(CBSsports.com / USATSI)
Some free agents need to wait until the market develops, or cracks, if you will, before they sign contracts. For instance, players such as Mike Morse, Franklin Gutierrez, Jason Kubel or Raul Ibanez may find it pertinent to wait until guys like Jacoby Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson and Carlos Beltran sign with teams, which in turn defines their own market options. However, there are also times when it simply makes sense for a free agent to decide where he wants to go and sign early. That why I tip my hat to new San Diego Padres starter Josh Johnson, who proactively identified teams he’d be willing to sign with and found a new home in lovely San Diego on Tuesday. Johnson reportedly considered the Pittsburgh Pirates but had a desire to pitch on the West Coast.
A deal like this doesn’t come with out its risks, naturally. The money involved would’ve been too rich for the Brewers’ budget, most likely. Johnson, unlike most free agents, is rebounding from an injury-plagued stint with the Toronto Blue Jays, and therefore couldn’t sit back quite as leisurely and wait for multi-year big-money deals to roll in, like a Jacoby Ellsbury can, but still, it’s nice to see a free agent make a determination to seek what he wants efficiently without going through all the circus-like rigmarole of the offseason. As we’ve seen in previous years, the genesis of all that risky business starts with the GM Meetings and continues into baseball’s Winter Meetings, into January and sometimes even longer. For this winter’s market, barring a quicker-than-expected resolution to re-sign with the New York Yankees, Robinson Cano may be the player that ends up not signing a new deal until well into 2014. Perhaps it’s smart for players, their reps and the players’ union to hold on for every penny and max out deals as much as possible, but it does sometimes come off as a little loopy when the difference between $230MM and $260MM is unfathomable for most folks who throw down parts of their relatively miniscule paychecks to support MLB. The players have earned what the market will pay them, but come on; the hot stove league has to be able to keep us warm. As a baseball fan and observer, it’s nice when things aren’t dragged on for months on end, leading to the 24-hour news cycle tumbling and turning rumors and drama-filled reports over and over and over like so much dirty laundry.
For a team like the Brewers, who are not only less rich but less influential in terms of media power than most teams, and possess a distinct lack of beautiful California sun, a free-agent market whose wave doesn’t break until late December or January has to be frustrating. The Brewers may say they aren’t going to be players in this high-stakes free-agent game, but they’ve got to be hoping something could fall their way later on. Sure, GMs must have significant patience to just watch things for a while and also to prevent pulling the trigger prematurely, but when dozens and dozens of players don’t want to sign until the big boys do, or teams are waiting to make trades until this and that happens, it must feel like one is stuck in a web. Last year that web never really untangled for the Brewers. They made the trade with the Tampa Rays for Burke Badenhop and then didn’t do much else until signing Kyle Lohse shortly before the season started. As a Brewers fan, I want Doug Melvin to make helpful, wise moves, but I also would like to see a tangible sign of work being done sometime this month, like a trade or even a minor free-agent signing. All that is easier said than done, to be sure. That’s why I give props to guys like Josh Johnson, who figure it out early and contribute to pushing this clumsy market closer to a fluid, functioning place. There may not be many free agents ready to sign with Milwaukee early on, except of course that pink elephant smoking a hookah we know as Corey Hart.