MLB Free Agency gets hit with a curveball

Sports Editor Kevin Korbel takes a look at why many free agents are left unsigned

Kevin Korbel
Sports Editor

With spring training almost upon us in the MLB, there are many players still left unsigned across the league. Not only could many of these players play key roles on impending ballclubs this season, but they could also be the difference for many teams making that extra push for the playoffs this season.

If this is the case, why are former all-stars like Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel still on the market, and left unsigned by teams in the league? While there isn’t one simple answer for each of these players, age.

Keuchel and Kimbrel, who are now in their 30’s, no question have had great production throughout their careers, but the tricky thing with free agency is that you don’t pay a player on how they performed in the past, it’s how they’ll perform for your team in the future.

Both these players have produced in the past, but will a 3.71 ERA in 2018 be enough to convince a ball club to sign Keuchel to a long-term deal? While he did win the AL Cy Young award in 2015, three seasons are a long time in the MLB.

As for Kimbrel, he sits in a better spot than Keuchel. Coming off a World Series championship with the Red Sox, he looks to help a ball club do the same thing in 2019, and he sure has the arm talent to do it with 333 saves so far in his career, the fastest ever at his age to do it.

Both over 30-years old, look for both these players to garner no more than a three-year deal with the ball club that ends up signing them.

History of Bad Contracts

Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, who are both 26-years old, are projected according to FanGraphs to earn a total of $586 million in guaranteed money.
Harper is reportedly commanding a 10-year, $300 million-dollar contract to suitors, while Machado is also reportedly asking for a contract in the $200 million-dollar range.

If you look back at history, most big contracts like this have failed miserably in the past.
For example, Giancarlo Stanton when he inked a 13-year deal worth $325 million-dollars with the Miami Marlins back in 2015. Since then, the team trade him off to New York, the team has traded all of their talent for future assets, and now are one of the worst teams in baseball.

If you look from a hometown perspective, look at former Minnesota Twins catcher and first baseman, Joe Mauer. While he did still perform when he was on the field, his injuries during this period were detrimental to a ball club who couldn’t afford to have him go down.

Since re-signing Mauer in 2010, the Minnesota Twins have made it back to the postseason only once. You can blame coaching, you can blame pitching, you can also blame ownership which played a huge part in the team’s failures during the last few seasons, but you also can’t ignore the hefty price tag the Twins paid for a player who hit his peak season in 2010.

Now today, it’s hard for many teams to sign many free agents to long-term deals due to things like injury and poor production.

Recent stats favor pitchers over hitters

While Harper and Machado are two of the most talented players in the game today, both are stuck in the era of pitching.

Harper struck out a career high 169 times in 2018, which was ninth in the Major Leagues. Machado comes out better in this category with only 104 strikeouts.

For the first time in the history of baseball, there were more strikeouts last season than base hits during the season. That’s an outstanding stat, taking into effect that baseball has been around since 1869.

With pitching being more important than ever, this lowers the market for Machado and Harper quite a bit due to the success of pitchers over batters in recent years.

Overall, these four players will be signed by a team at the deadline, but don’t be surprised if they sign at a lower price-tag going into spring training.

Feature photo courtesy of the Associated Press.

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