NEW YORK – (Wire Service Report – Special to Digital Sports Desk) – – In the days since the Chicago Cubs ended their 108-year title drought by winning an epic seven-game World series against the Cleveland Indians, we have seen a brief flurry of action in the free agent market. They are telling moves.
Righty Bartolo Colon inked a one-year deal with the Braves and then outfielder Josh Reddick agreed to a four-year $52 million deal with the Astros. Kendrys Morales inked a three-year deal for $33 million with the Blue Jays. The Rangers agreed to terms with right-hander Andrew Cashner and the Cardinals agreed on a four-year agreement with lefty Brett Cecil.
These moves could be seen as being on the early side because Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have not completed negotiations on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement to replace the one expiring December 1. That means teams don’t know how much the current $189 million luxury tax threshold will rise, and they don’t know exactly what the luxury tax rate will be. Those numbers are important to the big-revenue teams, who also tend to be the ones offering the richest free agent deals that set the market for players.
Former Mets SP Bartolo Colon, now signed with Braves
Negotiations here are ongoing.
Reddick and Morales are power hitters. Colon and Cashner are starting pitchers. Cecil is a set-up man out of the bullpen. Those three things — relievers, power hitters and starters — are likely to be running themes throughout the Hot Stove part of the baseball year.
There are a lot of sluggers available this offseason including Yoenis Cespedes, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Mark Trumbo and Justin Turner. There are very few quality free-agent starters with Rich Hill the only standout. And if the postseason showed us anything, it’s that relief pitching has never been more important (see: Andrew Miller); top-tier closers Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon are all free agents.
The Braves, Astros, Rangers and Cardinals — none of whom are expected to end up paying luxury tax — jumped in the pool before market forces took over.
That said, there will be a number of interesting things to look for when free agency truly heats up. Here are a few:
Are we about to see the first $100 million reliever?
The Yankees started last season with three closers — Chapman, Miller and Dellin Betances — and ended up sitting on a goldmine when their value exploded. The Cubs had a closer in Hector Rondon but were willing to give up top prospect Gleyber Torres to add Chapman as a second. The Indians had a closer in Cody Allen, but dealt top prospect Clint Frazier to add Miller as a second. And as everyone saw from their runs to the World Series, a second closer-level pitcher is a big weapon.
Chapman and Jensen are both certain to surpass Jonathan Papelbon’s $50 million deal with the Phillies from 2012 and Mariano Rivera’s $15 million annual salary with the Yankees. There is talk that Chapman, with his 100 mph-plus fastball, wants a five-year contract that pays $20 million annually. He is going to be just 29, so it’s feasible.
The big-spending Giants’ lack of quality relief pitching proved to be their fatal flaw, nearly costing them a trip to the postseason and then killing them in it.
That makes a $100 deal even more possible.
And there are enough teams out there looking for quality relievers — the Yankees and Dodgers are two — that Jansen could be looking at something very similar.
Who will set the market for power hitters?
The big bet is that Cespedes, after opting out of his Mets contract, will be the first domino to fall. He is looking for a big payday, four or five years at least $25 million annually. And he was the offensive linchpin in getting the Mets to two straight postseasons.
But Cepsedes seemed sure to get the big payday in the last offseason.
The market on the Cuban slugger never developed like it did for Jason Heyward. So, he bet on himself by inking for three years with New York with an opt-out after the first season and hit 31 homers with an .884 OPS in 132 games. It should be telling about how he is seen in baseball if the market he is expecting finally materializes.
Encarnacion, however, could end up setting the market because it’s already clear he would fit right in in a couple places. The Red Sox must replace David Ortiz, and signing Encarnacion would mean he could share first base and DH with Hanley Ramirez. The Rangers also are looking for a first baseman/DH.
Because he’s a good fit, he could go first.
When Hill signs will it spark a frenzy of trading?
Even though Hill will be 37 and had issues with blisters this season, he will be the starter everyone is coveting. In 20 starts between Oakland and the Dodgers, he was 12-5 with a 2.12 ERA and a 0.997 WHIP. He could end up with an annual salary of $20 million should a bidding war ensue.
But what will happen after he goes to the highest bidder? Those who still need pitching could be looking to acquire it through trades. Already there is buzz that the White Sox could trade Chris Sale or Jose Quintana. The Tigers are reportedly listening on offers for Justin Verlander.
Other teams that don’t see themselves as contenders could put starters on the block if they’re bringing back a lot.
There is little doubt that a new CBA will get completed before the current one expires because the sport is thriving. And baseball likes all the attention it gets with the free agent activity during the winter because it keeps them a story while football typically dominates. The football action will be on the field, but there will still be plenty of baseball action.