(Photo credit: Terry Foote)
We are now within a week of the first players reporting to Spring Training. The pressure, on both clubs and players, to break the dam holding the free agent market back before workouts begin is ramping up.
Today, we'll look at some news regarding some of the top players still available, including a fed-up power hitter and a second-tier starter, and also take a look at an unexpected development that might finally open up the floodgates.
The countdown to Spring Training stands at five days. This is the Rumor Roundup.
Frustration mounts for Martinez
In offseasons past, a player like JD Martinez would have been signed to a contract within days of the opening of free agency. After the kind of power season he had last year, particularly after his trade to the Arizona Diamondbacks, a seven-year, nine-figure deal would have been academic.
But this is not a normal offseason. The free agent market has dragged, and not only is Martinez unsigned, he's only really been connected to two clubs, the Diamondbacks and the Boston Red Sox.
The Red Sox, who do have a need for a power bat in the lineup, have long had a five-year, $125m offer on the table. The problem for Martinez is that that's roughly half of what he and agent Scott Boras consider an acceptable offer. The player has been in a protracted stare-down with them ever since, and according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (subscription required), he has become angry enough at the Sox's "inflexibility" and that he would rather sign with another team at this point.
Boras told NBC Sports Boston on Wednesday that he and Martinez are willing to go into Spring Training without a deal in order to get their price, and that talks are ongoing in spite of his client's frustration.
Martinez is sticking to his guns here, but he might be fighting a losing battle. Unless there is something afoot that isn't public knowledge, the Red Sox and D-Backs are the only teams in play for him right now. Arizona would probably love to have Martinez back, but their payroll is already at record levels, including an albatross of a contract in Yasmany Tomas, so he can't really hope for them to push Boston to up their offer. One also has to figure a National League team will concerns about him as a defensive player.
Unless a springtime injury causes a team to make a desperation pitch, it's likely that Boston's offer is going to end up being the best one Martinez gets. How stubborn will he be as the season approaches?
The slow free agent market has perhaps hurt the second-tier starting pitchers more than anyone else. Pitching is such a valuable commodity on the market that even middling ones can get a great deal of money in free agency.
But with all of the biggest starting pitching names still on the board, the second-level hurlers are stuck waiting for the market to set itself. Players like Tyler Chatwood, who signed a three-year, $38m deal with the Cubs in early December, are an outlier.
One of the players waiting by the phone is Lance Lynn. At worst a solid back-of-the-rotation option, he'll be an upgrade to almost any rotation in the league. According to the aforementioned link from The Athletic, the Baltimore Orioles have made contact with Lynn, although there isn't yet major traction. New York Daily News beat writer John Harper reported earlier this week that the New York Mets, with Todd Frazier now in the fold, are ramping up their efforts for a starting pitcher, and Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has suggested the St. Louis Cardinals bring him back if the price is right.
Frankly, a reunion with the Cardinals doesn't look likely. When St. Louis traded Mike Leake to Seattle this summer, it was theorized that the deal was done in part to free up money to make a run at keeping Lynn in the fold, but Lynn sounded less than thrilled with the front office's lack of engagement with him, saying there had been "no talks. There's been zero communication, whatsoever...they've had the whole season."
That doesn't sound like someone who would be interested in a renewed relationship. A team like Baltimore, which currently stands to go into Spring Training with at least three rotation spots subject to open competition and carries none of the apparent animosity seen between Lynn and his most recent employer, seem like a better bet, but it's still unlikely that Lynn finds a destination until a big pitcher like Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta set the market.
Santana injury jump-starts starters?
As the possibility of top free agents remaining unsigned through the beginning of Spring Training becomes more real—and the war of words between agents, the Players Union, and MLB escalates—it's natural to begin looking for an out in all this. What would kick-start the market at this late stage?
A sudden need caused by an injury in camp would certainly be the kind of thing that would spur a team to come closer to a player's demands than they would want to otherwise.
Such a situation might have already come to pass. The surprising news that Minnesota Twins ace Ervin Santana will be out until at least late April after undergoing a surgical procedure on the middle finger of his throwing hand may finally pop the seal on the starting pitching market. The Twins have been a dark horse in the Darvish sweepstakes for much of the winter. They've reportedly been aggressive in their approach, but it was generally expected that teams with deeper pockets like the Chicago Cubs would come out on top.
With Santana missing the entirety of camp and up to a month of the season, the Twins may decide that they need something to anchor their young rotation in the early going, and despite their mid-market financial status they presently have the financial flexibility to pull off a nine-figure deal for the righty. If this injury is enough to send them over the edge, it could unstick a large segment of the market at a critical time.