The most important free-agent signing of the last offseason didn’t occur until Feb. 26, precisely a month before Opening Day, when J.D. Martinez signed a five-year, $110 million deal, including two opt-out clauses, with the Boston Red Sox.
That worked out pretty well for everyone concerned.
So there is no reason for fans to be getting antsy about the “glacial,’’ to borrow the perfect word from my colleague Bill Madden’s column this week, pace of negotiations for Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, two prime free agents who were expected to sell like red hats at a Trump rally.
It’s another story for the players and their agents, of course, who have every reason to suspect that even if the owners aren’t actively colluding, they certainly seem to have an unspoken agreement that no one is going to rush into this free agent market with their checkbooks wide open.
The slow-walking of Machado and Harper has pretty much stalled the rest of the free-agent market, although a few players such as Andrew Miller, David Robertson, Patrick Corbin, Daniel Murphy and Zach Britton have landed deals, about 75% of the available 164 free agents remain unsigned about five weeks before the start of spring training.
Clearly, teams are waiting to see how high Machado and Harper’s deals set the bar before adjusting downward. And so far, the evidence indicates that bar may be set lower than many originally expected.
The evidence, circumstantial though it may be, is clear: Other than a single report of an offer from the Chicago White Sox to Machado, no concrete, verifiable numbers for either he or Harper have leaked out, and from what we can infer, it seems unlikely that either of them is going to score anywhere near the $400 million contract that was projected for them not long ago.