Scott Boras has mostly himself to blame for his clients remaining unsigned. Boras misplaces the blame on teams “not trying to win,” going so far as to call them a “cancer” that should be kicke d out of the league. The reality is that the MLB and its teams have changed tactics, and Boras is frustrated because his tactics aren’t working. Remember, JD Martinez has a 5 year, $125 million offer from the Red Sox. But Boras wants more for his client (and himself). Eric Hosmer, who has seven year offers from both the Padres and Royals, is reportedly pushing for an eighth year. Jake Arrieta, a pitcher who tossed a 3.53 ERA last year, wants $200 million. Yes teams are being more frugal, but there are lucrative offers for Boras’ clients.
There are a number of factors playing into the mindset of teams this offseason. Out of the major free agents, Hosmer is the youngest at 28. Martinez is 30 and Arrieta is 32. Other ages of Boras clients: 32, 29, 32, 32. Not exactly young guns. Consider that next offseason will see the likes of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, who will both be 26 next year. Contracts of 6-plus years seem more worth it for guys who won’t be 30 anytime soon. Why commit 7 years and $200 million on a defensive liability in JD Martinez when next season you could get Bryce Harper for 7 years and $220 million. Another factor is the luxury tax, which acts as a soft salary cap. High spending teams like the Dodgers and Yankees have cited the luxury tax threshold as a concern. Repeat offenses against this threshold leads to harsher penalties, to a point where the tax is 100%.
The biggest factor contributing to this slow offseason is that the way to win is no longer signing every big free agent. The past three World Series champions have all built from within: the Kansas City Royals, Chicago Cubs, and Houston Astros. Even the Giants, who won 3 out of five years, were built on a core made up of Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner, homegrown players. Yes, these teams made key signings and trades, but their success validated the merits of being bad for a time. Development systems have improved in the MLB. Prospects have much more value because the success rate seems to be high. Teams rarely miss on prospects nowadays. What teams have missed on is big free agent contracts. Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, and Chris Davis (all sluggers like Martinez) are big contracts that have not had great return on investment. Jordan Zimmermann got 5 years, $110 million from the Tigers going into his age 30 season. Baseball Reference slots him among pitchers like Mat Latos and Chad Billingsley. Jake Arrieta, at 32 and with about a year and a half of ace material, wants $200 million dollars. No thank you.
It’s also not that teams haven’t gone all in to win recently. The Padres and White Sox come to mind. Now both have very good farm systems and have a bright future. The Phillies tried to hang on to the likes of Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Chase Utley late into their careers. Now they have one of the most intriguing young teams in the league. Outside of the Athletics, Rays, and Marlins, most teams seem to have a long term plan that doesn’t involve giving crippling contracts to players who are less guaranteed than a 20-something-year-old the organization knows inside and out. Also, important to note: Lorenzo Cain (who is not a Boras client) got 5 years, $80 million. Teams aren’t getting cheaper, they’re getting smarter.
Scott Boras, whose only goal is to get his clients and himself paid, is certainly trying his best. But his comments on the “non-competitive cancer” are off-base. Teams are still giving out lucrative contracts and offers (7 years, $147 million for Hosmer). Boras is notorious for late signings. Combine that with a number of reasons teams shouldn’t break the bank, especially this offseason, and you get this stagnant offseason.