Baseball free agency is dumb. It’s (sadly) not the drunken mad dash that occurs in the NFL and you don’t see a half-dozen teams blow-up their roster years in advance to get a shot at a superstar like you do in the NBA — no, as is common with all things baseball, the free agency chase is a crawl that has never been more teeth-gnashingly frustrating than it has been this off-season.
Blame the qualifying offer, that ties the forfeiture of an unprotected first round pick to free agent superstars (and Ian Kennedy), occasionally pushing players to wait until early in the season to sign, much to the detriment of everyone involved. Blame the months-long game of chicken that players play with teams while holding out for just a little more juice. All the while watching lesser players get overpaid early in the process.
You can’t say that game of chicken didn’t benefit Chris Davis and his agent, Scott Boras, this time around. Reports are that Davis is going to sign a deal that will pay him $161 million dollars for 7 years. That’s $7 million more than the Orioles reported offer that surfaced during the Winter Meetings in early December.
Granted, we don’t know the difference in terms of deferred money, incentives, or year-to-year pay out between the two proposals, but from a whole dollar perspective, Davis inadvertently held up deals for fellow flawed bats like Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes (and the tier below them with Dexter Fowler, Howie Kendrick, and others) for $1 million a year. Or the Orioles did (while losing out on a chance to upgrade their starting rotation as the secondary pitching market got raided while they were sitting on their hands), if you want to look at it that way, though there’s no telling how far down Davis’ camp had to come and whether they ever really thought that other teams might match that price.
The bottom line is, after a flurry of early overpays, teams like the Angels, Rangers, and Cardinals weren’t going to swoop in and save the day for players who, maybe, held out hope for what they (mistakenly) perceived as a fair market deal longer than they should have. Poor Justin Upton? Poor Yoenis Cespedes? Poor Dexter Fowler? Maybe.
Cespedes was reportedly looking for a deal in the range of what Davis wound up with. But is there a deal out there for him that is going to be bigger than the Orioles’ reported 5 year $90 million offer (that one assumes is off the table now)? Would the Nationals have been interested and gone that route over signing Daniel Murphy? Would the Royals have gone with Cespedes over the sentimental signing of Alex Gordon at that rate? Would the Giants have jumped at that ask over signing the injury-prone Denard Spann for 3 years and $32 million? Would they have jumped on Dexter Fowler had his reps been more willing to force a deal rather than wait for Upton and the others to find a home and set a price? There are so many questions and so many players are going to wind up with less than they thought they were going to get because of the way baseball’s free agent game of musical chairs plays out.
Basically, Chris Davis (who, if not for the Orioles’ stubborn refusal to move on, might have had to settle for significantly less on a market that didn’t present a clear match) wound up with all the chairs and these guys got screwed by a market that twists itself in knots over relatively few dollars while taking forever to get settled. There’s gotta be a more equitable approach that doesn’t randomly doink several players each off-season. To sum it up: players over-value themselves for far too long, teams are too skittish, and baseball free agency is dumb.