Nobody's spending — will we ever see another MLB offseason like 2016?

Nobody's spending — will we ever see another MLB offseason like 2016?

It feels like a totally different era at this point, but just three MLB offseasons ago, 13 players signed new contracts worth at least $70 million.

This offseason, there has been one: Patrick Corbin. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will surely exceed $70M, and maybe Dallas Keuchel too, but that'll be it.

Most of those players three offseasons ago would not have found a comparable deal last offseason or this offseason. Have a look at this free-agent class leading into 2016:

• David Price: 7 years, $217M
• Zack Greinke: 6 years, $206.5M
• Jason Heyward: 8 years, $184M
• Chris Davis: 7 years, $161M
• Justin Upton: 6 years, $132.75M
• Johnny Cueto: 6 years, $130M
• Jordan Zimmermann: 5 years, $110M
• Jeff Samardzija: 5 years, $90M
• Wei-Yin Chen: 5 years, $80M
• Mike Leake: 5 years, $80M
• Yoenis Cespedes: 3 years, $75M
• Alex Gordon: 4 years, $72M
• Ian Kennedy: 5 years, $70M

That offseason is a good example (on top of many before it) of why teams have adjusted their spending philosophies. Of those 13 players, how many of the contracts were regrettable for the team?

I'd argue every single one except Price, and that's only because of how instrumental Price was in this past postseason's ALCS and World Series. Championships make it all worth it.

Every other player on that list has either been terribly disappointing (Davis, Heyward, Kennedy, Chen, Zimmermann, Gordon, Samardzija), mediocre, injured, or has been shopped because his team realizes it can't contend while paying that much money to one player. Greinke and Upton fall into that last category, with Upton already being dealt from the Tigers to the Angels and with the D-backs trying hard to move Greinke this offseason.

One of the interesting things about that offseason leading into 2016 is that four of the players who signed huge contracts were unsigned until late January. Davis, Upton, Chen and Cespedes all signed between Jan. 19 and Jan. 26. The obvious difference between this offseason and that one is that five players had already signed contracts of more than $100 million at that point.

The next year, the offseason heading into 2017, each of the top 10 free agents was signed by Jan. 10. 

Last year, the offseason heading into 2018, Jake Arrieta (March 12), J.D. Martinez (Feb. 26), Eric Hosmer (Feb. 19) and Yu Darvish (Feb. 13) were unsigned at this point. The long, long waiting game still paid off for each player, with a post-prime Arrieta getting $75 million over three years, Martinez getting $110 million over five years with early opt-outs to allow him to go make more after 2019 and/or 2020, and Hosmer receiving $144 million over eight years from the Padres. Darvish's deal was six years, $126 million.

It seems like the Hosmers of the world will no longer be sniffing $144 million. He was a somewhat unique case because he was 27 years old, coming off a career year with a championship on his resume. That player wasn't available in free agency this year — Harper and Machado don't count because they're in a completely different tier. Production-wise, Hosmer is closer to an A.J. Pollock or Michael Brantley.

If Hosmer was a free agent this year, would he get even half of that total value? It seems more likely nowadays he'd sign for $64 million or so.

Baseball is cyclical. Spending is cyclical. Front-office philosophies are cyclical. Right now, teams are obsessed with playing the "value" game — getting solid major-league production from young players in their pre-arbitration years or during the arbitration process. Teams have seen too many examples of players making at least $15 million per year producing the same as a 24-year-old making the minimum.

That sucks for the players, and it's frustrating for the fans who just want to see their team spend and win, but would you be approaching it differently if you were in a front office? If you were the GM, the assistant GM, or the person signing the checks? It makes business sense for these front offices. 

Fans don't pay to see GMs negotiate, they pay to see players play, so the frustration is completely justified. It just doesn't appear to be changing any time soon.

Unless ...

Unless teams begin realizing in a year or two that with so few of their competitors spending in free agency, an opportunity is being presented to add a lot of talent and separate yourself from the pack. If just one or two teams take that approach and win using that approach, maybe the cycle ends sooner rather than later.

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COVID-19 cases and player opt-outs mounting across MLB

COVID-19 cases and player opt-outs mounting across MLB

The Phillies have four players on the COVID-19 injured list (Hector Neris, Ranger Saurez, Scott Kingery and Tommy Hunter) and three more who have yet to arrive in camp because of coronavirus protocols (Aaron Nola, Adam Haseley and Christian Bethancourt).

We’re already seeing how unsteady and unpredictable this 60-game season will be. Nola is the Phillies’ best starting pitcher and Neris is their best reliever. Kingery is their starting second baseman. Haseley was set to start or split time in center field. Suarez was in the race for the fifth starter’s job.

So much for the Phillies would change without them, and it’s reasonable to expect at least a few of them will miss time early in the season. Phillies lefty Cole Irvin said Saturday he thinks it could take pitchers up to six weeks to return from coronavirus because it would require two weeks of quarantine, then the resumption of throwing, then a few bullpen sessions. The severity of cases varies, but it looks like it will generally cost pitchers more time than position players.

The best hitter in the NL East, Freddie Freeman, is also dealing with COVID-19 and is not feeling well at all right now, according to his wife Chelsea. Braves manager Brian Snitker told reporters Saturday "it will be a while 'til we can get him back." It totally changes the Braves’ equation and 2020 chances if their rock is missing for a third of the season.

Will Smith, Atlanta’s top-tier lefty reliever signed to a three-year, $39 million in the offseason, also tested positive. Then on Saturday, Braves starting pitcher Felix Hernandez opted out of the season, as did their first base coach Eric Young Sr. Four Marlins players tested positive as well.

Yankees All-Star infielder D.J. LeMahieu tested positive.  So did Royals catcher Salvador Perez, Twins slugger Miguel Sano, Padres outfielder Tommy Pham and Indians speedster Delino DeShields Jr. Last week, Charlie Blackmon tested positive. There are at least another dozen known or suspected cases around the league with more, surely, to come.

On Friday, Mike Trout said "Honestly, I still don’t feel comfortable" about the season ahead with a pregnant wife.

On Saturday, Dodgers left-hander David Price opted out of the season because of health and family concerns, joining King Felix, Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman, Mike Leake and Joe Ross. Buster Posey is reportedly mulling the decision too.

Other than that ... decent first weekend of camp?

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Aaron Nola not in Phillies camp; will Zack Wheeler start opener?

Aaron Nola not in Phillies camp; will Zack Wheeler start opener?

It has been widely assumed that Aaron Nola will make his third straight opening day start when the Phillies begin their shortened 2020 season later this month.

But now you have to wonder if things might be shaping up for Zack Wheeler to make that start.

Nola has not participated in either of the Phillies' first two workouts since training camp opened — re-opened might be a better way to put it — on Friday.

"He is not here yet," manager Joe Girardi said Saturday. "We're trying to work our way through that."

Nola is said to be working out, throwing, locally. It's unclear why he has not worked out with the club, though many things are unclear in the age of COVID-19. Girardi is prohibited from discussing anything related specifically to COVID-19.

Center fielder Adam Haseley has also missed the first two workouts. He is also said to be working out locally, away from the team.

Girardi did say Haseley's absence was "due to a medical condition. We're trying to work through it and get him here."

Ditto for non-roster catcher Christian Bethancourt, who, despite being absent from the 60-man player pool, is still part of the organization, according to Girardi.

Already, the Phillies are without pitchers Ranger Suarez, Tommy Hunter and Hector Neris and second baseman Scott Kingery. All are on a special COVID-19 injured list.

If you're keeping score at home, the Phillies have yet to see their potential opening day starting pitcher, their second baseman and their center fielder. That's not exactly good for the strength-up-the-middle philosophy. At least shortstop Didi Gregorius worked out for the first time Saturday. Catcher J.T. Realmuto is in camp and working out, as well.

Given that Nola has been throwing, it's still possible he could make the opening day start in three weeks. But if he's delayed much longer getting into camp, Wheeler could jump in. The right-hander threw to hitters on Saturday and his next outing could come in an intrasquad game, according to Girardi. That could put him considerably ahead of Nola.

"I thought he looked pretty good," Girardi said of Wheeler's work on Saturday. "I think in a lot of ways, pitchers might be ahead of where they would be in a normal spring training when it comes to the volume, but what they're missing is having a hitter in there and competing. 

"That's what our concern is about, being sharp and being able to get out of jams and those sorts of things. But I thought he looked pretty good today. His next outing, I'm not sure what it'll be, if it'll be another bullpen, a simulated game, or even an intrasquad but he should be able to go further as long as he wakes up and feels good."

It's not a given that Wheeler would be the opening day starter if Nola doesn't get enough time to prepare with the team. Wheeler's wife is due to give birth around the time of the July 23 or 24 opener. He will leave the team for a few days to be with his wife. But if the birth doesn't happen until a day or two after opening day, Wheeler could make that start then slip away to be with his family and possibly not even miss a start.

More will be known in the coming days. But Nola's status is certainly something to keep an eye on.

Meanwhile, another player, former American League Cy Young winner David Price of the Dodgers, opted out of his season on Saturday because of concerns about COVID-19.

Girardi is still confident the season will get off the ground.

Time will tell.

"I think there's a lot of concern and I think that's why we continue to educate as much as we can," he said. "We continue to test every other day, there's temperature checks a number of times during the day. 

"It's players being socially responsible to themselves, to the people around them, and to their teammates. If you have a symptom, don't just assume 'Ah, I have a headache today. It's normal,' or 'I'm sneezing more than normal today. It's my allergies.' You have to be completely honest in all of these questionnaires that we fill out or you jeopardize everyone in the room. It is a concern, yes."

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