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Why Has the Hot Stove Been Cold?

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Lorenzo Cain received a five-year, $80 million contract from the Milwaukee Brewers at the end of last week.  Cain is a fine defensive player with a knack for clutch hitting, so the fact he received a contract like this was no surprise.  The only surprise was that it took until January 25th for a free agent to receive a contract longer than three years.

Everyone in baseball seems to have an opinion on why the market is historically slow.  The blame game is being played by front offices and agents.  The truth is that not one issue can be tied to the “frozen stove” of this offseason.  A variety of influences have brought the usual free agent frenzy to a sudden halt.

Collective Bargaining Agreement

The Players Union and Major League Baseball reached an agreement on a new CBA in December 2016.  The competitive balance tax threshold that was part of the CBA enforces a financial penalty to any team that’s goes over the threshold (20% for first-time offenders, 30% for the second time, and 50% after that).

This annually growing number ($195 million in 2017) is an obvious deterrent for small market teams, but large market teams seem weary as well.  The threshold is actually creating a competitive balance just not in the way the players envisioned.  Teams are treating the threshold like the two words that scare the Players Union the most, “Salary Cap.”

Contract length

I mentioned earlier Lorenzo Cain’s watershed moment of the offseason.  Cain has so far been the exception to the implied rule being followed by 30 clubs on contract length. The consensus among teams is that contracts exceeding three years do not benefit them from an economic standpoint.  Teams have shown a collective unwillingness to go beyond three years for the remaining 100 plus free agents.

Teams have countered this approach by offering fewer years and more money to players.  Players like Jay Bruce (Mets) and Carlos Santana (Phillies) received three-year deals, but AAV’s of $13 million and $20 million respectively.

The red flag being raised by the players is that talented free agents worthy of long-term contracts are being shut out.  Eric Hosmer is a 28-year old MLB All-Star and perennial Gold Glover, and in past offseasons’ would be the type of player to receive a 4-year plus contract from a team in need.  Nonetheless, he is sitting at home on Feburary 3rd without a contract for 2018 let alone beyond.

Shin-Soo Choo and Carl Crawford are just two examples of players who have not lived up to the backend of their lengthy agreements.  Teams have paid the price for bad contracts like these, and now it appears players like Hosmer are feeling the effects as well.

Next year’s free agent class

This season’s free agent class has all-stars to boot.  However, next year’s class is composed of superstars.  Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Josh Donaldson headline the 2018 free agent class.

Teams could be pinching pennies this year to go after the big names next year.  A front office can justify to an owner going over the tax threshold for Manny Machado a lot easier than doing so for Mike Moustakas.

What’s Next?

The idea of team collusion and a boycott of Spring Training has been discussed in the media by agents.  MLBPA has stalled on pace of play discussions with MLB supposedly because of the number of remaining free agents.  Pitchers and Catchers start reporting to Spring Training as early as February 12th.

The tension between the players and MLB is growing.  A work stoppage is not immanent.  However, history tells us not to test the resolve of the players.

 

 

 

American League

Blue Jays Calling Up Cavan Biggio

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Cavan Biggio

The Toronto Blue Jays are calling up second base prospect Cavan Biggio to the majors for the very first time on Friday, according to ESPN.

Biggio, the son of Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, has performed well for Triple A Buffalo this season, posting a .306/.440/.507 slash line.

Toronto selected Biggio, 24, in the fifth round of the 2016 draft.

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Royals Assign Drew Storen To Double-A

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Drew Storen

The Kansas City Royals have assigned former big-league reliever Drew Storen to Double-A Northwest Arkansas, according to Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Paul Boyd.

Storen, who inked a minor league deal with the Royals back in February of this year, is attempting a comeback, as he hasn’t pitched in the majors since playing for the Cincinnati Reds back in 2017.

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American League

Neil Ramirez Accepts Outright Assignment With Indians

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Neil Ramirez

Cleveland Indians reliever Neil Ramirez will remain within the organization after clearing outright waivers and accepting an assignment to Triple-A, according to an official team announcement.

Ramirez landed a one-year, $1 million deal with the Indians this offseason, avoiding arbitration.

Ramirez, 29, has struggled during the 2019 season and maybe a stint in Triple A will help him work things out.

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