In the winter after the 2013 season, we saw two Scott Boras clients - Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales - turn down qualifying offers and play hardball for a long term contract for big dollars, only to have it blow up in their faces. Each wound up taking a 1-year deal worth less than the QO after the season started, and then posted abysmal numbers. The Royals just bailed Morales out to an extent, but he probably is still making less money than Boras thought he would, and Stephen Drew is once again looking for work. Boras made himself the biggest agent in sports in part because he knew that if he stuck by his demands for his players, one team would blink and come up with the money. But with these two players, the strategy didn't work out at all. One wonders, with the free agent market looking different from the world where Boras made his millions, if he isn't overplaying his hand again. Jon Lester has signed with the Cubs for 6-years, $155 million, while the number being floated as Scherzer's demand was $200 million. Is anybody actually going to come close to that number?
Free agency ain't what it used to be. Teams are prioritizing cost certainty more than ever before, to the point where teams are willing to waive the ability to take unproven players on a year-to-year basis in arbitration for the sake of locking them in and probably buying out at least a year or two of free agency. This year the "impact bats" on the free agent market were Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval - nice players, but hardly overwhelming. After Scherzer and Lester, the best arms on the market were James Shields and Brandon McCarthy.
Next year's free agent class looks just as tepid. Assuming the options that I consider to be obvious get picked up (like Edwin Encarnacion for $10 million, for example), the Impact Players available look to be Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, and Matt Wieters. There is the potential for a glut of aces being on the market in the forms of Cueto, Price, Zimmermann, and Greinke, but the first three have all been strong candidates for extensions with their current teams, and Greinke will only be a free agent if he opts out of his current deal. If those guys do get extensions - the Padres have made some noise about wanting to extend Justin Upton already - and there might be even less available. Such a thin class for bats.
Guys like Freddie Freeman and Chris Sale aren't hitting free agency until 2-3 years later than they might have before the Pre-Arb Extension Movement and guys like Evan Longoria just aren't ever going to hit free agency at all. There are a few ripple effects from this practice. Teams have committed their budgets and roster spots to players already, meaning there is less demand for the services of free agents, and less free agent budget to be spent for those teams. Fewer bidders should mean less leverage for the seller. And, as the trend grew towards players receiving deals of eight years or more, a number of them have turned into comical boondoggles like Albert Pujols or Alex Rodriguez (and I am really excited about the back half of Miguel Cabrera's contract already). That's not to say that free agent dollars aren't going up generally - that makes sense, due to inflation, other contracts being used as precedent, and increased revenues league-wide - but the trajectory of free agency has changed dramatically as a result of these new practices. Add in the fact that teams don't want to surrender their draft picks anymore (except the Mets, I guess) and it's a recipe for a less enthusiastic free agent market.
Now that the Cubs have presumably signed their ace, who's left in the market for a pitcher who is demanding as much as Scherzer?
The Yankees have loudly and publicly said they're not interested - that is just as likely to be a negotiating ploy as anything else, but it's hardly a rumor that they're in hot pursuit. Their pitching staff is riddled with question marks, but it would be odd for them to trade their only MLB-quality 2B for Nate Eovaldi only to replace him in the rotation with a $200 million pitcher. The Yankees are the Yankees so they can do that, but it would be odd nonetheless. If Kuroda, Tanaka, Sabathia, and Pineda come back healthy - iffy for all of them individually and hugely iffy for them collectively - their rotation figures to be expensive and pretty much set.
The Red Sox: One would think that if they were willing to spend big on an ace they would have won the bidding on Lester - a fan favorite who some think will age better than Scherzer anyway due to handedness, repertoire, and style. I would be very surprised if they low-balled Lester twice and then turned around to give more money to Scherzer, especially now that they look to have done the Post-Lester Plan B of loading up on guys like Rick Porcello and Wade Miley.
The Angels: I have to imagine these guys are tapped out cash-wise, although if you've already come this far and given what, $200 million to C.J. Wilson and Josh Hamilton in an effort to blast open a competitive window you might as well address your organization's biggest need and turn your team into a super team. I haven't seen this rumor, but...
Dodgers: Speaking of super teams, if the Dodgers aren't confident they can get Greinke back after he opts out next winter they may want to line up his replacement. It would certainly make for an intimidating 2015 squad, and as has so often been said about the Dodgers, money is no object. Then again, Scherzer's leverage here would still be weak. It can hardly be said that they're desperate for his services.
...And that's pretty much it other than a return to the Tigers.
As much as I'd love to see a team like the Pirates ride in on a white horse and sign someone like Scherzer, I am increasingly talking myself into the likelihood of Scherzer going back to Detroit. Here's hoping for a Mystery Team coming out of nowhere. Still, it's going to be hard to find a team who is going to top Lester's deal at this point, and $200 million seems ridiculous.
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