“I will not be discussing anything relative to 2019 at all…If you guys do ask anything about that, I’ll be walking right out the door.’’ In a Scott Boras written quote delivered with a classic Bryce flavor, the sweepstakes for arguably the most prized free agent of all time began. A former MVP and five–time all-star rarely hits the open market at a ripe age like 26. Actually, it’s never happened. It’s easy to make an argument for Bryce commanding a record $400-$500mil contract but that would require ignoring what occurred this past offseason.
Opening day last Thursday marked the end of one of the most curious offseason’s of baseball. An offseason that saw many of the top tier free agents remaining unsigned well into spring training. Ultimately the free agents that did sign eventually settled for less dollars and shorter contracts (many accepted one-year deals for less money than the qualifying offers they rejected just a few months earlier). This has led to a private panic in clubhouses around the league, especially among impending free agents. The question becomes should the biggest free agent of 2019 also be worried about what occurred this past offseason?
To fully answer that question, we have to explore the driving factors behind this slow offseason. Scott Boras wants you to believe that too many teams are tanking and are therefore choosing not to be competitive by passing on signing free agents. That explanation, however, fails to address a number of important factors. Despite Boras’s claim, when you look closely at this offseason, teams in the “tank” category such as the Padres or Phillies actually did spend big dollars on free agents while the usual big spenders like the Dodgers stayed pat. Two of the best explanations revolve around the luxury tax handicapping the richest teams as well as the rising value of young prospects around baseball. The former predictably results in less spending even by the wealthiest teams but the later requires more explanation. When a team signs a free agent, that team gives up both draft picks as well as international signing bonus money. That might not sound like a lot or even mean much to the average fan, but executives have estimated the exact cost of that to be an additional $50mil on top of the money guaranteed in the contract. All in all, luxury tax implications and sacrificing cheap young talent have stalled the free agent market in a big way.
Shifting back to Bryce, many wonder if the upcoming free agent king is immune to these larger forces redefining how MLB teams spend money. These recent changes in baseball play right into the hands of the Nationals front office. One important exemption to the rule of giving up picks and prospects to sign free agents is for the current teams of those free agents. That means that even without Bryce giving the Nats a home team discount, a discount of about $50mil is already built into the new contract. The other advantage that the Nationals have lies in their ability to exclusively discuss a new contract with Scott Boras all season long. Boras would never agree to a contract extension for Bryce before the season ends, but this at least allows the Nats to lay down a possible framework for a deal that can be finalized in the offseason. It also doesn’t hurt that Bryce’s agent and the owners of the Nats– the Lerner Family are very familiar with each other in terms of free agent negotiations. All things considered, the Nats have a lot going for them in their chances to re–sign Bryce and this past offseason only made it easier.