By Sterling Pingree
There is a rhythm to the sporting calendar, like the seasons of everybody else’s year, where one ends, another begins. Fall fades away to winter and winter melts away into spring. To the sports fan, the sadness after football season ending is alleviated by the promise of spring training around the corner.
The term “Hot Stove” as it refers to the baseball offseason originated with people getting together around the wood stove during the cold winter months to discuss the prospects of their favorite team during the upcoming season. The hot stove season as it has now become known, is one of my favorite parts of the year. A month after the World Series there is the GM meetings, which to use the literal fire building parlance, is the time when the sheets of newspaper are crumpled up and the sticks of good dry wood are put in place. The fire itself is not lit yet, just as the contracts and trades often aren’t completed, but things are set for when that match is lit.
To continue the fire analogy, teams traditionally strike their match at the winter meetings which always take place around my birthday at the beginning of December. Because of this, I have been given some gifts over the years from the Boston Red Sox: in 2016 I was given Chris Sale and I could never forget my 21st birthday when Theo Epstein gave me JD Drew and Julio Lugo. The winter meetings prompt more phone calls between my dad and me, than any other time during the year because it’s a time where rumors and conspiracies run rampant regarding your favorite teams and the belles of the free agent ball.
I’m running through all of this because in 2017 the hot stove was never lit. It was as if the teams of major league baseball never put their wood in last fall and instead sold the house and moved to Florida. The two biggest moves of the off season was the Angels signing Japanese free agent Shohei Otani and the Yankees trading for Giancarlo Stanton. If it wasn’t for Derek Jeter selling off everything short of Miami’s two World Series trophies, the MLB Network might as well have shown Ken Burn’s documentary on a loop since Christmas.
The Red Sox made two moves this offseason: resigning Mitch Moreland and Eduardo Nunez. They resigned their starting first basemen and possibly injured super-utility player. After two consecutive brief playoff cameos and the firing of manager John Farrell, Red Sox fans were ready for a splash that has been so reliable in past similar situations that you could set your Apple watch by it.
The top three free agents this season were Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and JD Martinez. As of Saturday, all three were still free agents. Has this ever happened before that the top names remain on the market as teams are reporting to spring training? Hosmer signed Sunday morning with the San Diego Padres, aka the only team his name had been linked to for the past 3 months. In December, the Padres claimed that their Twitter account was hacked when they posted a picture of Hosmer without a caption.
The question is, what is causing the biggest names to remain on the market this close to the start of the season? Is it collusion? Are the teams of major league baseball banding together to keep contracts in check in a sport without a salary cap? Baseball is in a precarious place right now because contracts are going up and up as television rights deals are the doing the same for sports across the board, but baseball doesn’t have a salary cap to hide behind to limit the amount that players can make on the open market. With young stars like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado set to test free agency after this season, the teams had to see the number $400 million on the horizon and they didn’t like it. Giancarlo Stanton, signed a 13-year deal for a total of $325 million ($25 million annually) which begs the question: what would a player like Mike Trout or Bryce Harper then command? $400 million? $500 million?
We still might see players like Harper and Trout sign those mega deals, but what this cold stove season as shown us is that teams are no longer willing to overspend on all-stars who aren’t arguably the best player in the game. Do you know who the fourth highest paid player is in baseball? It’s Joey Votto. Look at where the Reds are, they’re at the bottom of the league and paying Votto for $22.5 million a year for a decade. You can’t win paying good players like great players and when Scott Boras entered this offseason he declared that JD Martinez and Eric Hosmer were going to get $200 million each in free agency.
Hosmer’s deal is 8-years with an average annual salary of $18 million per, for a total of $144 million from the only team that showed any interest. JD Martinez said last week that he was disrespected by the Red Sox measly offer of 5-years $125 million. Apparently that is all that’s out there right now, even as we hear that Boras continues to try to work with the Diamondbacks to scrounge up the money to make a competitive offer to his client.
The coldest stove season in history is wrapping up and what we are seeing is a shift in power back to the owners. Before now, teams couldn’t help themselves and one team would buckle and give a good player way too much money. Now it seems that owners are more cautious of who they give big deals too. It’s either that or maybe they’re just saving their money to give Bryce Harper $1 billion dollars 10 months from now.
Sterling Pingree is a co-host of The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.