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:
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.
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.
We’re two weeks into
spring trainingand 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.
Barry BondsCF: Kenny LoftonRF: Sammy Sosa3B: Tony Graffanino* SS: Royce Clayton2B: Jerry HairstonJr. 1B: Ryan KleskoC: Mike Piazza
Bench: Corey Patterson,
Neifi Perez, Julio Franco, Preston Wilson
Roger Clemens, Kyle Lohse, Jeff Weaver, David Wells, Freddy Garcia*
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.
“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.”
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.