MLB and the Pirates: Free agency update

Credit: Dan Gaken/via Flickr Wikimedia Commons Credit: Dan Gaken/via Flickr Wikimedia Commons

Free agency this year for baseball has been slow, to say the least. The two names that are still sticking around, waiting for a contract to sign, are Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. As a small market team, the Pittsburgh Pirates are not really in contention for either player, since they’re star players looking to go to a large market and the Pirates are unable to sign anybody with a contract larger than several million a year. Obviously, it’s shocking that Machado and Harper are still around, but the Pirates have made little headway in the free agent market themselves.

In recent weeks, the Pirates have signed mostly minor league deals with players past their prime or players who’ve never really hit it. Francisco Liriano and Melky Cabrera were signed to 1 year Minor League contracts, and so were the younger players Nick Franklin and Brandon Maurer. It’s classic Pirates fashion to sign a slew of players who will get a shot at Spring Training to play in the Majors again, but even the Pirates’ big-name signings this winter don’t carry the assured weight of pushing them into the playoffs.

Lonnie Chisenhall and Jung Ho Kang are the two position players that are poised to join — or rejoin, in Kang’s case — the Pirates. Chisenhall is a corner infielder/outfielder who has a career slash line of .268/.320/.427. He’s a great utility player to round out a roster, a veteran of an Indians team that has turned around their historic misfortunes, so he could be a missing piece to the puzzle for the Pirates. However, Chisenhall only fills the gap left by the injury to Gregory Polanco and not the desperately needed batting depth at shortstop. Jung Ho Kang does the same, with the positions played by Kang matching those of Chisenhall and Polanco, and his career slash is just slightly better than Chisenhall’s. After Kang’s arrest in the winter of 2016, his position with the Pirates was tenuous, but he’s quoted as desiring to make things right with the team.

For pitching depth, Jordan Lyles helps at the back end of the rotation, and with long innings relief, but the core of the Pirates rotation can be shaky. Chad Kuhl has an ERA above 4.0 and a WHIP that is well above 1.000. Trevor Williams had a good season last year, but some of his statistics leave questions hanging over his head, and Joe Musgrove is the same. So the Jordan Lyles signing is not quite inspiring confidence in the Pirates pitching rotation. Although, there are a few free agents left on the market that the Pirates could sign to help with that, like Dallas Keuchel, even though his contract may be more expensive than the Pirates are willing to shell out. Realistically, the Pirates could be in contention for Clay Buchholz or Gio Gonzalez, and their ability is just a little more inspiring than the current back end of the rotation.

It’s shocking that these names remain in free agency, though. Kuechel, Buchholz, and Gonzalez are all players who should be on some form of contract, but teams seem to be collectively holding off on signing anybody whose name could boost the price of their contract. The three players are all pitchers, and the first date for pitchers and catchers to report is Monday, Feb. 11. Most teams don’t report until Wednesday, Feb. 13 or Thursday, Feb. 14, but players are finding themselves out of jobs right as their season is starting. With the MLB’s Collective Bargaining Agreement up for negotiation in two winters from now, teams are gearing up for an extended arbitration with the Player’s Association.

FiveThirtyEight wrote an article titled, “How to Save MLB Free Agency.” The most glaring detail of the article is the decline in average dollar value for free agents in the past five seasons, with the average contract value dropping from $12.6 million in 2015-16 to $7.8 million last season. The Chicago Tribune titled an article, “Something is rotten about baseball free agency.” ESPN is calling it “The broken winter” and writing about “Why baseball must fix free agency ASAP.”

There are massive issues with the way the MLB has been moving recently, with an increasing reliance on technology, growing divides between owners and players, and worst of all, potentially adding a DH to the National League. But this winter of free agency is showing some of the worst parts of an oligarchical control over a market. Workers aren’t getting paid the way they should, consumers are becoming despondent, and money is sitting in the pockets of the owners. A Fansided blog by a Phillies fan says that the Phillies are ruining free agency by sitting on their hands, waiting for the price of Machado or Harper or Keuchel to go down, but saying it’s strictly the fault of the Phillies Front Office is saying that one team has the ability to control the entire free agent market, which means there are a few larger issues with the way free agency works.