BOSTON — Money sits while everyone grows restless. The Red Sox, like everyone else, are waiting in free agency.
More than most teams, though, the Sox are the ones actually being waited on — at least when it comes to the high-end hitting market. The Sox are still looked at as the most likely landing spot for one of the top bats, J.D. Martinez.
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If not them, then who? (Wouldn't you know it, the Sox use that same thinking to justify offering Martinez less than he wants.) The Dodgers are sitting out this round of free agency and the Yankees are too.
The Sox are a unicorn this winter: a big market team that not only has the ability to spend, but may eventually do so.
One of the most prominent player agents, Brodie Van Wagenen of CAA, put out a statement on Friday, hinting at the potential for a spring training boycott or even a strike down the road as baseball's free agency remains frigid.
“There is a rising tide among players for radical change,” Van Wagenen wrote. “A fight is brewing.”https://twitter.com/bvanwagenen/status/959461867990155265
Van Wagenen wrote that the players are more than upset, they’re outraged.
Union head Tony Clark, who has been quiet publicly but is in communication with his constituents, also put out a statement.
"For decades free agency has been the cornerstone of baseball’s economic system & has benefited Players & the game alike,” union head Tony Clark said in a statement Friday. “Each time it has been attacked, Players, their representatives & the Association have united to defend it. That will never change.”
The Sox have no obligation to move along this offseason, to play the role of icebreaker. None. They must operate in their own interest. They just happen to be well positioned to start a cascade of moves, because they're the most logical landing spot for Martinez.
The Diamondbacks outfielder could end up with the most money of anyone this winter — excuse us, spring. Maybe Eric Hosmer pulls in more because he's younger and plays better defense. Either way, Martinez will be near the top, and his signing can set the market for upper-echelon hitters.
Speaking on Friday afternoon before a luncheon to benefit the Foundation to be Named Later, Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said he’d like to add a power bat and a lefty reliever, while stopping short of saying he had to.
The market for lesser players has been somewhat established, but the big names do usually create a trickle-down effect. Seven years for one guy may mean six for another. One guy off the board means another team turns to Plan B, etc.
“Almost every club has some need they’d like to fill,” Dombrowski said generally. “It’s amazing how interactive and dependent upon one move is with another move with an organization, as far as players on your big league roster, other free agent players, trade possibilities. So I mean, ideally, you’d love to make some additions, but when you don’t unilaterally control something, you have to wait and see.”
In a way, though, the Sox do near unilaterally control the outcome. Meet an asking price, sign the player. But that thinking is not the premise of a negotiation. Disparate views on how the market should look has left little middle ground, and the landscape has devolved into a blame game and stalemate.
On the pitching side, the Cubs, Brewers and Twins appear to be in a similar position to the Sox: room for a big name who should propel movement.
Those teams, like the Sox, do not "have to wait and see," as Dombrowski said the Sox did. They are choosing to wait and see, just as the players are choosing not to accept standing offers. No team is a bystander at the mercy entirely of outside forces, just watching a market move by.
We do know some teams that are choosing to act as bystanders, however.
The Dodgers and Yankees plan to stay under the luxury tax threshold in 2018, taking themselves out of the running for any big free-agent signings. It’s a reset move that allows those big-market teams to pay less of an overage if they go over the luxury tax in upcoming season.
Los Angeles and New York's choice is the same Boston made in 2017, making it more efficient for the Sox to spend now.
In effect, then, two of the largest spending teams are non-factors in free agency. That just affords the Sox more power in this market.
The system, the collective bargaining agreement, invited this circumstance. The CBA and labor negotiations are at the heart of the game's freeze. The players are receiving an increasingly shorter end of the stick, and the free agency system is a part of the CBA.
"It’s important that both sides are in constant communication and the agents are in communications with the clubs and vice versa," Sox president Sam Kennedy said Friday. "But I don’t think our fans want to hear about any type of labor issues from management side or from the players’ side. Communication is the key here."
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The tenor of the communication has grown increasingly tense, and it's hard to focus on anything but labor negotiations at the moment.
That six-year requirement until you become a free agent, such that your prime is likely behind you once you're on the open market, making teems leery? It's all in the CBA.
"Well, it’s a system that this winter time is unusual," Dombrowski said of free agency generally. "I think the thing that’s hard for me is to know, is this something that’s gonna happen on a yearly basis? Or is this just something that’s come together due to a variety of reasons and it’s one winter time? I don’t know that answer. I’m sure that it’ll be looked at by people at much higher positions than me.
"I don’t think it’s a good situation that we’re sitting here on Feb. 2, there’s 110 free agents. I don’t think that’s good for the game, necessarily. Does a change of system make it happen? I don’t know, we just got a new basic agreement a year ago. So, both sides agreed to that and were willing to sign it. ... I don’t think you can only look at this winter time, I think then you have to look at the future, then you can analyze that."
Everyone's waiting to see.