Hosmer deal quiets collusion talk, but questions linger in odd market

With Eric Hosmer signing a big contract in San Diego, one would think free agency is the overall goal of an MlB player. Not so for Marco Estrada, who is relieved to be avoiding the frenzy altogether.

DUNEDIN, Fla. – In recent weeks, some agents and executives downplayed concern about an exceptionally slow-moving off-season with speculation that Eric Hosmer had a substantial offer in hand.

The eight-year, $144-million agreement Hosmer now has with the San Diego Padres represents the biggest deal of the winter, and suggests that teams are indeed willing to spend on elite players. Still, there’s concern that lesser players are frozen out, especially once they start aging.

“It’s like Hollywood,” one agent said recently. “You’ve got these leading players making a [boat]load of money and extras making the minimum.”

To that point, Fernando Abad accepted a minor-league deal Saturday and many other established free agents will have to follow suit if they want contracts. Many star players remain unsigned, too, but commissioner Rob Manfred said recently that teams are acting in accordance with the CBA.

If anything, Manfred suggested, Scott Boras might be responsible for the slow off-season pace. Without naming names, Manfred called out Boras, who represents Hosmer as well as J.D. Martinez, Mike Moustakas, Jake Arrieta and Greg Holland.

“Drawing lines in the sand based on a perception that your market value is something different than what the market is telling you your value is, that doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Manfred said. “It is a fact that markets dictate value. Values are not dictated by big, thick, three-ring binders and rhetoric about who’s better than whom. They’re dictated by markets. That’s the system we negotiated.”

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

Just as there was speculation about Hosmer’s offers, some speculate that Arrieta and Martinez have nine-figure deals available. They might not be as lucrative as the ones Boras initially sought, but then GMs aren’t in the habit of handing out contracts recklessly anymore.

That means agents must adjust expectations to align with what teams value. Some players, like Tyler Chatwood, earn more now than they would have a decade ago. Many others will earn less. If the likes of Arrieta and Martinez do land generous contracts, then some of the concern about this slow-developing market would disappear.

Really, though, this is a big-picture question that can’t be answered by any one data point, whether it’s a lucrative deal like Hosmer’s or a team-friendly deal like the two-year, $17-million contract signed by Todd Frazier and the New York Mets. Until the final numbers are in, we’re dealing with incomplete information.

To this point, Curtis Granderson’s not outwardly concerned. Granderson holds the highest elected position possible for a union member as one of two MLBPA Association Player Representatives and he struck a diplomatic tone when asked about the market this week.

“Everything is still moving up. Revenue is at an all-time high. Minimum salaries are at an all-time high,” Granderson said. “The reason those things get a chance to go up is because of the talent that you put out on the field, and what that talent does to bring people want to buy your jerseys and want to buy your hats and want to pay for tickets to come to the game. As long as everything continues to move in the right direction, in the same direction, I think it’s going to be a good thing.”

That may be so, but free agency has long been the reward for six years of big-league time. Now some players see an unforgiving market and are happy to avoid it.

“It’s unfortunate,” said Marco Estrada, who signed a one-year extension with the Blue Jays last September instead of testing free agency. “I’m blessed and happy that I was able to take care of that stuff early so I had none of those headaches and none of the stress about where I was going to end up. It was really nice to enjoy this off-season.”

In years past, free agents enjoyed the off-season by cashing in with big-ticket deals. That some are now happy to avoid free agency suggests that there’s still reason for concern on the player side, even after Hosmer’s massive deal.

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