PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — In a normal offseason, Jay Bruce’s signing would have seemed down-to-the-wire — a three-year deal inked a mere month before players were set to report to spring training.
This is not a normal offseason.
“Shoot, I feel like I’m an early offseason move compared to what’s going on,” Bruce said this past week after reporting to First Data Field. “It’s crazy. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
No one really has. After decades of big names signing big contracts, this offseason has been marked by an almost universal unwillingness by teams to open up the purse strings. It affected Bruce, who signed for what could be considered less than market value at $39 million for those three years.
It could affect Matt Harvey, who’s up for free agency next year. And it most certainly has affected players such as Jake Arrieta, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, who are living in purgatory in Bradenton, Florida. (That’s where the MLB players association has set up a spring training camp for the slew of unsigned players.)
Harvey said he won’t comment about his own free agency — “performance and everything that happens and our goals as a team is more,” he said — but as someone who’s on the union’s executive board, Harvey conceded that the free-agent freeze is a problem. It just so happens that it’s a problem that might cost him some serious cash next year.
“We’re definitely feeling for those guys,” he said. “It’s unfortunate what’s going on. The whole thing with baseball is that you want to play against the best — in order to be the best, you have to play against the best — and right now, some of the best players are unsigned.”
He added: “It’s going to eventually play itself out. Obviously, those guys are doing a good job holding back and staying strong and staying together and I think it’s great what they did, having that facility for them to work out and, like I said, everything will work itself out and hopefully it’s for the best.”
But there’s always a chance this trend is here to stay. Players may be bigger, stronger and faster, but owners appear tired of paying them commensurate with their ever-growing abilities. Agents are trying not to budge — one, Brodie Van Wagenen, even floated the idea of a spring training boycott — but the desire to play, even at a discounted rate, can be stronger than a few extra million dollars.
“I just hope for everyone that they end up getting to where they want to get to and everybody finding jobs and getting back going,” Bruce said. “I don’t know what there really is to say about it. I’m sure many people have a lot of different thoughts and theories . . . I hope there’s a resolution to it all and everyone finds a spot and no one is left without a chair when the music stops.”