In only a few short weeks, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks start the 2014 MLB season in Australia. Even as spring training games are starting up again, there are still free agents whose futures are up in the air.
Every year a few free agents seem to slip through the cracks and make it through the winter without being signed. Now that teams are required to give up a first- or second-round pick to sign qualified free agents, teams are even more hesitant to shell out contracts to second- and third-tier free agents. We’ll be taking a look at a few of these players’ situations.
Stephen Drew was expected to land a fairly large contract coming off a World Series win with the Boston Red Sox, with a lot of people expecting the Dodgers to make an offer for Drew’s slick glove. He turned down the Red Sox’ qualifying one-year, $14 million contract offer, not surprising considering he’s represented by super-agent Scott Boras. Drew was looking for a multi-year contract with an annual average of around $10 million, but the contracts he’s reportedly been offered don’t even come close to meeting those hopes. The New York Post reported that after the Dodgers seemed to appear uninterested in Drew, the Yankees offered a two- or three-year deal, an offer which is now off the table. Drew hasn’t come close to receiving another contract close to that. The Mets emerged as a possible suitor, but they’ve reportedly only offered a one-year, $9.5 million dead and Drew has thus far refused to settle. Recently, Boras claimed that he’d be willing to have Drew hold out until June, after the amateur draft, at which point no team would have to give up their pick. This would be a radical course of action, and I hope for Drew’s sake that it’s a bluff from Boras. What should have been a perfect offseason for Drew has turned into a nightmare.
Ervin Santana is not represented by Boras, but seems to be taking some cues from his playbook. Santana’s agent, Bean Stringfellow (yes, actually his name), made a promotional book on his player, claiming that Santana should be valued at around $115 million, a clear over evaluation and almost a joke. They are reportedly actually looking for a four-year, $50 million contract, extremely reasonable considering he outperformed Ubaldo Jiminez and Matt Garza in 2013, and they both received four-year, $48 million contracts. This situation seems to have less to due with the qualifying offer, since Jiminez also cost the Orioles a pick. Stringfellow has also claimed that Santana is willing to wait until June to sign, but Santana can’t want to wait until then.
The last “qualified” free agent on the market is Kendry Morales, coming of a fairly nice season in Seattle: .277 average and 23 homers. Those numbers seem a little bit underwhelming for a slugger, but Seattle’s weather and spacious ballpark dampen offensive production considerably. The Orioles were rumored to be interested in Morales, but after signing Jiminez and Nelson Cruz, Baltimore seems unlikely to shell out for another free agent contract and surrender a third draft pick. Generally, this would mean Morales would return to the Mariners on a smaller contract, but the Mariners’s logjam of first basemen/outfielders/DH makes it unwise to add Morales. Nobody wants to give up a first-round pick for Morales, and since a return to Seattle seems unlikely, Morales is actually the player most likely to have to wait until June to sign.
Clearly the addition of the qualifying offer has changed the free agent market significantly, and the players union will probably make a big push to eliminate it. Either way, it’s too late to fix the free agency nightmare these players have landed in.