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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Bryce Harper, Manny Machado headline MLB's Unemployed All-Star Team

For the second straight offseason, there's enough free agents yet to be signed that we can form our own team with them. 

The Nationals' Bryce Harper looks at his hand-painted

The Nationals' Bryce Harper looks at his hand-painted bat as he steps to the plate against the Mets at Citi Field on Aug. 24, 2018. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Rich Schultz

So here we go again. A year after baseball’s nuclear winter for free agents, with its glacial pace of signings, the sport is now coming to the dangerous realization that the 2018 market freeze wasn’t an isolated incident. It’s a full-blown industry trend, and one that threatens to further chill the already frosty relations between the owners and the Players Association. Lo and behold, for the second consecutive year, we present the All-Unemployed Team:

Catcher: Martin Maldonado

Somebody was going to be left out in the catcher derby this offseason, and Maldonado - a defensive standout with a .220 career batting average - is that somebody. Despite his light plate production, he’s great at gunning down runners, and a big asset for a pitching staff.

First base: Lucas Duda

The former Flushing resident has a pair of 30-homer seasons on his resume, the last coming in 2017, so he’s got some pop. Last season, Duda hit 14 homers in 367 plate appearances, and wound up being traded by the Royals to the playoff-bound Braves for the stretch run. 

Second base: Josh Harrison

Harrison played mostly second base last season, but he’s versatile enough to handle five positions, which should make the career .277 hitter more desirable in this age of flexible roster construction. 

Third base: Mike Moustakas

Moustakas was in this same exact spot a year ago - the perils of being a Scott Boras client -- and took until March 11 to re-sign with the Royals, on a one-year deal. Only 30, Moustakas has averaged 33 homers with an .805 OPS the past two season. 

Shortstop: Manny Machado

Hard to believe Machado, a four-time All-Star and perennial MVP threat at age 26, is on this list, but here we are. Before this offseason began, speculation had Machado landing a $300-million deal, but the fact he’s still unsigned suggests the reality is significantly less.  

Leftfield: Marwin Gonzalez

Gonzalez’s true value is tied to him being a super-utility player, and he appeared at seven positions for the Astros last year while hitting 17 homers with a .733 OPS. That was nearly 200 points lower than the previous season, and he turns 30 next month, so who knows which way he’s trending.

Centerfield: Adam Jones

A five-time All-Star, with four Gold Gloves, Jones brings solid clubhouse leadership along with a still-productive bat at age 33. Spending his entire career at cozy Camden Yards helps, but over the past two seasons, he’s hit a combined .283 while averaging 20 homers and 146 games.  

Rightfield: Bryce Harper

There’s little doubt Boras badly wants to beat Machado’s number with his deal for Harper, but after turning down $300 million from the Nats last September, is he even going to get that for his client at this point? Both Harper and Machado remain fascinating case studies.

STARTING PITCHERS

Dallas Keuchel

The 2015 Cy Young winner is not coming off one of his better statistical seasons, but a 3.74 ERA in the American League, as well as making 34 starts, isn’t so bad. He allowed a career-high 211 hits over 204 2/3 innings, but his 153 strikeouts were second only to the 216 from his Cy Young year.

Gio Gonzalez

Overall, Gonzalez didn’t have a great walk year, and his 27 starts for the Nats yielded a 4.57 ERA with a 1.531 WHIP. But focus on his stretch run with the Brewers and he looks much better, with a 2.13 ERA and 0.947 WHIP in five starts for playoff-bound Milwaukee. 

Clay Buchholz

After missing nearly all of the 2017 season with a torn flexor tendon, the oft-injured Buchholz experienced a renaissance of sorts with the Diamondbacks, going 7-2 with a 2.01 ERA in 16 starts. He also had a 3.68 K/BB ratio, the second best of his 12-year career, with a 1.037 WHIP. 

James Shields

His “Big Game” days are certainly behind him, but Shields delivered a serviceable 204 2/3 innings last season for the White Sox, and at age 37, could be an economical alternative for the back end of a rotation. 

Bartolo Colon

Eventually, a team will succumb to the allure of “Big Sexy” and sign the 45-year-old for the boost the savvy swingman can give to a pitching staff. Colon made 24 starts and four relief appearances for the Rangers last season, gobbling up a total of 146 1/3 innings.

CLOSER

Craig Kimbrel

Back in November, it was reported that Kimbrel was seeking a six-year deal, something that was ludicrous at the time and even more so now. Granted that was coming off a World Series title, but Kimbrel, 30, looked shaky at key moments for the Red Sox, and it was Chris Sale who closed out the Fall Classic. Kimbrel’s performance also dipped considerably from his stellar '17 with the Sox. 

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