By now the Boston Red Sox are normally welcoming the latest free agent additions to their franchise. Why has this year’s market been so slow?
The only thing colder this winter than the city of Boston buried under a foot of snow is the Hot Stove. We’re already into January without the Boston Red Sox finding a solution for the power outage that hindered their lineup last season, leaving us to wonder when the free agent market will thaw.
Why is it taking so long for the market to develop? Red Sox fans will want to blame Dave Dombrowski. Sure, when we don’t get what we want we have to blame someone, right? While the president of baseball operations is taking a lot of heat for his lack of action, there’s not much he can do when the market has gone ice cold.
The simple truth is that the Red Sox haven’t landed the big bat they desire because the top of the market hitters aren’t ready to sign.
J.D. Martinez has been the top target all along and he still sits on the market waiting to be blown away with a lucrative offer. The Red Sox reportedly have offered Martinez a five-year deal that could be worth at least $125 million, yet the free agent slugger is holding out for more.
The problem is that it’s unclear where more will come from. The usual suspects leading the charge into free agency have been uncharacteristically quiet. The reason for this is twofold.
The new competitive balance tax in the collective bargaining agreement has left several of the large market teams shying away from free agency. The New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers are both intent on ducking the luxury tax in 2018 to reset the harsh repeater penalties. While it may seem as though these teams have limitless funds, every franchise must draw a line somewhere.
The Red Sox managed to stay under the threshold in 2017, leaving them as one of the few large payroll teams that can afford to go over the tax line this year without being hit with the harsher repeater penalties.
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The other factor is the looming free agent class of 2019. This year’s crop of free agents pales in comparison to the stars potentially available next year, a class that may include Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson.
Teams are being cautious about spending this winter in anticipation of next year’s star-studded free agency. The driving force behind the Yankees and Dodgers avoiding the luxury tax this year is to ensure they can be major players in the market next year without the restrictions of excessive tax penalties or draft pick casualties. Mid-market teams hoping to crash the party must clear future payroll space in order to have a chance to compete in this upcoming bidding war, leaving them reluctant to add salary now.
With a number of teams sitting out free agency this year, players are finding it harder to find offers that match what they believe they are worth. Pitting free-spending teams against each other to drive up the price has long been a calling card of Scott Boras, the agent who represents Martinez. The Red Sox have made their interest in Martinez known with a fair offer and Boras is struggling to play his usual games to secure a better deal since other teams haven’t come out to play.
Dombrowski continues to stare down Boras knowing full well that they currently have the best offer on the table for his client. Impatient Red Sox fans have clamored for Dombrowski to do whatever it takes to get a deal done, yet they fail to realize that doing so at this point would essentially mean bidding against themselves.