillies in mid-March.
- Patrick Smith/Getty
Both Martinez and Hosmer settled for contracts that were large, but well below their market value. Few teams contacted them to inquire about their star services. Even lower-tiered players like Carlos Gonzalez and Jarrod Dyson had to accept low salaries.
Several explanations are simultaneously affecting players’ earning potentials. The Cubs and Houston Astros won the last two World Series due in part to what many viewed as a concerted effort to tank the previous seasons. Teams sacrificing seasons for the hopes of getting better later is a growing trend in baseball and is a sensitive subject in basketball and football as well.
Teams have also learned that they gain more leverage in negotiations by waiting it out. If there is a particular player a team feels they cannot lose out on, the front office will jump the gun and sign him as soon as they can. But the majority of the time, players are imperfect and alternative options exist that don’t lend to urgency.
Another source of frustration for free agents is the rise of young players. Since players need six years of experience before becoming free agents, youthful talent that is under team control is seen as a better value, especially considering the increased production of this group.
Whatever the reason, baseball owners were not paying out and free agent players took the brunt of the blow.