February 28, 2019 / 11:55 PM / 7 months ago

MLB's quiet free agency period hits crescendo with Harper deal

(Reuters) - Franchise-changing players do not often come up for grabs and so the glacial pace at which teams moved to snap up Bryce Harper and Manny Machado left many wondering why two huge talents were made to wait for their mega paydays.

FILE PHOTO: Feb 22, 2019; Peoria, AZ, USA; San Diego Padres third baseman Manny Machado (13) on the field playing catch at the Peoria Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Both are elite hitters at the peak of their careers, the type of players that would normally have suitors begging for their services as part of a free agent feeding frenzy rather than have to endure an offseason in a market at a standstill.

“It’s just very confusing to me, you know? If I was an owner, president, GM, I would love to have Bryce Harper or Manny Machado on my team,” Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant said at the team’s annual winter fan convention last month.

“Just playing against them, they’re very frustrating, and they’re the best talent out there.”

While only a few teams emerged as serious suitors for Harper and Machado, it was eventually proved that the game’s top talent get paid.

Harper, one of the game's premier power hitters since he entered the major leagues in 2012 with Washington, will earn $330 million with Philadelphia as part of a 13-year deal that is the largest in North American pro sports history, according to a report here on Major League Baseball's website.

And while the Phillies have not made the postseason since 2011, Harper is so impactful a player that one prominent bookmaker slashed their odds of winning the World Series from 12/1 to 8/1.

Machado, who played a key role in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ run to the World Series last year, agreed to a 10-year, $300 million free agent deal with the San Diego Padres last week.

Teams are notorious for waiting until the last minute to make in-season moves — which explains the usual flurry of deals on trade deadline days — but it is a whole new ballgame when it comes to top caliber free agents.

Harper and Machado are not usually the type left to sit around for long.

Some experts have cited the recent collective bargaining agreement — one that established more punitive luxury-tax penalties — as a reason why teams were not lining up to part with their money.

Another factor is that some teams have opted instead to rebuild with younger, lower-cost rosters, a strategy that Harper’s agent Scott Boras previously referred to as “competitive cancer.”

The unusually slow pace of signings was so odd that a number of MLB players weighed in, including San Francisco Giants third baseman Evan Longoria, who sounded off on Instagram last month.

“We are less then a month from the start of spring and once again some of our game’s biggest starts remain unsigned. Such a shame,” Longoria wrote.

“It seems every day now someone is making up a new analytical tool to devalue players, especially free agents.”

Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Ian Ransom

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