I keep reading stories about all the many veteran free agents still out of work. No doubt you’ve seen them too. A quick sampling:

From MLB.com:

Never before in the history of free agency, perhaps, has this happened: Cactus and Grapefruit League games already in full swing with so many name veteran players unsigned and seemingly unwanted.

From Yahoo! sports:

But, if spring training is two weeks old and pitchers are ready for a couple innings and everybody’s getting live at-bats, where are Kenny Lofton and Kyle Lohse and Jeff Weaver?

When does Corey Patterson report?

Is Mike Piazza retired? Sammy Sosa? Shawn Green? Roger Clemens, we get. But, Barry Bonds?

Barely more than a month from the regular season, the unemployed include Preston Wilson, Freddy Garcia and Rodrigo Lopez.

And it is an odd spring when Juan Gonzalez is in camp (St. Louis) and Julio Franco is not.

From Newsday:

We’re two weeks into spring training and there are still so many notable players looking for jobs.

Seriously, take one glance at the list of remaining free agents and you would be silly not to think you could compete with all these players on one team.

LF: Barry Bonds CF: Kenny Lofton RF:Sammy Sosa 3B: Tony Graffanino* SS:Royce Clayton 2B: Jerry Hairston Jr. 1B:Ryan Klesko C: Mike Piazza

Bench: Corey Patterson, Neifi Perez, Julio Franco, Preston Wilson

Rotation: Roger Clemens, Kyle Lohse, Jeff Weaver, David Wells, Freddy Garcia*

Bullpen: Armando Benitez, Rodrigo Lopez*, Antonio Alfonseca, Jose Mesa, Bob Wickman, Eric Milton, Akinori Otsuka*

* (currently injured)

In all seriousness, I bet that team would win more games than the Marlins this year.

From ESPN:

“Nothing is happening,” one agent said. “Everybody’s kind of frozen. It’s a little bit baffling. I think teams are going to just wait until spring training and start cherry-picking guys.”

From ESPN again:

So is it intentional? Is it artificially created? Makes you wonder. Put it that way….as long as you have your requisite share of crazy contracts, as long as there’s movement, as long as every offer to each player isn’t identical to every other team’s offer, it’s tough to define this as classic collusion.

But so far, I’ve seen no article on this topic that really tries to explain the phenomenon (that last ESPN.com article, by Jayson Stark, proffers more questions than answers). If they mention a cause at all, mention either indictments or a certain greedy agent (whose name rhymes with Bott Scoras) pricing his players out of the market. But these two reasons aren’t enough to explain why so many veterans are choosing between minor league deals or unemployment. Most articles contain some throwaway line about how more teams seem willing to have untested prospects fill those fourth-outfielder or pinch-runner roles on the cheap, but I’ve yet to see anyone really get to the heart of the matter. And I’m not going to dignify the “collusion” rumblings, because I can provide a perfectly sound explanation sans conspiracy theorizing.

The reason for so many unsigned free agents is simply this: we are in the midst of an explosion of young baseball talent. According to Bill James, “arguably, there is more outstanding young talent around right now than at any other moment in baseball history,” or at least since 1964 (James is nothing if not specific). So really, this so-called “mystery” is just old fashioned supply and demand. There ain’t as much demand for the Francos, Loftons, and Wellses of the world in a market flush with a supply of Clays, Camerons, and Jobae.

Is that a sexy explanation? Not to those who get off on name recognition or sports scandals, maybe. But to those of us who like to see the game played with an earnest hunger, it’s pretty gosh darn exciting.

10 Responses to “Why so many out-of-work free agents? I’ll tell you why.”

  1. What’s the league minimum for rookies again? Something around 300k?

    Most of the free agents will cost minimum of 3-6 million, or roughly 10-20x as much as a Clay, Cameron, or Joba. Throw in the fact that most of the big name free agents are aging, and either already injured or guaranteed to spend some time on the DL and the young rookies look even better.

    Collusion = overpriced.

  2. Coley Ward says:

    Rich, I agree.

    Still, how does Kyle Lohse still not have a job. MLB Trade Rumors says he’s now asking for only one year and $4-$8 million. If you’re a team like the Phillies, how can you not rush out and sign him? One year? $6 million? That’s a fine price.

  3. melissa says:

    Baseball teams are making more money now than ever before. We have always seen GMs willing to over pay for proven veterans past their prime. We’ve seen it in Milwauke this year with Gagne and Kendall. Why aren’t these other veterans getting legitimate offers? The answer does seem beyond the supply of young cheap talent winning out. It seems a bit “polly-anna-ish” to say that the young players just play with a more earnest hunger. They probably play with a greater hunger for money than veterans. I would be careful about implying they have a greater hunger for the game. A guy like Kenny Lofton is a player that has always played the game hard and the “right” way. If the younger players are actually better then they should be on the field, it should be as simple as that and maybe it is.

  4. Sarah Green says:

    Melissa, I think it is as simple as that, and I hope my post is clear on that point. I just wanted to add that I was happy about it because I’m personally excited at the prospect of seeing some fresh young faces and guys who are “just happy to be here” instead of old, arrogant players who demand more than they’re worth and are too proud to take a minor league deal or a bench role.

  5. As crazy as it may sound, have enough general managers finally realized that there is no point in stocking their rosters with “old, arrogant players who demand more than they’re worth…?”

    While Lofton and Lohse will probably find homes in the next couple of weeks, many other veterans may find themselves SOL in this new environment.

  6. It’s simply the market shifting. Over the last couple of years contracts have gotten riddiculous for mediocre players. To name a few: Pierre, Furcal, Silva, Lugo, Drew, Baez, etc. So it’s coming down to a choice of paying Kyle Lohse 10M a year for 5 years or a mediocre kid in the minors who could do the same thing for less than a quarter of the price for the next 5 years and it becomes obvious. This offseason was supposed to be the exciting Ichiro and Vernon Wells getting huge contracts, both are resigned well ahead of FA. Teams are finding more and more the value of a good farm and keeping your own.

  7. Just wait. Dusty Baker will have all of them in the Reds Training Camp before long.

  8. Bott Scoras doesn’t rhyme with Scott Boras

  9. JungleDixon says:

    Um…maybe because they all suck?

  10. Sarah Green says:

    JungleDixon, as usual, the simplest explanation is usually the best one. But then, why didn’t sucky old free agents get left in the cold like this last year? Or the year before that? Or the year before that?

    Alex, if that was a joke, [whooooosh]. It went right over my head.

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