Will MLB Free Agency Again Take Forever to Develop?

Beginning Saturday, free agents can sign with new teams.

The timing of the MLB offseason is unpredictable. Some years, the signings or trades come quickly. Some years, the biggest names linger on the market for months. J.D. Martinez signed on Feb. 26 this past offseason. Jake Arrieta signed on March 12.

Last year, nothing major happened until the first week of December and that was mostly because the Marlins were committed to trading away their best players for 30 cents on the dollar. Dee Gordon was traded on Dec. 7. Giancarlo Stanton was traded on Dec. 11.

The Phillies didn't do anything until Dec. 15, when the Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter signings were made official.

Will this offseason move at such a glacial pace?

My assumption is no. The statuses of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will obviously delay other moves because the big-market teams won't know whether to go with Plan B. 

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But it just seems unlikely that Harper and Machado remain unsigned until January or February. The major players - the Phillies, Yankees, Dodgers and Cubs, to name a few - have to have an idea of what kind of prices to expect for those two players. This didn't creep up on teams; front offices have been planning for the Harper-Machado class for years.

The other factor to consider is the league is now a year wiser with how price valuations for free agents have changed. Five to seven years ago, Arrieta would have gotten a five-year deal. But teams have gotten smarter over the years, especially with starting pitcher contracts. Overpaying slightly on a two- or three-year deal just makes more sense for teams than locking themselves into long-term deals that are crippling in the final couple years.

While Harper and Machado will dictate the pace of the free-agent market, they're in a completely different stratosphere than the next tier of position players like Josh Donaldson, Daniel Murphy, Jed Lowrie, D.J. LeMahieu, Brian Dozier, Marwin Gonzalez, A.J. Pollock, Michael Brantley and Nick Markakis.

Most of those guys will be looking at two- and three-year offers. You're not going to see someone with an injury history like Murphy, Donaldson, Pollock or Brantley hold out for a four-year offer that will never materialize.

If the Phillies do miss out on Harper and Machado, here's a look at the position players and pitchers they could pursue.

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