SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — We are five days from Opening Day. Teams, including the Cubs, are finalizing their Opening Day rosters.
And there are still quite a number of players who were significant contributors to their teams in 2017 who are still unemployed. Here’s a list of 14 of them:
As Opening Day approaches, Greg Holland, Jayson Werth, Matt Holliday, Jose Bautista, Mark Reynolds, Melky Cabrera, J.J. Hardy, Brandon Phillips, Seth Smith, Stephen Drew, Andre Ethier, Joe Blanton, John Lackey and Carlos Ruiz are among the free agents who've yet to find teams.— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) March 23, 2018
You might be able to cross Lackey, who will turn 40 later this year, off that list:
Not sure how hard Lackey is looking. Lester told me yesterday Lackey was on a boat adjacent to the match play golf tournament in Austin. https://t.co/wQMPngzGCe— jon greenberg (@jon_greenberg) March 23, 2018
There were strong rumors that Lackey was going to announce his retirement after the 2017 season, but that never happened. Lackey got the “jewelry” he came to Chicago for, and though he was largely ineffective in 2017, his 2016 season definitely helped the Cubs to the World Series championship. So we thank him for that, for sure.
The rest of those players? Several of them (Jayson Werth, Andre Ethier, Carlos Ruiz in particular) are in their late 30s and have been ineffective or played little over the last couple of seasons, and are players who ordinarily might simply have announced their retirement.
Seth Smith has been a pretty good bench player the last few years. Mark Reynolds is 34 and hit 30 home runs with an .839 OPS in 2017. Melky Cabrera is 33 and is just one year removed from a 2.5 bWAR season with the White Sox in 2016.
Jerry Crasnick sums this all up better than I could have:
I understand that teams are going young and experience has been devalued in the current MLB climate. But when this many veterans are purged in a single offseason, there's something wrong with the system.— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) March 23, 2018
This has been a theme most of this offseason. The summary is: the players negotiated away a lot of what they had previously won in free agency, team management has gotten smarter in use of analytics that had previously been used mainly by agents, and teams have figured out that they can get similar value out of younger players who cost far less than the veterans noted above.
So of the 14 free agents listed in Crasnick’s tweet, only Greg Holland is a true surprise. Holland is 32 — two months younger than Wade Davis — and had a very good year for the Rockies, helping lead them to a wild-card spot in 2017. As of last week a couple of teams had “checked in” on him, and there were rumors that the Rockies had offered him a deal similar to the one Davis eventually got, but nothing came of that.
The lack of activity in this winter’s free agent market has been at least partly attributed to the desirability of next offseason’s free-agents-to-be Bryce Harper and Clayton Kershaw, among others. If next year’s free agents find the same lack of offers as this year’s group did, that will be an ominous sign for a potential labor stoppage after the current CBA expires following the 2021 season.
Opening Day is five days away. Try to enjoy the season.