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The general feeling among Phillies fans at the moment is a mix between frustration and resignation to their place in the National League hierarchy.
It’s justified after nine straight non-winning seasons and a reluctance to keep spending big this winter because of the financial circumstances.
The mood would change significantly with the re-signing of J.T. Realmuto or with several meaningful moves to fill holes in the bullpen and elsewhere, but Realmuto’s decision could still take weeks.
There is a general malaise around the game right now ... unless you follow one of the select few teams that have acted aggressively already. The 10 richest contracts so far this offseason (and 12 of the top 17) have been signed by the same six teams: the Mets, Braves, Dodgers, Padres, Giants and Royals.
The Mets, after adding catcher James McCann and reliever Trevor May in free agency, acquired superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor and pitcher Carlos Carrasco in a trade with Cleveland Wednesday.
The Phillies, meanwhile, are far from alone in their inactivity. In total, 13 teams have yet to sign a free agent to a contract of at least $1 million, including every team in the NL Central: the Brewers, Cardinals, Cubs, Reds, Pirates, Marlins, Phillies, Rockies, Diamondbacks, Yankees, Orioles, Indians and Athletics.
The Yankees are trying hard to re-sign DJ LeMahieu, but how many other teams on that list can you confidently say will spend this winter?
The pandemic has played an obvious role in teams’ deliberate approach to the offseason. MLB says it lost more than $2.7 billion in 2020. League-wide, teams had spent $969 million more on free agents at this point last offseason than they have as of today.
Baseball’s offseason has felt dead in comparison to the NBA’s or NFL’s, which also took place during the pandemic. The key difference is those two leagues have a salary cap and a salary floor. Top NBA free agents know the value of their max contract slots, they don’t negotiate for 80% of the offseason. And the salary floor (of around $100 million) prevents the worst teams from sitting out of offseasons entirely. MLB is unique in this regard and might always be.
The pace of baseball’s free-agent period, which begins the week after the World Series ends, has gradually gotten slower. Two years ago, Bryce Harper signed the offseason’s richest deal at the end of February, two weeks after Manny Machado signed his $300 million contract. The year before, the market’s top hitter (J.D. Martinez) and top pitcher (Yu Darvish) signed in February and the next-most-expensive pitcher (Jake Arrieta) signed in March.
Under normal circumstances, it could be argued that baseball’s lengthy offseason creates interest and buzz for a longer period of time than other sports’ free agency. Just think about how long the airwaves would have been dominated by LeBron’s or Kevin Durant’s recent decisions if they took weeks or months to make them.
But that’s not really the case this offseason. Almost half the league seems content to cross its fingers and give it a go with a roster close to what it currently has. And more than half of the fanbases are just waiting for something, anything to happen.