This was an odd offseason, to say the least. November turned to December turned to January turned to pitchers and catchers reporting, and still a large number of notable free agents remained unsigned.
Collusion became a word that left the political pages and arrived on the sports lexicon, with charges lobbed by agents and some writers that owners were working to keep contracts low.
The free agents even went so far as to hold their own spring training camp in Florida.
You could argue either way. On one side, you could see a path for more than one team to grab from the buffet of available players to fill out their 2018 plate. Even the Tigers, in what is shaping up to be a relatively boring American League Central, could have found a way to at least second place, if they really tried.
On the other, you could question if agents were holding out a little too hard for the market, with nine-figure contracts still being offered, just not accepted.
News over the weekend may have put some of those narratives to rest. The Royals had reportedly offered Hosmer the biggest deal in franchise history, but he instead chose to join the Padres on an eight-year, $144 million deal.
So much for ideas bargain hunting! What did we learn?
Maybe there weren’t bargains to be had
The idea that any team could just swoop in and find a bunch of bargains to go from cellar to penthouse seemed rather far-fetched the entire time.
It takes two sides to come to an agreement, and as long as players and their agents were unwilling to settle, there weren’t going to be bargains. For as much criticism was heaped on owners for not trying to win, clearly both sides of the deal were pretty set on not giving ground.
And why should they?
For players in their late 20s and early 30s, the next contract they sign will almost certainly be the biggest of their career. They only get one chance to lock in life-changing earnings, so holding out for the best deal makes good sense.
And for the teams, maybe a little bit of learning has occurred over the past years.
Sabermetricians frequently point out the folly for paying a player based on what he did earlier in his career rather than what he’ll do later. When huge deals were handed out to players like Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, or others, it was clear to see few, if any, would end well for the teams involved. Long, pricey contracts for aging players just isn’t a smart financial move, and often end up hamstringing their teams down the line.
Teams have hired more and more analysts with sabermetric backgrounds, and they finally may have learned not to make the same mistakes.
So players and teams ended up in a standoff.
Tigers smart not to get involved
A plan is a plan. Although it might have been fun for fans to see the team bounce back to above .500, every move has to be made with the idea of bringing a World Series title back to Detroit. While it is wise to keep an eye on the market and make changes to your strategy if necessary, the market wasn’t there.
That the Padres would sign up to pay Hosmer, a first baseman with little consistency year to year, for eight years and nine figures, seems like the kind of mistake they’ll soon end up regretting. Maybe not in 2018, but we’ll look back a few years down the line and still won’t know why they gave out that contract.
Unless an agent offers the Tigers a deal they can’t refuse, they’re best served just continuing to stay out of the market and follow their own plan.
Rebuilding might not be fun from a fan perspective, but building a base that can keep the team in competition for years is still the best goal to pursue.
It was an odd offseason, but not odd enough to abandon the plan.
Kurt Mensching is the editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog (www.blessyouboys.com). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.