The Hot Stove League 2017 …

I want to talk about something other than the NFL this morning – not because there is nothing concerning the NFL to talk about but because I have spent too much time on that area of the sports world recently.  So, let me take a look at MLB’s Hot Stove League action.

Given the fact that pitchers and catchers will start to report to MLB Spring training camps in less than 4 weeks, what I am actually looking at is MLB’s Hot Stove League inactivity.  When I checked yesterday, there were still 155 MLB free agents who have not signed with any team yet.  With 30 MLB teams as the only landing spots for those free agents, that means the average team will need to sign about 5 free agents in the next month.  I doubt seriously that there are that many openings in MLB.  [Aside:  By my count, 58 free agents have already signed new deals meaning that only 27% of the free agents as of November 2017 know where they will be playing next season.]

Let me focus on outfielders as an example – simply because that is what I started counting yesterday.  By my tally, there are between 32 and 35 outfielders out there as free agents.  The reason there is uncertainty is that for some free agents, it is difficult to tell what position they might fill for a team in 2018.  As an example, Mark Trumbo is on the list.

  • Is Mark Trumbo an outfielder?
  • Is Mark Trumbo a DH?
  • Is Mark Trumbo a first baseman?

I counted him as an outfielder because I did.  Recognizing again that there are only 30 MLB teams to provide major league contracts to those 32-35 outfielders, that means every team would need to sign an outfielder in the next month.  The fact is that there are teams out there whose outfield positions are already set, and those teams would have no interest in another outfielder.  As one example, consider the Boston Red Sox:

  • Starters are Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Bets and Jackie Bradley.  That is not going to change unless one of them is the victim of an alien abduction.
  • Bryce Brentz is the probable 4th outfielder based on performance and the fact that his last name begins with the letter “B”.
  • I doubt that Mark Trumbo fits into that roster.  So, I do not see how the matrix of talent still out there is going to match up with team needs/wants.  And that is just one issue…

Another issue is the new way that the luxury tax is computed.  It used to be simple but in the current CBA the two sides must have decided to get fancy when it comes to the CBA.  I am not going to try to summarize all the nuances of the MLB “luxury tax” here but here is a link to Wikipedia on the subject.  This gives you the entire history of the luxury tax if you are interested but if you scroll down to the section labeled “2002 – Present”, you will see what the current tax regimen is.

The bottom line is that there is a significant financial incentive for MLB teams to get under the luxury tax threshold this year in anticipation of the Hot Stove League activities next winter.  Absent some shocking developments, these three players will headline the show of free agents next year:

  • Bryce Harper
  • Clayton Kershaw – assuming he opts out of his deal as he should from a financial standpoint
  • Manny Machado

I listed them alphabetically there because I do not want to make distinctions among those three as to which one is the “best player”; the answer is that all of them are outstanding and all of they are going to get a ton of money next year.  But the teams with hefty payrolls now who have been playing luxury tax need to get under the threshold now or their luxury tax payments – should they go wild and sign one of these mega-deals – would be significant even to teams like the Dodgers or the Yankees.

When I took an economics course in college, we covered the Law of Supply and Demand.  In a situation where supply is well beyond demand, this law says that prices will fall.  That seems to be the case with the 58 free agents who have already signed contracts for next year.  This winter, 3-year deals in the range of $38M – $60M have been struck – – but there are only a handful of them.  Players signing 1-year deals are getting between $2M and $6M generally.  The biggest contract signed so far – in terms of total value to the player – is:

  • Carlos Santana  He signed a 3-year deal with the Phillies worth a total of $60M.  He is 31 years old and plays first base.

Moving on … there are times when I read a report and think to myself that this is a good and noble thing these folks are doing but I have no idea how what they just did will change much of anything.  For example, if I read that the Interfaith Council of Beaglebreath NE issued a proclamation stating that peace is better than war, I would agree with that sentiment and pay no more attention to it.  I would file that proclamation under “F” for “Feckless”.

Recently, there was an AP report saying that the leaders of the players unions from MLB, NFL, NHL and NBA have joined with the heads of almost 100 unions to present a Universal Declaration of Players’ Rights.  Cue SNL’s church Lady here:

“Well, isn’t that SPE-cial?”

Among the universal player rights, evidently, are:

  1. The right to unionize and collectively bargain.  [Wonder who among the 100 unions participating here threw that one on the table for consideration.]
  2. Equal pay for equal work.  [Good luck here.  What is the metric for “equal work” between a hockey defenseman and an NBA point guard?]
  3. The right to express opinions freely.  [Unless of course you play for the Patriots and think Bill Belichick made a bad decision on third-and-short in the 2nd quarter last week.]

All of those are worthy goals.  The first and the third are pretty much in place now and the second one is likely to come about around the same time as the achievement of world peace with the elimination of world hunger.  However, I am certain that everyone felt very good after that presentation.

Finally, here is a comment from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:

“After a collision, New York Ranger Jimmy Vesey played most of a game with two teeth embedded in his lower lip. It’s not as gross as it sounds — he’s pretty sure one of the teeth is his.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



2 thoughts on “The Hot Stove League 2017 …”

  1. Baseball teams are getting smarter. No more 5 plus years for an over 30 sluggers. In 2013, the Yanks gave Jacoby Ellsbury $150 over 7 years. Four years later they couldn’t give him away.

    1. david:

      Agree. Long-term deals for guys over 30 at the start of the deal are very risky. The only thing riskier than a long term deal for an “over 30 slugger” is a 7-year deal for a starting pitcher – at almost any age.

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