In the rush to sign free agents before Major League Baseball’s lockout began on Thursday, the attention was focused on the big names. Overlooked were second- and third-tier players.
In most free-agent markets, it’s generally the bigger names who sign first and set the market, and the lesser-known players find new teams afterward.
The rush to sign free agents before the lockout left many players wondering when teams will get around to signing them.
If in a normal market, the names that aren’t the biggest would start signing later this month and during January. That won’t be the case this month, and if the lockout drags on until late next month or early February, there will be little time between the time the deal is agreed upon and spring training begins.
Major league teams can’t sign players to major league deals during the lockout, but they can sign them to minor league contracts.
Over the weekend, two players with Oriole connections signed with new teams — infielder Drew Jackson, who was taken in the December 2018 Rule 5 draft and played in three games in 2019 before he was returned to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and right-handed pitcher Gray Fenter, who was selected in the Rule 5 draft last year by the Chicago Cubs, and returned to the Orioles.
Jackson, whose three at-bats remain his only major league action, spent 2021 with Triple-A Syracuse in the New York Mets organization, signed with Oakland.
Fenter, who became a six-year minor league free agent, is in the San Francisco Giants organization after he went 6-4 with a 5.47 ERA in 21 games with Double-A Bowie.
Those signings will continue, but it will be interesting to see if players who normally would sign major league contracts opt for minor league ones because they can’t sign big league deals.
Another former Oriole, shortstop Freddy Galvis, was reported to be close to an agreement to play in Japan with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. Galvis signed with the Orioles on January 26th and was paid $1.5 million plus a $250,000 bonus he collected when the Orioles traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies at the July 30th trading deadline.
Galvis received high marks for being a good teammate. In 72 games, he hit .249 with nine home runs and 26 RBIs and a .720 OPS. His time with the Orioles ended on June 26th when he injured his quadriceps muscle running to first base. He missed two months of major league time and didn’t play as well with the Phillies, hitting .224 with five home runs and 14 RBIs with a .684 OPS in 32 games.
When Galvis was hurt, Ramón Urías took over at shortstop and played well, and he could return. Two other recent Orioles shortstops José Iglesias and Jonathan Villar, are on the short list of free-agent shortstops available.
Perhaps the offer to play in Japan was too good to pass up for Galvis, or he could have been uneasy about his 2022 location. There probably won’t be many more like Galvis because the number of foreign players in Japan and South Korea is limited.
When Adam Jones became a free agent after an outstanding career with the Orioles, he should have been coveted by multiple teams but, at 33, he wasn’t. Instead, Jones, who made $17.33 million in the final year of a six-year contract with the Orioles, accepted a one-year contract for $3 million with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He played the last two seasons in Japan.
Galvis is 32 and, after a season in Japan and a settled labor environment, he could return to major league baseball. It’s players like Galvis and Jones who seem to have lost out as baseball has gotten younger.
Jones’ six-year, $85.5 million contract with the Orioles was an excellent investment. He played well and the team did well—at least for the first six seasons of the deal. However, by 2018 the game had changed, and the Orioles and other teams were seeking younger and more inexpensive players they thought could be just as productive.
Jones was one of the most popular players in club history. While Galvis isn’t in that category, he was well liked and helpful to his teammates.
The players know they can’t change trends in the game, and that’s one of the reasons they’re trying to get players qualified for arbitration and free agency sooner. It’s just too bad that players like Freddy Galvis and Adam Jones saw their value drop.
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