MLB free agency not what it used to be

MLB free agency not what it used to be
January 10, 2013, 11:15 am
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This wasn’t considered a terrific free agent class. It wasn’t anywhere close to the Albert Pujols and Cecil Fielder bonanza, but it did have Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton.

Both Greinke and Hamilton got big bucks, but with just over a month to go until spring training, there are still a few semi-big names out there.

Last year, Fielder didn’t sign until January 26. That was part of Scott Boras’ strategy. He wanted to let a market build, and he was successful when the Tigers forked over $214 million over nine years.

When put together their list of the top 50 free agents in October, Michael Bourn was third, Kyle Lohse 10th and Rafael Soriano 17th.

Today, all three are still unsigned. It’s because all three would cost a team a draft pick. All three were made qualifying offers by their former teams -- Atlanta, St. Louis and Soriano --and all rejected them.

Adam LaRoche, who re-signed with Washington and Nick Swisher, who moved from the Yankees to Cleveland, both found their markets far less robust than they would have been without the draft pick penalty.

Bourn is a 30-year old center fielder who averages more than 40 stolen bases a year. The two-time All-Star and Gold Glove winner isn’t finding as much interest as expected.

With Adam Jones three years younger and signed for the long term, Bourn is not someone who the Orioles are interested in. Teams aren’t willing to surrender a draft pick nor the possible bonus pool money that would limit their ability to sign draft picks.

Soriano may be a rare case of Boras misjudging the market. After Mariano Rivera broke his leg, Soriano ably stepped in to capably close for the Yankees.

This year, Rivera is trying to come back, and New York has David Robertson in reserve. Soriano exercised an opt-out clause in his contract, hoping he could get a multi-year contract.

That hasn’t happened, and Soriano may be forced to admit defeat and sign for far less than the $13.3 million he would have earned in New York. He also may have to sign for just a year, which would amount to a huge defeat for Boras.

Lohse is the most curious case. There weren’t a lot of great starting pitchers on the market, but Lohse has apparently not received a single offer. Without the draft pick and possible monetary penalties, the 34-year-old left-hander would have gotten a three or perhaps four-year deal.

Last year, Lohse was 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA. That would have been attractive to the Orioles or other teams, but not under the new conditions of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

The Orioles were linked with Lohse as they seemingly were with dozens of other free agents, but they wouldn’t make him an offer.

There are still a few others on the top 50 list: Shawn Marcum, Joe Saunders and Jose Valverde. Saunders wants a three-year deal, and the Orioles are reluctant to give him one, but he’ll sign soon. Marcum has a few teams, maybe the Orioles, interested in him, and he’ll undoubtedly choose a new team shortly.

Valverde melted down for the Tigers in last year’s postseason and may have little choice for 2013. It’s reported he may even retire. Quite a comedown for a pitcher with 84 saves in the last two seasons.

Of course, there are secondary and tertiary free agents who’ll soon be signing, but the world of the free agent isn’t necessarily as bright as it was in the past.


-Six spring training games will be telecast on MASN. All will be home games from Sarasota: Feb. 25 against New York, March 7 (Toronto), March 14 (Tampa Bay), March 17 (Minnesota, March 23 (Philadelphia) and March 27 (Yankees).

The first five games start at 1 p.m. The March 27 game is at 7 p.m.