SBD/Issue 89/Leagues & Governing Bodies

Surplus Of MLB Free Agents Could Ignite Flurry Of Cheap Signings

Teams May Wait On Free Agents In Hopes Of
Signing Players Like Dunn To Low-Risk Deals
There are nearly 100 available MLB free agents, and several MLB officials said that the surplus of players on the market "could ignite a frenzy of cheap signings, and even minor league deals, from now until well into spring training," according to Nick Cafardo of the BOSTON GLOBE. While some teams "have set their budgets," there is "some evidence that a few [GMs] have gone back to their owners and said something like, 'We might be able to get an All-Star player for a low-risk, one-year deal if we wait.'" That feeling "appears to be growing, especially among middle-market teams." Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi "thinks if there's a year in which a substantial in-season free agent market could develop, it could be 2009." MLBPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr "admits concern over the number of his constituents still unemployed." Fehr: "It's clear that there are a lot of talented players not signed, but hopefully there will be a competitive market that will still develop for these players." Fehr would not comment on whether collusion is occurring among the teams right now, but he "acknowledged the country's economic downturn and its effect on an industry that generally has been recession-proof" (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/25). YAHOO SPORTS' Tim Brown wrote of the number of free agents available, "The economy stinks for all but the Yankees, sure. But, doesn't this feel excessive?" Teams this year, more than in recent years, "appear to be holding down expenses first and making baseball decisions second." One AL team official said, "I blame the economy. Agents and players still have this idea that eventually clubs will pay. But, my dialogue with other clubs says that the money is just not there" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/23).

It's the economy, stupid: Pirates President Frank Coonelly said of the available free agents, "That's extraordinary, and the reason for it is simple: The economy has collapsed, and the agents for those players still haven't realized that the economy has collapsed. They're still asking for prices based on yesterday's market" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 1/25). A's Assistant GM David Forst: "No one really knew six weeks ago exactly how the economy was going to affect the market. There are still guys out there that I'm guessing will get decent-sized contracts, but tough decisions have to be made" (MLB.com, 1/23). One agent said, "You want to stand tall as best you can to get that four- or five-year deal for your guy. But ultimately I think the owners have drawn a line in the sand with regard to certain players." Agent Scott Leventhal: "I am confident that things are going to change and that this market is an aberration. I think we'll see a change next year as the economy starts to even itself out" (MLB.com, 1/22). MLB writer Murray Chass said "never before" have so many free agents been available this late in the offseason. Chass: "The economy certainly is a factor, but it's also possible the owners are using the economy as a cover for their own type of collusion" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/25).

Are Teams Colluding To Avoid
Signing Free Agents Like Ramirez?
CONSPIRACY THEORY: One agent facetiously said, "If Donald Fehr were alive today maybe there would be some real investigating into what's going on. Go all the way back to the 1990 lockout when the owners agreed that there would be no multi-year contracts to players over 35? Is it any coincidence that there have been no over-35 players getting multi-year offers?" But in N.Y., Bill Madden wrote it would "seem to be a confluence of factors that has caused this ice jam in the free agent market -- the economy, the downside of many players left on the market and a disconnect between the agents and the new-market value of their clients." One MLB exec said, "I always felt the top 5-6 guys would get their money and the Yankees pretty much took care of that. But I can tell you, teams are scared to death about how the economy is going to affect all their in-ballpark revenues, above and beyond just ticket sales. Things like advertising, corporate sponsorship and merchandising." The exec predicted that "most of the over-30 free agents left on the market will wind up having to settle for one-year deals 'because, with all the uncertainty about the next couple of years, clubs just don't want to commit risky money on older players or players with injury histories'" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/25). 

HOLDING PATTERN: Free agent P Randy Wolf Saturday said that he was "close to re-signing with the Astros in late November when the team abruptly pulled its offer, citing a changing economic climate." Astros GM Ed Wade "confirmed Wolf's account." Wade said the Astros were "fully engaged in negotiations and had to stop," and the withdrawal "had nothing to do with a lack of interest on our part or Randy's part." FOXSPORTS.com's Ken Rosenthal noted Wolf was an "innocent victim of the Astros' sudden cost-cutting -- a shift that could end up costing him $20[M] or more in free agency" (FOXSPORTS.com, 1/25). Meanwhile, Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik said his team is "in the same boat as everyone else" in regard to free agents. Zduriencik: "You'd like to go out and bring a player or two in. But you have [to] agree on two things -- dollars spent and length of contract. There's a degree of reality that has set in with the current market and the economic times we're in" (SEATTLETIMES.com, 1/22).

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