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The Free Agent Market

2008 November 26
by Skip Sauer

Has the free agent market seized up?

Since Nov. 14, when teams were permitted to discuss contract terms with free agents, only 2 of the 171 players who filed for free agency have signed: Jeremy Affeldt, who went to San Francisco, and Ryan Dempster, whose decision to re-sign with the Chicago Cubs hardly came as a surprise.

…A review of baseball’s transaction history since 2001 showed that the only period featuring fewer signings in the first 12 days of open bidding than this year came in the 2002-3 off-season, when Jesse Orosco was the only free agent who had signed. Each of the last five free-agent off-seasons included at least six signings by this stage, led by the 2006 bonanza when Alfonso Soriano, Juan Pierre, Nomar Garciaparra, Gary Matthews Jr., Aramis Ramírez and Frank Thomas signed before Thanksgiving.

There is a similarly attractive group of free agents available this year — C. C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Manny Ramírez and Francisco Rodríguez, for starters — but teams seem to be proceeding cautiously and dispensing fewer offers than in years past.

Some baseball executives have suggested that many teams, unsure of how long it will take for the economy to rebound, are reluctant to offer expensive multiyear deals.

This will be interesting to follow between now and the new season. Increased uncertainty over market conditions and the market price for talent should delay contract formation as teams and players wait on more information to arrive. But given the rents involved and the value of pre-season training, one would expect the market to settle sometime before then – perhaps much closer to when players report to camp than in normal years. These conditions may induce more trading of players within the season as well.

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