Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel won’t be around when the bat and ball bags are opened at spring training throughout Florida and Arizona this week.
They are among the dozens of free agents still looking for jobs, joined by Mike Moustakas, Marwin Gonzalez, Carlos Gonzalez and Gio Gonzalez.
For the second straight winter, camps are opening with many rosters in exceptional flux.
“The market will sort itself out,” St. Louis Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said at last week’s owners’ meetings. “There is a long time between the end of the season and spring training, and there’s maybe not so much a sense of urgency on whichever side it happens to be.”
Among the 164 players who exercised free agency rights at the end of last year’s World Series, 84 had announced agreements on the eve of spring training. That is up from 65 of 166 at roughly the same point last season but down from 105 of 158 two years ago.
Boston added former Tigers outfielder J.D. Martinez last Feb. 26 and Philadelphia brought in Jake Arrieta on March 12. All but 26 of the free agents last offseason eventually reached deals.
A drawn-out negotiating process means clubs have lost time in marketing new acquisitions, which seems especially significant to a sport coming off three straight years of attendance declines. Average attendance dropped below 30,000 last year for the first time since 2003.
“We want players signed, particularly star players. I wish they were signed and ready to go,” baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said Friday. “We got another week before they have to report. I’m really hopeful that it’s going to get resolved.”