Jon Lester sounds the alarm baseball's lack of free-agent spending this winter


Jon Lester sounds the alarm baseball's lack of free-agent spending this winter

MESA, Ariz. — Spring training is no longer some upcoming deadline. Spring training is here.

And still there are dozens of free agents without jobs, including some of the bigger names in the game, guys like Jake Arrieta, J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer and plenty of others.

The reasons behind this inactive offseason have been written about ad nauseam. But to the players themselves, as Jon Lester put it, it’s just alarming.

“It’s crazy,” Lester said, talking at length about the situation Friday at Cubs camp. “I kind of thought once February hit, it would be kind of a mass signing, that guys would sign in that first week and we really wouldn’t talk about it anymore. But obviously that’s not the case.

“I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know behind closed doors what’s being said, what’s been said. It’s just alarming, that’s kind of how I look at it. We’re not talking about middle relievers with 5.00 ERAs. We’re talking about big guys. We’re talking about guys that need to be playing. It’s alarming. Hopefully we can get this thing figured out and get these guys a team relatively soon.”

The Cubs have made plenty of moves this offseason, making the league-wide situation seem like it might not apply to the North Siders. After all, the Cubs have been the ones to hand out the two biggest pitching contracts of the winter, first to Tyler Chatwood and then to Yu Darvish earlier this week.

But the affected parties are closer to home than it might seem, with Arrieta being perhaps the biggest unsigned name out there. It would be completely unforeseen if Arrieta returned to the Cubs after the Darvish signing locked the rotation into place for the foreseeable future. But the topic of where one of the biggest parts of the team’s three-year playoff stretch might land continues to be a big one in Cub World. Tommy La Stella spoke about it earlier Friday. Then it was Lester’s turn.

“I would imagine (Arrieta is frustrated), yeah. He doesn’t have a job,” Lester said. “This is what we do. So I can only imagine what those guys are going through probably emotionally and physically, too. If they do a free-agent camp, if they don’t, whatever, you’re physically behind the 8-ball when you come back. You’ve got to get to know your new teammates or even just settle into a team that you were with. It’s alarming. I don’t understand it. Selfishly, I’m glad I’m not in that situation. But for those guys, it’s got to be hard.”

Lester continued to hit home that he had no insider information, but he came to the same conclusions many have, that next winter’s free-agent bonanza starring Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, potentially Clayton Kershaw and a host of other All-Star caliber players is having a big effect this winter. And he also made an understated finger-point at the owners, talking about teams’ unwillingness to spend on free agents like they have in every offseason prior.

The caveat with that, of course, is that it’s Lester’s team that has potentially set the trend that player agents have been complaining about. Not the one of refusing to spend — Lester, Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and Darvish have big paychecks from the Ricketts family — but the trend of a total teardown rebuild. Theo Epstein’s front office committed to multiple years of losing in order to produce this current team, one of the best in baseball for the past three seasons with no sign of slowing down, using top draft picks to build the core.

“There’s too many good players out there that don’t have teams, you’re kind of scratching your head on why,” Lester said. “I think each individual year is different, it’s just like the season. I know people have kind of downplayed it, but you’ve got next year, as well. Big class that’s coming out. I would imagine that has something to do with it, teams trying to set themselves up to be able to spend next year on those guys. But at the same time, it screws the guys that are going through it now.

“There’s no reason why Jake Arrieta or J.D. Martinez or any of these guys should have to sign a one-year deal. That’s ridiculous. There’s too much money in the game. It’s going up, our game’s not suffering at all. There’s money there to be spent, and for whatever reason it’s not being spent.

“The money that’s being made on the other side in this game, absolutely (I could foresee a $400 million contract next winter). I think people are forgetting where a lot of that money is actually going to. It’s there to be spent, and it’s not being spent right now.”

The unpredictability of the offseason signals that the upcoming months will be unpredictable, as well. Who knows when Arrieta and the other jobless players will sign? As Lester mentioned, those guys are already behind schedule. And while they’re surely working out and keeping their bodies in shape, it’s tough to sign a contract in March or April or May or June and instantly hit the ground running with a new team.

So while baseball season is indeed underway in Arizona and Florida, there’s still a lot of uncertainty about how the season will play out — because some of its main characters have yet to receive their roles.

Scouting the Cubs' competition: The Reds will waste another year of Joey Votto's greatness


Scouting the Cubs' competition: The Reds will waste another year of Joey Votto's greatness

The expectations couldn't be any higher for the 2018 Chicago Cubs. 

It's 2016 all over again. The goal isn't just a trip to the playoffs or another NL pennant. It's World Series or bust for this group of North Siders.

With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:

Cincinnati Reds

2017 record: 68-94, last in NL Central

Offseason additions: Cliff Pennington, David Hernandez, Jared Hughes, Kevin Quackenbush

Offseason departures: Zack Cozart, Scott Feldman, Drew Storen

X-factor: Homer Bailey

Bailey appeared to be entering ace territory when the Reds locked him up to a six-year, $105 million extension before the 2014 season. Over the two years prior (2012-13), he went 24-22 with a 3.58 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 367 strikeouts over 417 innings.

But in the four seasons since he signed that extension, Bailey has pitched just 271 innings, going 17-18 with an ugly 4.95 ERA and 1.46 WHIP. 2017 (6.43 ERA, 1.69 WHIP) was especially ugly.

There is cause for optimism, however. In the final seven starts of the season last year, Bailey posted a 3.58 ERA and 1.19 WHIP.

Bailey is only 31 (and turns 32 in May) so there is still time. He's getting the Reds' Opening Day start and if he can rekindle his top-of-rotation form, it'd go a long way in the team's rebuilding.

Projected lineup

1. Billy Hamilton - CF
2. Jesse Winker - LF
3. Joey Votto - 1B
4. Eugenio Suarez - 3B
5. Scooter Gennett - 2B
6. Jose Peraza - SS
7. Scott Shebler - RF
8. Tucker Barnhart - C 

Projected rotation

1. Homer Bailey
2. Luis Castillo
3. Tyler Mahle
4. Sal Romano
5. Amir Garrett


When you replace Zack Cozart with Cliff Pennington and the "big" free agent splashes were a couple of 32-year-old relief pitchers (Hernandez and Hughes), you're not tryin', bro.

The Reds are in full rebuild mode, which is really sad for Votto in his age-34 season. Somehow, Votto seems to defy aging. He was the best hitter in the NL last year, leading the league in walks, on-base percentage, OPS, OPS+ and intentional walks while passing the 30-homer, 100-RBI threshold for the first time since 2010.

But poor Votto hasn't appeared in the playoffs since 2013 and the Reds are years away from another trip to October, especially in this suddenly-stacked division.

Castillo is a budding ace, Peraza and Winker could be nice pieces for the future, Suarez is locked up long-term and Barnhart is one of the more underrated backstops in the league. Top prospect Nick Senzel is also on his way soon, as are a gaggle of young starting pitchers.

There will inevitably be growing pains for all these inexperienced players, but things could be a lot worse for a rebuilding team. Still, by the time the Reds are ready to contend in 2020 or later, will Votto still be at the top of his game when he's at least 36?

Prediction: Last in NL Central

Ozzie Guillen compared Sammy Sosa to Michael Jordan...and Michael Jackson

Ozzie Guillen compared Sammy Sosa to Michael Jordan...and Michael Jackson

Ozzie Guillen is no stranger to saying outlandish things.

So it's not surprising that Guillen would agree with Sosa when the former Cubs outfielder said he made the city of Chicago what it is today.

Thirteen months ago, Sosa gave a candid interview to Chuck Wasserstrom and compared himself to Jesus before saying: "When nobody knew who Chicago was, I put Chicago on the map."

Guillen echoed that sentiment on the latest White Sox Talk Podcast.

Maybe from where they sit, that's exactly what has occurred. Sosa and Michael Jordan certainly helped make the Cubs, Bulls and Chicago sports in general on the map internationally.

"People know who the Cubs were because Sammy put them back on the map," Guillen said. "... For the city of Chicago, when Sammy was Sammy — that race with [Mark] McGwire, then people noticed what Chicago was."

Ozzie said — from his perspective — when people hear about Chicago, they ask, "Oh, you know Sammy?" or "You know Michael?" referencing Michael Jordan.

Guillen also weighed in on Sosa's ever-changing appearance that has sparked A LOT of attention lately.

"But the color, I'm tired. I think he uses the same product Michael Jackson did," Guillen said. "It's funny because I work with him — we talked to him a lot for ESPN Deportes. When you're lying, that's when people don't get it.

"Listen, if you want to change your color, why not? You got the money, you got the time if that's what you want to be. But if you say, 'Well, I got too much color because of the sun when I was playing.' OK...You live in Miami, you grew up in the Dominican. To me, I just laugh."