By JED WEISBERGER
If you are an MLB free-agent, and you have past your 30th birthday, the world has changed:
- Those 7-year contracts that were once doled out like spiked punch at a graduation party are hardly anywhere to be found. Outfielder Lorenzo Cain, who will play this year at 32, received a 5-year, $80 million pact from Milwaukee, but that is about it so far.
- General managers are on record stating they would rather pay for future performance rather than past accomplishments. Even off a career year, infielder Mike Moustakas, who turns 30 during the 2018 season, can’t seem to find a multi-year deal.
- Many teams, including the Yankees, have bolstered their respective farm systems and would rather develop their own talent.
- The major trade market is back, with players such as Giancarlo Stanton, Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen the major centerpieces.
The 2018 free-agents, so used to seeing huge paychecks in previous free-agent years, are carrying on like their inheritance was stolen by a second cousin they never knew while agent after agent misread the market.
Why else would right-handed pitcher Alex Cobb turn down a 3-year, $42 million offer from the Cubs? Infielder Eric Hosmer dismissed a 7-year, $140 million deal from San Diego wanting more years? He’ll turn 29 during the season.
And, turning into the biggest complainer of the winter, outfielder J.D. Martinez, who emerged as a power hitter in Detroit in 2015, is “disgusted” with the Boston Red Sox because he feels a 5-year, $125 million offer is not enough, again wanting more years. He will turn 31 this season.
All this has brought out a bit of strike talk – even though MLB’s Labor Agreement is in effect until Dec 1, 2021. There is no collusion, guys, just a new reality.
There is a reason for this, talked about by both scouts and general managers, why these huge, long-term contracts are becoming rare, especially for players over 30.
“Teams have seen a major drop-off when players hit their mid-30s,’’ said a scout from a National League West team. “These bad contracts, plenty of teams have them, have been like an albatross.
Teams really don’t want them anymore. You get two or three good years and two or three not so much.’’
So, what does this mean for a few other prominent free-agents – right-handers Jake Arrieta, who will turn 32 March 6, and Yu Darvish, who turns 32 Aug. 16? Five-year deals would take both into their Age 37 seasons.
That magical 22-6, 1.77 campaign Arrieta put together in 2015 is now a few seasons ago, while Darvish won 16 games in 2013, his rookie year, and hasn’t come all that close since. Arrieta made $15,637,500 in 2017, while Darvish made $11,000,000.
What does all this mean for a decent mid-range guy like righty Lance Lynn, who turns 31 May 12? Maybe a 1- or 2-year deal at most.
This will likely change with shortstop Manny Machado and outfielder Bryce Harper, who will both be 26-year-old free-agents on 2019. A long-term contract will be offered to both. They will certainly cash in.
As for free-agents 30 and over, it’s a whole different story.