INDIAN WELLS, Calif. Imagine if the Cubs were staring at Cole Hamels and Matt Cain and wondering which one to build their rotation around.
Maybe Theo Epsteins front office would wait until after the 2013 season to grab the finishing piece to their lineup, a Joey Votto or a Ryan Zimmerman.
But when Cubs executives check into a resort here outside Palm Springs, Calif., for the general manager meetings that formally begin on Wednesday, they will know that the best players are already off the board.
The biggest challenge in free agency today is that all these guys are signing these contracts to lock them up, general manager Jed Hoyer said recently. You look at the free-agent list and so many of those guys are already in their 30s and thats the thing that we want to be really aware of not ending up with a bunch of decline years on our books because we were sort of eager to do something right now. The prime years usually start with a 2.
The Philadelphia Phillies have become another Northeast superpower, right there with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. With two World Series titles in the past three years, the San Francisco Giants are thinking dynasty.
Hamels and Cain never made it to free agency this winter. Combined, the Phillies and Giants committed some 270 million to two pitchers taken eight picks apart in the first round of the 2002 draft.
Seven months ago, the Cincinnati Reds found a way to give Votto a 10-year, 225 million extension, rewarding the National Leagues MVP in 2010. Back in spring training, the Washington Nationals made sure Zimmerman the face of the franchise will remain under club control through 2020.
Ryan Braun has already signed two extensions with the Milwaukee Brewers. The Pittsburgh Pirates control Andrew McCutchen through 2018. Epstein recognized this trend in Boston and extended Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz.
There are no signs of slowing down: Beginning in 2014, each team will receive an extra 25 million a year from the new national television deals.
When you look at the free-agent market, Hoyer said, theres a lot of teams that formerly were probably smaller markets that wouldnt have been able to sign their guys long-term that now have cable money or other sources of revenue that (enable them) to keep their guys.
We always do the exercise: You have your free-agent market going three, four years out. And its amazing to watch how that market sort of gets eroded as these guys get picked off on these long-term deals. It makes (it) more shallow this time of year.
Which makes you wonder how much will still be there by the time the Cubs cash in with a new television contract after their WGN deal expires at the end of the 2014 season.
The macroeconomics of baseball right now are interesting with some of these cable deals, Hoyer said. Its created some very big markets from what used to be just kind of large markets and its propped up some teams that used to flood the trade market and the free-agent market. Those teams are now holding onto their own players.
The macroeconomics of baseball are at an interesting point. Its hard to predict exactly what were going to be staring at in 2015.
By then, will the Cubs just be grabbing leftovers? This is a primary reason why the front office talks about building The Foundation for Sustained Success.
Executives here this week will have a chance to meet face-to-face and discuss potential trades. Agents will try to sell their clients to general managers and begin laying the groundwork for deals.
For 2013, the Cubs have around 40 million committed to just four players Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Marmol, Starlin Castro and David DeJesus plus arbitration raises for Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija.
Thats close to a blank canvas, but as the Cubs evaluate their needs two starting pitchers, a third baseman, an outfielder, bullpen help they likely wont go beyond two or three years. They want to keep their options open.
We have pretty significant flexibility, Hoyer said. Were going to be aggressive in free agency, but we arent going to do things that we feel (will) limit us going forward where we feel were hindered by a certain contract.