MLB

Teams lock up stars before free agency

Potential free agents, like the Dodgers' James Loney, won't have shoppers drooling.
Share This Story

Tracy Ringolsby

Tracy Ringolsby is a Hall of Fame baseball writer. He is in his 37th year covering Major League Baseball, is a co-founder of Baseball America, and is in his fourth year as pregame and postgame analyst for Colorado Rockies games on Root Sports.

MORE>>
 
   
 

On Opening Day a year ago, even Prince Fielder’s Milwaukee Brewers teammates knew the power-hitting first baseman was on his way out of town as soon as the 2011 season ended.

GREAT AMERICAN RACE

The Junior Circuit is poised for epic AL pennant chases this season.

Milwaukee made a multiyear pitch to keep Fielder prior to the season, but nothing got done, which underscored the fact there was no way the Brewers were going to keep Fielder.

“When you have a player like Prince, headed to free agency, really the only way you retain him is if he has a bad year,’’ Brewers left-hander Randy Wolf said. "If he has a great year, the market is huge and the bar (for the contract value) gets set out of reach. Nobody's at fault. Both sides did what was best for them.’’

And what clubs know is that what’s best for them is to gamble on the future with a known product and sign a player in advance of him going on the open market, rather than taking the risk of waiting and seeing how the free-agent market will drive salaries.

That’s why big spenders like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, and even the Los Angeles Dodgers now that they are getting well-heeled ownership, don’t see much to get excited about on the potential free-agent list for next fall.

Put aside the players who have options for 2013 in their contracts, in light of the fact that if they are elite, it’s likely the current teams will keep them, and there isn’t a very attractive market awaiting the offseason shoppers.

There is not an impact infielder on a potential free-agent list that includes first basemen Carlos Lee and James Loney, oft-injured second baseman Freddy Sanchez, shortstop Erick Aybar and third basemen Miguel Cairo and Geoff Blum.

The potential free-agent starting pitchers include Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels, Shaun Marcum, Kyle Lohse, Colby Lewis, Jeremy Guthrie and Jonathan Sanchez, but the list fades in a hurry. The best of the potential relievers comes from the likes of Brandon League, Bobby Jenks and Mike Adams. That is, if Mariano Rivera retires like he has given hints he might.

The lack of quality options is believed to be an underlying factor in catcher Miguel Montero rejecting a multiyear offer with Arizona this spring. But after Montero and Mike Napoli, A.J. Pierzynski is about as good as the catching pool gets.

It reflects the new trend in management: getting key players under contract before the bidding drives the price too high for the small-market budget.

HOW THE WEST WAS WON

Do the Rangers or Angels have the upper hand in the AL West chase?

This week alone came word that Brandon Phillips agreed to a six-year, $72.5 million deal with Cincinnati; Ian Kinsler, two years removed from free-agent eligibility, agreed to a five-year, $75 million deal to stay in Texas; and Cleveland signed Carlos Santana to a five-year, $21 million deal that covers Santana’s potential arbitration and first year of free-agent eligibility (2016).

Last week, San Francisco pitcher Matt Cain agreed to a six-year, $127.5 million deal, biggest ever for a right-hander. Cincinnati warmed up for the Phillips deal by signing first baseman Joey Votto to a 10-year, $225 million extension that includes a club option for 2024, and also signed left-handed reliever Sean Marshall to a three-year, $16.5 million extension that runs through 2015.

Before last season, Cincinnati gave multiyear, pre-free-agent deals to Jay Bruce (six years, $51 million) and Johnny Cueto (four years, $27 million), and also signed Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman to a six-year, $30.25 million deal when he was on the open market.

"When they hit the free-agent market you can't compete financially," Cincinnati general manager Walt Jocketty acknowledged. "It's why we try to work on it ahead of time."

LONG HAUL

Take a look at which players landed baseball's lengthiest contracts.

It’s all about getting a nucleus under control, and then filling in the missing pieces with products from the farm system, either by promoting them or trading them. The Reds did that during the winter, when first baseman Yonder Alonzo was a key part of the package that brought right-hander Mat Latos from San Diego to fill a void in the Reds rotation.

"Baseball used to pay for what you did," Reds manager Dusty Baker said, "but it changed a few years ago, and now it's what you could do."

It is a gamble, but teams feel it is less of a gamble than to trying to battle the big-market teams in bidding for top-flight free agents.

Tagged: Indians, Tigers, Brewers, Rangers, Reds, Giants, Diamondbacks, Brandon Phillips, Prince Fielder, Miguel Montero, Carlos Santana, Mat Latos

More Stories From Tracy Ringolsby

Member Comments

Please note by clicking on "Post comment" you acknowledge that you have read the Terms of Use and the comment you are posting is in compliance with such terms. Be Polite. Inappropriate posts may be removed by the moderator.

powered by



MLB Videos

Cardinals upended by Mets Posted: Apr 24, 2014
Mike Matheny shares his thoughts on the 4-1 defeat to New York.

Morosi: Pineda didn't understand rule Posted: Apr 24, 2014
Jon Morosi reports on Michael Pineda's suspension. Find out why the right hander...

Scherzer, Tigers top White Sox Posted: Apr 24, 2014
Rajai Davis compliments Max Scherzer's pitching in Detroit's 7-4 win over the Wh...

SimLeague Baseball - Simulation Baseball Game

Fox Sports Store

    itemName itemURL imageSrc price itemDescription
    Nike New York Yankees Practice T-Shirt - Ash http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_New_York_Yankees/browse/featuredproduct/606363/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_606000/ff_606363_xl.jpg&w=100 27.95 Nike New York Yankees Practice T-Shirt - Ash
    Majestic Detroit Tigers 2012 MLB American League Champions Clubhouse Locker Room T-Shirt - Navy Blue http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Detroit_Tigers/browse/featuredproduct/1064043/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1064000/ff_1064043_xl.jpg&w=100 24.95 Majestic Detroit Tigers 2012 MLB American League Champions Clubhouse Locker Room..
    Majestic San Francisco Giants 2012 MLB World Series Champions Clubhouse Locker Room T-Shirt - Gray http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_San_Francisco_Giants/browse/featuredproduct/1067359/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1067000/ff_1067359_xl.jpg&w=100 24.95 Majestic San Francisco Giants 2012 MLB World Series Champions Clubhouse Locker R..
    Majestic San Francisco Giants 2012 MLB World Series Champions Clubhouse Locker Room Pullover Hoodie - Steel http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_San_Francisco_Giants/browse/featuredproduct/1067382/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1067000/ff_1067382_xl.jpg&w=100 54.95 Majestic San Francisco Giants 2012 MLB World Series Champions Clubhouse Locker R..
    New Era San Francisco Giants 2012 MLB World Series Champions Clubhouse Locker Room 39THIRTY Flex Hat - Charcoal/Black http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_San_Francisco_Giants/browse/featuredproduct/1067785/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1067000/ff_1067785_xl.jpg&w=100 31.95 New Era San Francisco Giants 2012 MLB World Series Champions Clubhouse Locker Ro..
    Majestic San Francisco Giants 2012 MLB World Series Champions Glory T-Shirt - Black http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_San_Francisco_Giants/browse/featuredproduct/1068294/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1068000/ff_1068294_xl.jpg&w=100 21.95 Majestic San Francisco Giants 2012 MLB World Series Champions Glory T-Shirt - Bl..
    Majestic San Francisco Giants 2012 MLB World Series Champions Batting Practice Performance Jersey - Black/Orange http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_San_Francisco_Giants/browse/featuredproduct/1068787/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1068000/ff_1068787_xl.jpg&w=100 94.95 Majestic San Francisco Giants 2012 MLB World Series Champions Batting Practice P..