Premium talent is still available on MLB’s free-agent market, but GMs don’t seem in a hurry

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Cleveland’s new manager, Stephen Vogt, isn’t sure why this year’s free agent market has entered a deep freeze even as temperatures heat up during spring training in Arizona and Florida.

He just wants to see it thaw as quickly as possible.

“Those guys should be in camp,” Vogt said. “I don’t know who is at fault, I don’t know why, I don’t need to know. But our game’s at its best when the best players are on the field.

“I hope those guys sign soon.”

The guys Vogt is referring to are a half-dozen high-quality free agents who remain unsigned as the calendar nears March.

The resumes are impressive: two-time Cy Young Award-winning lefty Blake Snell, former MVP Cody Bellinger, six-time All-Star J.D. Martinez, four-time Gold Glove third baseman Matt Chapman, two-time All-Star shortstop Tim Anderson and left-hander Jordan Montgomery, who helped the Rangers to a World Series title last fall.

Vogt — of course — doesn’t make front-office decisions. However, 15 of the 30 general managers who do were at Cactus League media day on Tuesday.

Nobody seemed particularly desperate to make moves.

“It ebbs and flows, but there have been years, like I remember I was in Cleveland, and we signed Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn late in camp,” Cubs general manager Carter Hawkins said. “So it’s not out of the ordinary.”

This year’s free-agent market peaked in December, when the Los Angeles Dodgers spent more than $1 billion to sign two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani and right-handed pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto. The defending National League champion Arizona Diamondbacks were also among the teams active early, signing lefty Eduardo Rodriguez to an $80 million, four-year deal.

D-backs general manager Mike Hazen said he didn’t want to speculate on other teams’ strategies.

“I can’t answer for everybody else,” Hazen said. “I feel like we’ve made a decent amount of transactions. We’re looking to help build our team any way we can and we’ve ended up getting a couple of deals done.”

The Los Angeles Angels and San Diego Padres are two teams that have spent big in the past, but seem to be taking a more cautious approach in 2024. The Boston Red Sox have been fairly quiet, too, and third baseman Rafael Devers said Tuesday his team could use some help.

“Everybody has a different perspective,” Angels GM Perry Minasian said. “Every offseason is different. I don’t think there’s any offseason that’s the same, because it’s a different pool of players. For me, we’re worried about what we have, not what we don’t have.”

The Padres had the third-highest payroll in baseball last season at $258 million, but finished 82-80 and missed the playoffs. The franchise has been in cost-cutting mode since.

San Diego still has a talented roster with a lineup that includes Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado and Xander Bogaerts. General manager A.J. Preller seems content to see where that group leads the Padres this summer, even though the team hasn’t ruled out adding players.

“That’s a pretty good place to start,” Preller said. “From our standpoint, it’s a good foundation.”

The 39-year-old Vogt is just two seasons removed from his 10-year playing career and has some personal experience with late signings. He signed with the Giants just as spring training began in 2019 and signed with the A’s a week before the season started in 2022.

“It’s weird,” Vogt said. “You feel like you’ve got to hurry up and get there. You feel like you’ve missed the 8-ball. You believe you’re going to get a job, but there’s also that ‘What if I never get the call?’ It can weigh on you.

“There’s a lot of good players out there who are probably thinking the same thing.”



Sports Reporter based in Phoenix