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edge staff writer


MLB money matters - Some of the off-season’s biggest deals

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MLB money matters - Some of the off-season’s biggest deals (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The times have changed with regards to major league baseball and free agency. The last couple of years have seen a drastic alteration in how owners have approached the business. Teams are far more reluctant to offer up the big-money deals that once ruled the landscape; even the best players are getting waited out.

However, we could feel relatively confident that we wouldn’t get TOO deep into spring training before the market’s two shiniest stars – Manny Machado and Bryce Harper – would be signed to deals at or near the level they sought. In a game of contract chicken that was the biggest talking point of the entire offseason, both men held out for what they believed themselves to be worth.

Eventually, they found teams that shared that belief.

The first to sign was Machado, who the San Diego Padres inked to a 10-year, $300 million contract. The infielder – who will likely move back to third base after a year of playing shortstop – is entering his age-26 season. His career line - .282/.335/.487 over seven years, along with 175 homers and more than 500 RBI and runs scored – is impressive for a still-young player. He’s also a defensive whiz, with two Gold Gloves to his name. However, he has also been dogged somewhat by the perception of a lack of hustle on his part – a perception that is largely unfair.

The deal – the largest in raw dollars in free agent history and second only to Giancarlo Stanton’s 13-year, $325 million extension in total value in all of North American professional sports – features an opt-out option after five years. In addition, he has a limited no-trade clause. The deal held its place in the record books for … about a week.

That’s when outfielder Bryce Harper signed a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. It hasn’t been quite the career expected from the phenom who appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16, but his seven-year totals with the Nationals – 184 homers, 585 RBI, 610 runs; a .279/.388/.512 line – are darned good. His struggle has been consistency; he’s been up-and-down some since his 2015 NL MVP campaign. He’s been dinged for his defense, but that seems likely to turn around to some extent. His ceiling is sky-high, but one wonders when we might see MVP Harper again.

This contract is officially the biggest in North American pro sports history, although the truth is that some of the free agent deals in the early 2000s are considerably larger when inflation is taken into account. Still, Harper got what he (and undoubtedly agent Scott Boras) wanted – he can now say “biggest contract ever.”

Another massive deal – albeit an extension rather than a free agent signing – was the one that third baseman Nolan Arenado got from the Colorado Rockies. The terms of the contract are significant (eight years and $260 million), but so too is Arenado – in six years, he has hit 186 homers (leading the league twice), driven in 616 runs (leading the league twice) and scoring 524 times. He’s also slashed .297/.346/.539, put up four top-10 MVP finishes and won a Gold Glove every year he’s been in the league.

Other prominent free agent signings include pitcher Patrick Corbin with the Nationals (six years, $140 million) and outfielder A.J. Pollock with the Dodgers (five years, $60 million), but for the most part, there haven’t been many massive multiyear deals getting handed out.

No one is more aware of that fact than pitchers Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel. Both men remain unsigned even as spring training gets into full swing. Neither player has found a team that satisfies his contract demands.

Keuchel won a Cy Young Award in 2015, but has been more stalwart than star in the seasons since and is already 31. Still, he’s a proven left-hander; tough to think there aren’t teams out there who could use one of those.

Meanwhile, Kimbrel is probably the more desirable of the two. There’s no denying his bona fides as one of the best closers in baseball, even taking into account his postseason struggles last year. He’s as proven a commodity as there is at the back of the bullpen. However, his asking price – in the neighborhood of six years and $100 million – has been far too steep for cautious teams.

Big deals aren’t the be-all end-all of free agency – there are a lot of quality guys signing lowball and even minor league contracts. The market is changing; a handful of nine-figure deals won’t hide that fact forever.


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