Here we go again…the time of the season when teams try to sign a free agent or two that will help them “get over the hump” and into the World Series. At the same time, there are players…free agents, who dream of cashing in on their performance this past season and sign a lucrative, long-term contract. MLB pundits call this time period…from the end of the World Series to the start of Spring Training “The Hot Stove League”.
Over 200 major and minor league players are looking for a new team during this off-season. Of those, there are 15 that would be considered “top-notch free agents…players coveted by several teams; players who could get their new team “over the hump”. The question is: will the teams dig deeply into their pockets to sign these players, or will they try to stay under the luxury cap limit: the cap is $197 for 2018.
Two free agents are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to the type of contract they desire: Jay Bruce, who played for the Mets and Cleveland in 2017, is seeking a five-year deal worth $89-90 million. That is extremely believable. J.D. Martinez, however, who divided his 2017 season between Detroit and Arizona, is seeking a deal worth over $200 million. You read that right…$200 million! That would be okay if a team wants to sign him to a 15-year deal!
Now, before we try and figure out why there is such a chasm between what Bruce desires and what Martinez thinks he is going to get, let’s compare their production numbers over the past five seasons:
Bruce, who is 30 years old, averaged 28 home runs and 92 RBI from 2013 to 2017. His highest season batting average is .262, accomplished this past season. For Martinez, I had to average his totals from the past four years…the reason being is that he played in only 86 games in 2013 and his numbers from that year would have severely skewed his averages. In the past four seasons, Martinez has averaged 33 home runs and 87 RBI…very comparable to Bruce with one huge caveat: In 2014, Martinez was released by the Houston Astros…the 2017 World Series champions!
To find a comparable productive hitter with a large-scale contract, one can turn to the numbers of Justin Upton. Last year, with the Tigers and Angels, Upton had a .273 batting average with 35 homers and 109 RBI. He recently signed a five-year, $106 million contract to remain with the Angels (Actually, he signed the contract with the Tigers…the Angels added a fifth year to his contract so he would not opt out).
So, what is the reason Martinez is asking for a $200 million contract? One name provides the answer: Scott Boras, his agent. Boras has been the architect of a few gaudy contracts: He got Alex Rodriguez a 10-year, $252 million deal; then, he successfully negotiated long-term contracts for Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg…both of the Washington Nationals. Scherzer signed a seven-year, $210 million contract while Strasburg’s deal is for seven years at $175 million. In addition to negotiating for Martinez this off-season, Boras and his agency also represents free agents Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Jake Arrieta. To say that Boras’ agency is slated to make a ton of money this free agent period is an understatement.
An issue facing Boras and his clients is that some teams that have already signed players to long-term contracts are not going to risk going over the luxury threshold. The current Collective Bargaining Agreement has a clause in place that teams who consistently surpass the cap will pay more of a tax than the previous year; so teams like Boston, the Yankees, and the Dodgers are not going to open up their wallets. So, what teams are going to go after the likes of Bruce, Martinez, Hosmer, Moustakas and Arrieta? Stay tuned and we will keep track of who signs where and for how much.