One thing that every baseball writer can seemingly agree on – and that’s a rare occurrence, trust me – is that this offseason has been the slowest in memory when it comes to free agent signings.
Usually by the beginning of January the free-agent market consists of a few top-shelf, Scott Boras clients playing chicken and a remaining cadre of Tier C players.
This year, though, just about every intriguing free agent is still hanging around as 2017 faded into the rearview mirror. Of the Top 11, as ranked by mlbtraderumors.com at the beginning of the offseason, only two have signed: No. 8, closer Wade Davis, with the Colorado Rockies; and No. 5 Masahiro Tanaka, who never actually became a free agent. He instead decided not to exercise his opt-out clause and is staying with the Yankees.
Nine of the 10 Orioles’ free agents from 2017 (besides Welington Castillo) are looking for jobs, including the quartet of beleaguered starting pitchers: Chris Tillman, Wade Miley, Jeremy Hellickson and Ubaldo Jimenez. I expect all will find big-league jobs no matter what the Regular Joe Oriole fan thinks.
Starting pitchers are hard to find. Camden Yards isn’t the easiest place to pitch. All four have had success previous to 2017. They’ll all get jobs in a rotation to be named.
Maybe fairly soon. And that’s because the free-agent domino has to be dropping any moment. Most of the roadblocks have been moved. Giancarlo Stanton is a New York Yankee. Shohei Ohtani is a Los Angeles Angel (Ohtani, by the way, wasn’t listed in the Top 50 by mlbtraderumors because the Japanese import was his own special situation).
The Manny Machado Sweepstakes are still in wait-and-see mode, but the market appears to be moving on anyway.
The question here is whether the slow market has helped or hurt the Orioles. On one hand, the more players hanging around in January theoretically means there likely will remain a logjam in February, when executive vice president Dan Duquette does his best work. He’s the king of the “undervalued asset,” and he’ll pounce on solid players who have been passed over in any previous feeding frenzy.
Given that, you can say this standstill plays into Duquette’s hands.
But the opposite could be true, too. Duquette, among others, has shown you can wait out the market and get a bargain. And perhaps other teams are taking the same stance this offseason. And that means bidding wars will continue, just at later dates.
It’s gonna be interesting to see how it all plays out, but I’d be shocked if Duquette doesn’t land at least one player you’ve heard of in February, probably after spring training starts.
The unlikeliest long-term deal so far
To illustrate just how slow this free-agent market has been, consider that no player has received a deal beyond three years if you don’t count outfielder Justin Upton re-signing with the Angels.
And if you don’t count … Hyun Soo Kim.
The former Orioles outfielder reportedly signed a four-year deal (worth roughly the equivalent of $10.6 million in the U.S.) to return to his native Korea and play for the LG Twins.
I’m still not convinced Kim couldn’t have been a useful part for a major league team the way he was for the Orioles in 2016. But his lack of defensive fluidity limited him to primarily a designated hitter role and his lack of power hurt him there.
He could flat-out hit, though, and get on base. And he was an extremely well-liked teammate. I’m sure he was disappointed that his MLB dream is over; he truly loved playing in the U.S. and he never complained when his name wasn’t in the lineup.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter simply didn’t trust Kim’s defense and, when Trey Mancini showed that he could play left field, Kim was buried. But I expect him to pick up right where he left off in Korea, battling for a batting crown, even at age 30.
My Hall of Fame ballot
I sent in my Hall of Fame ballot around Christmas and will reveal it once the official announcement has been made. I’m kind of old-school that way. Apparently, I’m also old school when it comes to my selections, because a couple of my picks are not supported by the advanced metrics community.
That’s OK. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, and ultimately it is my vote. I consider this past ballot as the most difficult of my career. I believe there are 15 worthy candidates and I could only vote for 10. In fact, I didn’t select one guy this year that I voted for last year. And he didn’t do anything wrong.
There are just more worthy guys that came onto the ballot this year than left last year.
I know it’s not a popular public opinion, but I’d like to see voters have an unlimited number of spots. Some will still use three or four, I’m sure. But I’d feel a lot better about my ballot if I could pick at least a dozen. And I think I could defend each selection.
As I wrote at the end of 2017, BaltimoreBaseball.com is alive and thriving and we’re committed to another season of baseball. And we have you, the reader/listener/viewer to thank.
So, here’s a sincere thank you from me, from Steve Cockey and from the rest of the BaltimoreBaseball.com crew. And here’s hoping 2018 is even better at this site.