We are approaching the one-week mark before pitchers and catchers report. The best slugging free agent and the two best starting pitchers are still available. Teams have a chance to land top-tier talent to improve their rosters, yet they are showing almost a complete lack of interest in these players.
What gives? And to ask the question that has loomed for the last two years, does the compensatory draft pick really affect their value that much?
Buster Olney of ESPN addressed that issue on Saturday, using the following analogy (insider subscription required): as free agents seek a match near the end of an off-season, they are like somebody on a desert who finds an oasis. They can enter, but it will be on the keeper’s terms.
Such is the emergence of so-called “pillow deals,” where free agents who wanted long-term deals are forced to take a one-year, team-friendly contract and establish their value to try the market again the next year.
You could argue that this year’s crop of players each has a reason that teams are hesitant, draft pick or not: Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez are risky because they are inconsistent, Nelson Cruz is coming off a PED suspension, and Stephen Drew has yet to prove he can hit enough over the length of a season to be a top shortstop.
So maybe that is why these guys are without work, or maybe it is the new system. Coming years will tell us more, but you better believe the Players Association will monitor the situation and have some thoughts about changes on the next Collective Bargaining Agreement.