The hot stove isn’t providing much heat during these cold days of record-breaking temperatures in Baltimore. All across baseball, free-agent signing announcements are rare. ESPN’s David Schoenfield recently wrote a piece outlining possible reasons why so many 2018 free agents remain unsigned with just a month to go before pitchers and catchers report to spring training.
Schoenfield lists ten reasons, but the most compelling argument he makes is that the quality of this free-agent class is, in his words, bad. He tallied the WAR totals among the top 15 free agents this off-season compared to the last two, and the results show a strong drop – 67.1 this year, 81.7 in 2017, and a whopping 113.5 in 2016. That was the year Jason Heyward, Zack Greinke and David Price signed mega-deals.
Teams are not only recognizing that this year’s crop isn’t as good, they are also salivating over the 2019 class of free agents – and waiting to swallow then. As of now, Bryce Harper, A.J. Pollock, Josh Donaldson, Charlie Blackmon, Brian Dozier, and Clayton Kershaw (via a player opt-out) could all be available on the open market. Oh, and another – Manny Machado. Now, that’s a group worth waiting for.
Whatever the reason is for this slow off-season where only four of the top 15 free agents have signed, it is creating a buyer’s market.
So, what does this mean to the Orioles? It should mean an opportunity to add some quality talent to the team without spending that much money, freeing other dollars to for special talent right under their noses.
Presently, the Orioles have two stars that could be the solid foundation around which to build for the next five to ten years. Two buddies who could be playing next to each other in the center of the diamond, providing an offensive force and solid defense that could surpass Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker.
Excuse me for fantasizing.
Of course, I’m talking about Machado and Jonathan Schoop. But Orioles fans can only rely upon their dreams during these frozen nights to picture that double play combination dancing together during their prime baseball years.
They remember the three-year extension the team gave shortstop J.J. Hardy during the 2014 playoffs. Perfect. The plan must have been to extend Machado within a year or two, before he would get too close to free agency, with the promise that he’d move back to his preferred shortstop position when Hardy’s contract was up in 2017.
Who couldn’t tell what a special player Manny was then? Sure, he had the knee injuries, but even Jose Feliciano could see that this guy was on a Hall of Fame track.
Now with just nine months away from free agency, any faint hope that remained for the Orioles to extend Machado flew out the chimney with the newsflash that the team hadn’t even discussed a new deal with him for at least two years.
Frankly, that Dan Duquette admission may have been the most disappointing news for this team since Rafael Palmeiro’s PED shocker. How could they not even try to sign Manny all this time?
News like that makes it tough to be a glass-half-full guy, but time marches on and the Birds are fortunate enough to have an opportunity to learn from that mistake. Schoop is now two years away from free agency and he’s coming off a breakthrough year. His 5.1 WAR and .841 OPS at age 25 screams for a contract extension.
This slow-moving hot-stove off-season will result in bargains for the teams. The Orioles can fill their holes in the rotation and right field for less money than expected. Not that they need another reason to extend Johnny Baseball, but this should help allocate funds to sign Schoop to a substantial deal.