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The slow offseason, illustrated

Arizona Diamondbacks v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game One

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 06: J.D. Martinez #28 of the Arizona Diamondbacks reacts at the end of the eighth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game one of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on October 6, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

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We’re just a few hours from entering 2018 and many very talented free agents remain unsigned, like J.D. Martinez and Jake Arrieta. This is quite an abnormal development. To illustrate this, I took the top-10 free agents as listed by MLB Trade Rumors each year and marked their signing dates on my brilliantly-created calendars with an X, assembled into the slideshow below.

In 2010, eight of the top-10 free agents signed by the new year. In 2011, seven had signed by the new year. 2012, six. 2013, six. 2014, eight. 2015, five. 2016, seven. This year, only two have signed -- Carlos Santana and Wade Davis. That’s a stark departure from previous years. My inclusion of Santana in the top-10 is debatable as Masahiro Tanaka was originally in MLBTR’s top-10, but he chose not to opt out of his contract with the Yankees. So, I replaced him with Santana. One could’ve argued someone like Alex Cobb merited going into the top-10 over Santana, which would have reduced that number to one instead of two.

Here’s the data in table form if you want to fool around with it yourself:

20116Victor Martinez1B/DHNov. 26, 20104$50,000,000Tigers
20115Adam Dunn1B/DHDec. 3, 20104$56,000,000White Sox
20114Jayson WerthOFDec. 5, 20107$126,000,000Nationals
20118Mariano RiveraRPDec. 7, 20102$30,000,000Yankees
201110Derek JeterSSDec. 7, 20103$51,000,000Yankees
20119Paul Konerko1B/DHDec. 8, 20103$37,500,000White Sox
20112Carl CrawfordOFDec. 11, 20107$142,000,000Red Sox
20111Cliff LeeSPDec. 15, 20105$120,000,000Phillies
20113Adrian Beltre3BJan. 5, 20115$80,000,000Rangers
20117Rafael SorianoRPJan. 18, 20113$35,000,000Yankees
201210Jonathan PapelbonRPNov. 14, 20114$50,000,000Phillies
20123Jose ReyesSSDec. 7, 20116$106,000,000Marlins
20121Albert Pujols1B/DHDec. 8, 201110$246,841,811Angels
20124C.J. WilsonSPDec. 8, 20115$77,500,000Angels
20128Aramis Ramirez3BDec. 13, 20113$36,000,000Brewers
20127Jimmy RollinsSSDec. 19, 20113$38,000,000Phillies
20129Carlos BeltranOF/DHDec. 23, 20112$26,000,000Cardinals
20125Yu DarvishSPJan. 18, 20126$56,000,000Rangers
20122Prince Fielder1B/DHJan. 26, 20129$214,000,000Tigers
20126Edwin JacksonSPFeb. 2, 20121$11,000,000Nationals
20139Hiroki KurodaSPNov. 20, 20121$15,000,000Yankees
20135Melvin UptonOFNov. 29, 20125$75,000,000Braves
20138Dan HarenSPDec. 7, 20121$13,000,000Nationals
20131Zack GreinkeSPDec. 10, 20126$147,000,000Dodgers
20132Josh HamiltonOF/DHDec. 15, 20125$125,000,000Angels
20134Anibal SanchezSPDec. 17, 20125$80,000,000Tigers
20137Edwin JacksonSPJan. 2, 20134$52,000,000Cubs
20136Nick Swisher1B/DHJan. 3, 20134$56,000,000Indians
20133Michael BournOFFeb. 15, 20134$48,000,000Indians
201310Kyle LohseSPMarch 25, 20133$33,000,000Brewers
20144Brian McCannCDec. 3, 20135$85,000,000Yankees
20142Jacoby EllsburyOFDec. 7, 20137$153,000,000Yankees
20148Hiroki KurodaSPDec. 7, 20131$16,000,000Yankees
20141Robinson Cano2BDec. 12, 201310$240,000,000Mariners
201410Mike NapoliSPDec. 12, 20132$32,000,000Red Sox
20143Shin-Soo ChooOFDec. 27, 20137$130,000,000Rangers
20145Masahiro TanakaSPJan. 22, 20147$155,000,000Yankees
20147Matt GarzaSPJan. 26, 20144$50,000,000Brewers
20149A.J. BurnettSPFeb. 16, 20141$16,000,000Phillies
20146Ervin SantanaSPMarch 12, 20141$14,100,000Braves
20156Victor Martinez1B/DHNov. 14, 20144$68,000,000Tigers
20158Russell MartinCNov. 18, 20145$82,000,000Blue Jays
20154Hanley RamirezSSNov. 25, 20144$88,000,000Red Sox
20155Pablo Sandoval3B/1BNov. 25, 20145$95,000,000Red Sox
20159Nelson CruzOF/DHDec. 4, 20144$58,000,000Mariners
201510Yasmany TomasOF/3BDec. 9, 20146$68,500,000Diamondbacks
20152Jon LesterSPDec. 15, 20146$155,000,000Cubs
20157Melky CabreraOFDec. 16, 20143$42,000,000White Sox
20151Max ScherzerSPJan. 21, 20157$210,000,000Nationals
20153James ShieldsSPFeb. 11, 20154$75,000,000Padres
20167Jordan ZimmermannSPNov. 30, 20155$110,000,000Tigers
20161David PriceSPDec. 4, 20157$217,000,000Red Sox
20163Zack GreinkeSPDec. 8, 20156$206,500,000Diamondbacks
20162Jason HeywardOFDec. 15, 20158$184,000,000Cubs
20168Johnny CuetoSPDec. 16, 20156$130,000,000Giants
20169Alex GordonOFJan. 6, 20164$72,000,000Royals
20164Justin UptonOFJan. 20, 20166$132,750,000Tigers
20165Chris Davis1B/DHJan. 21, 20167$161,000,000Orioles
20166Yoenis CespedesOFJan. 26, 20163$75,000,000Mets
201610Ian DesmondSSFeb. 29, 20161$8,000,000Rangers
20177Jeremy HellicksonSPNov. 14, 20161$17,200,000Phillies
20171Yoenis CespedesOFNov. 30, 20164$110,000,000Mets
20176Dexter FowlerOFDec. 9, 20165$82,500,000Cardinals
20179Ian DesmondSS/OFDec. 13, 20165$70,000,000Rockies
20173Aroldis ChapmanRPDec. 15, 20165$86,000,000Yankees
20174Justin Turner3BDec. 23, 20164$64,000,000Dodgers
201710Ivan NovaSPDec. 27, 20163$26,000,000Pirates
20172Edwin Encarnacion1B/DHJan. 5, 20173$60,000,000Indians
20175Kenley JansenRPJan. 10, 20175$80,000,000Dodgers
20178Mark Trumbo1B/OF/DHJan. 20, 20173$37,500,000Orioles
20181Yu DarvishSP
20182J.D. MartinezOF
20183Eric Hosmer1B
20184Jake ArrietaSP
201810Carlos Santana1BDec. 20, 20173$60,000,000Phillies
20185Mike Moustakas3B
20186Lorenzo CainOF
20187Wade DavisRPDec. 29, 20173$52,000,000Rockies
20188Lance LynnSP
20189Greg HollandRP

Last week, I wrote about how the competitive balance tax is affecting free agent signings. The CBT essentially functions as a soft salary cap because teams don’t want to pay the penalty. The Associated Press reported that the Dodgers were hit with a $36.2 million luxury tax, followed by the Yankees at $15.7 million. That’s a lot of money, especially for the Dodgers. Earlier this month, the Dodgers made a trade with the Braves to re-acquire Matt Kemp in exchange for a handful of players, allowing them to spread their obligations over two seasons instead of one. The CBT, with the threshold now at $197 million, is very clearly a concern for wealthier teams now.

Another factor is the rate of success signing top-10 free agents. A cursory glance at the list above reveals a lot of misses and most teams are understandably hesitant to repeat those mistakes. The reasons for that are manyfold, but a big one is that teams are now signing their talented prospects to contract extensions well before they become eligible for free agency. As a result, players become free agents later in their careers, past their primes. Teams signing free agents are taking on more post-prime years than they were before. Players that do hit free agency before or during their prime are either not as talented as their peers that signed extensions or reached the major leagues at a young age (like Bryce Harper if and when he becomes a free agent).

Earlier this month, Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti also said that, as a result of every organization now having implemented an analytics department, teams are starting to value players very similarly. That is true just as much of free agents as it is about players involved in trades. If Teams A, B, C, and D all value Free Agent Guy at a maximum of $70 million over three years, then he isn’t likely to get his asking price of five years and $125 million because those teams aren’t as likely to get into a bidding war against each other.

These factors -- the CBT, history, and analytics -- have created a chasm between what players want and what teams are willing to pay. That’s why we’re seeing a majority of the top free agents remain teamless going into the new year. For team owners and executives, this is a great development. For players, agents, and people who care about labor issues, this isn’t heading in a good direction and must be addressed when the next collective bargaining agreement is negotiated. The players’ share of league revenues continues to decline.

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