It was a weird year for MLB free agents, but these five deals stand out as the best of the bunch.
There has been an obvious move away from big spending in free agency by most MLB teams over the past few seasons, and that trend picked up even more steam this winter. As Opening Day sits roughly two weeks away, Cy Young Jake Arrieta is just now finalizing his new contract. All-Star closer Greg Holland and solid starter Alex Cobb remain unsigned. Coming off an All-Star season where he hit a franchise-record 38 home runs for the Kansas City Royals, Mike Moustakas was forced to take a one-year deal for a guaranteed $6.5 million.
That a host of middle relievers like Tommy Hunter, Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek were able to secure more guaranteed money than starter Lance Lynn, who threw nearly 200 innings with a 3.43 ERA in 2017 tells you all you need to know about the market.
MLB teams have become more risk-averse than ever before, shunning the decade-long contracts that used to be the norm for free agents in their thirties. The widespread adoption of total rebuilds by small-market teams has also removed a significant number of potential bidders from the pool. Rebuilds work, and teams are comfortable paying replacement-level players minimum salaries until it makes more sense to spend big.
The focus for most front offices has become finding quality players at a low cost, and they will wait as long as possible to get the right price. Players who are not signed in the early weeks of the offseason are now facing the painful realization that they may have to wait until after Spring Training begins to find a job.
Barring a strike, there isn’t much the players can do to swing the bargaining power back to themselves. Virtually every new contract signed this winter was “team friendly” in its terms, and these five stand out as the best of the bunch.
Signing Carlos Santana, Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek in December for over $94 million was just a sign of bigger things to come for the Phillies, who had the financial freedom to spend big this offseason in an effort to accelerate their rebuild. On their own, the trio of free agents signed early in the winter are solid enough to take the Phillies to another level, but the addition of ace Jake Arrieta is the type of move that announces the team is about to get serious.
The Phillies waited out Arrieta and agent Scott Boras and got themselves a very favorable deal. Three years and $75 million is a very fair price to pay for a proven winner with a Cy Young. With Philadelphia, Arrieta becomes the leader of a promising rotation that has yet to fully come together. He will mentor budding ace Aaron Nola and help Vince Velasquez and Jerad Eickhoff take the next steps to becoming consistent pieces in an MLB rotation.
More importantly, landing Arrieta this winter allows the Phillies to gear up for a run at next year’s epic free-agent class with more to offer than promising youngsters. This signing gives the team credibility when they sit down to negotiate with Manny Machado, Bryce Harper or Josh Donaldson. The Arrieta deal may not pay off with an immediate return to the playoffs for the Phillies, but the rest of the league has been put on notice that this is no longer a rebuilding franchise.