Every year, ESPN's Jayson Stark looks at the remaining free agents on the market and tries to put together a team full of those unsigned players.
It's a fun exercise. Except this year, when not signing free agents is akin to tanking.
To be fair, this year's crop of unsigned free agents is more robust than usual, and it's fair to ask why. In order to answer this question, first, let's take a look at Stark's list.
I don't think I've ever done an All-Unemployed Team on Feb 15 before. But here's the rotation: Gallardo, Simon, Lincecum, Lohse, Guthrie— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) February 15, 2016
OK, so for his starting rotation, Stark has Yovani Gallardo, Alfredo Simon, Tim Lincecum, Kyle Lohse and Savannah Guthrie.
No wait, he probably means Jeremy Guthrie. I'll just assume that. Now, his position players.
Your All-Unemployed lineup: 1B Morneau, 2B Uribe, SS Desmond, 3B Freese, LF Byrd, CF Fowler, RF Jackson, C Tony Sanchez, DH Alvarez— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) February 15, 2016
At first base, Justin Morneau. At second, Juan Uribe. There's Ian Desmond at shortstop and David Freese at third. In the outfield you've got Marlon Byrd, Dexter Fowler and Austin Jackson, catcher Tony Sanchez and designated hitter Pedro Alvarez.
I've already made the case for, given the right price, the Phillies to make offers to Desmond and Alvarez. We'll get into the others in a minute.
And how about the bench?
All-Unemployed Bench is deep! Rollins, Raburn, Venable, Denorfia, Rios, Joyce, Victorino, DeJesus, Barmes, Corey Hart, Dom Brown, Stubbs— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) February 15, 2016
Yeah, it's deep alright. Deep in...
OK, so, let's break this down. Why aren't any of these guys signed yet? There are a multitude of reasons.
There are three players tied to qualifying offers who, had the QOs not been attached to them at the start of the off-season, would have signed weeks ago.
Desmond would have certainly found a home with the White Sox, Rays, or any number of other teams in need of a quality young shortstop. Gallardo is a consistent pitcher who is still just 29 years old. A reasonable four-year deal would certainly have been proffered. And Fowler is a quality leadoff hitter and center fielder who could help any number of teams.
But let's not kid ourselves. Teams do not want to give up their first round draft picks (or a second round pick if their first rounder is in the top 10) and the slot money that goes with it to sign one of these free agents.
The Baltimore Orioles are said to be considering adding both Gallardo and Fowler. But doing so would cost them two draft picks. And while both Gallardo and Fowler would make them better, Baltimore must decide if they would make the better to the point of pushing them past the Yankees, Rays, Blue Jays and/or the Red Sox in the AL East.
CHANGE IN PHILOSOPHY
Major League teams have finally realized something. Signing free agents is not the best way to build a baseball team.
Teams build through the draft. While some writers are stuck in the past, thinking free agents are still the best way to build a roster, Major League clubs now know better. Heck, even the Phillies have caught on!
So no, signing a guy like Marlon Byrd doesn't make a whole lot of sense for most teams. They can get the same amount of production from a platoon or younger players than they can from a guy like Byrd.
MOST OF THESE GUYS AREN'T EVEN ALL THAT GOOD ANYMORE
Let's break down some of the numbers on these free agents. We'll set aside Desmond, Gallardo and Fowler, who are admittedly good players unfortunately tied to that qualifying offer nonsense.
Quick, what do all four of these pitchers have in common?
Oh yeah, they all stink.
Why would any Major League franchise sign these guys? Even a team with a horrific rotation like the Rockies wouldn't touch any of these players with a 10-foot pole. The only guy who is semi-interesting in Lincecum, and only in a relief role.
There is a reason these guys are unemployed. They are lousy pitchers. End of story.
|Tony Sanchez (AAA)||27||371||.236||.342||.342||3||102||N/A|
Look, there are a few guys here that do warrant a spot on a big league club somewhere.
Justin Morneau is a decent hitter, but concussions have taken their toll, limiting him to just 182 plate appearances last year. It's quite understandable a team hasn't jumped on board the Morneau boat with both feet. Uribe is a solid bench player on a contending team, he'll land somewhere. And Freese can hit a little bit, too.
They are useful pieces and probably will be scooped up at some point in spring training.
Marlon Byrd hits a few homers, but strikes out a ton and was only worth one win above replacement last year. Austin Jackson is OK, but for a corner outfielder, his production isn't terrific.
Pedro Alvarez is another guy I suggested could be a fit for the Phillies, if his power comes back. At 29, he does three things, strike out, walk and hit homers. Unfortunately, what he does most is strike out. He's a DH candidate that will land with a team sooner or later.
Again, most of these guys are decent players, but you can understand why teams are waiting to get a deal this late in the off-season.
And as for Stark's bench, very few of the players listed there would be of any use to anyone.
A number of them are former Phils. Jimmy Rollins was just terrible last year (.224/.285/.358, 0.2 fWAR), as was Domonic Brown (.228/.284/.349, fWAR -0.4). Shane Victorino can't stay on the field. Corey Hart and Drew Stubbs would have been intriguing options about five years ago.
Will Venable was worth 0.8 and 1.2 fWAR the last two years. You can find someone in your farm system to do that for you. Alex Rios (0.1 and 0.2 fWAR the last two years) has nothing left in the tank. Matt Joyce, once an excellent platoon hitter, had himself a horrific 2015, putting up a -1.4 fWAR. David DeJesus was below replacement level last year. And Clint Barmes hit .232/.281/.353 with an fWAR of 0.0 in 2015, numbers no teams are clamoring for.
The only bench players worth looking at are Ryan Raburn and Chris Denorfia, who have value as a right-handed hitters who can crush lefties, but both are strictly platoon guys.
IT'S NOT ABOUT TANKING
When you look at the actual numbers of the players listed on Stark's free agent "All Star Team," it's pretty clear that the reason the good players are still unsigned are the qualifying offers, and the reason the other guys aren't signed is because they're strictly platoon players (which are valuable) or because they're just not any good.
But let's please put to bed the hand wringing about free agents not being signed because teams like the Phillies, Braves, Reds, Brewers, Rockies and Padres are giving up on the 2016 season. This has nothing to do with tanking.
If you're the Phillies, why would you sign Marlon Byrd? If you sign him, that's one less spot in the outfield for Tyler Goeddel to play and to put Nick Williams if he gets the call in mid-season. Yes, Peter Bourjous was signed to play some outfield and it's likely he'll be the team's starting right fielder on Opening Day. But does anyone really expect Bourjous to be playing every day for the entire season?
Of course not. And why would the Phils clog up a rotation spot with the likes of Lincecum, Simon, Guthrie or Lohse? Frankly, Jeremy Hellickson and Charlie Morton are better than any of those guys, and the young guys on the 40-man roster like Vincent Velasquez and Aaron Oberholtzer have far more promise than that foursome.
And for those who think the Phillies should have been aggressive and signed someone like Scott Kazmir, the same argument applies. That's one less roster spot and one fewer spot in the rotation to offer to a young pitcher with a chance to be a part of the next good Phils team. In one year's time, everyone would be counting down the days until Kazmir's contract expired. Not to mention the fact that Kazmir would have to want to play here in the first place!
I still think a player like Desmond would be a great fit on a one or three-year deal, moving him to second base once J.P. Crawford is ready. Alvarez intrigues me as a first baseman as does Lincecum as a reliever.
But there are reasons these guys are still out there. And just because teams were dumb enough to add on aging veterans at the end of the off-season in the past, doesn't mean the horrors of rebuilding, a.k.a. "tanking," are to blame this year.
Get rid of the qualifing offers with the new CBA, and you'll see the free agent market move once again.
Teams will still sign good players. They just have to be good.