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MLB Free Agency: Where has all the money gone?

Four Beyond the Box Score writers weigh in on the state of the relatively stagnant free agent market.

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

[Editor's Note: Welcome to a Beyond the Box Score roundtable discussion, where four of our writers discuss the current state of the free agent market.]

Tom O'Donnell: It's already January 14; in just about one month, pitchers and catchers report to spring training.  However, an alarmingly large portion of the free agent market remains unsigned, particularly on the offensive side. It is clear that the market has slowed; any theories on why?

Joe Vasile: I think that the slowing of the market has some to do with the rising prices of free agents. Especially with the Price, Greinke, and Heyward deals, agents are expecting larger contracts for their players than teams are willing to give. I think that as more negotiating continues eventually the market will pick up again.

Nicolas Stellini: I think that the perception of Cespedes and Upton's value is quite different from how teams value them. They're both fairly streaky players, and Cespedes' preference for playing CF (while being incredibly bad at playing CF) is hurting his market. He also peaked super hard and is probably looking to be paid like he's the elite player he was in 2015 rather than the good but not great player he's been for his career. Upton, meanwhile, has a QO around his neck and is also a good but not great player that wants to be paid for a good year or two that he once had.

Bryan Grosnick: I think part of the reason we're seeing upper tier FAs last a little longer is because teams have become more cautious of FA contracts. Teams are still willing to spend, but FAs are less foundational these days as young players are demonstrating more and more value pre-FA. At the same time, teams may be figuring out that spending on FAs later in the offseason can lead to slightly cheaper prices. And every team wants to pay less.

TO: That's an interesting point Bryan. Cespedes seems to me the most interesting case at the moment, as (probably) the best player left on the market. In hindsight, the Cubs may have been the only team willing/able to pay 150 million or more for an outfielder, but that's probably the type of contract that Cespedes' camp is looking for. Who do you think will cave first, Cespedes or an OF- needy team?

BG: I think the team will cave first, at least in Cespedes' case. He's got a good combination of versatility, low likelihood of immediate decline, and big-ticket offensive stats ... and it makes a lot of sense for him to push for a five-year deal or so. I do think that there are enough teams with holes which have enough money to give him that, at a strong market rate. (Plus no QO!) At the same time, I don't think he's going to pull $150 million, unless some crazy team wants to sign him for 7-8 seasons. The Cardinals, White Sox, Orioles, and others can afford to get him if the price is closer to $100-$120 million, I think.

NS: His reported 5/75-5/80 offer that he has from the Orioles would be a good deal for both sides. He'd be playing LF there and Camden Yards is obviously quite conducive for a dingers guy like him. Wouldn't be surprised to see him take that, especially if his agent can weasel in an opt-out to make up for the lack of money. The Orioles desperately need a bat to put behind Jones, especially if they really are getting tired of waiting for Boras and Chris Davis to take a chill pill.

JV: I agree that the reported 5/75-5/80 offer from the Orioles is a fair deal for both sides. At least considering that that's about as good a deal as he'll get at this point. That being said, considering that he was originally looking for 6 or 7 years and about $150 million, I would categorize that as Cespedes caving to teams not willing to pay him.

TO: I agree, Joe, that 5/75 has to be seen as a disappointment for Cespedes. But Nicolas, I like your point about Cespedes in Camden, I could see him thriving there. I think he'll probably end up getting closer to 90/100, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's Baltimore that ends up paying. I also think Upton could fit there, but my guess is he ends up waiting for Cespedes to set the late market. LAA or Chicago (AL) could be potential landing spots for him, in my opinion. Agree/disagree?

NS: Upton to the Angels makes a lot of sense. They need an outfielder something fierce and their offense is actually pretty lackluster. I'm a bit lower on them as a whole than most people. They really just don't impress me. Upton would be helpful but I don't think the Angels are a Justin Upton away from being Good. However, I think Upton does wonders for the White Sox. The Cell is a nice small park that doesn't give Upton lots of grass to defend while he gets to launch some taters. The lineup would be very righty-heavy (Abreu and Frazier, among others) but he makes a hell of a lot of sense for them.

JV: Upton to the Angels would be a very Arte Moreno-esque move. Go for the big name and hope he pays off.

NS: Chris Davis feels like more of the Moreno move here, especially since Boras is supposedly marketing him as an everyday outfielder.

BG: The Angels are interesting because they're in a position where making another long-term deal to a prime-and-down free agent makes sense ... but given how badly the Pujols / Hamilton deals have gone, do they really want to go that route yet again? Plus it's a team with multiple holes (2B, LF, SP) that could use fixing. I don't see them going with Upton unless it's as a one-year pillow deal. The White Sox and Orioles are both a perfect fit, it's just a matter if they have the cash or win on Cespedes. And I love Davis if he can be an everyday right fielder.

TO: I'm actually very high on the Angels; I think they have a potentially very dangerous rotation. Bryan, I'm curious though: Davis as an outfielder? I can't see it working. Do you think he can pull it off?

BG: Sure, I think he can handle the outfield ... he's done it before, he has solid athleticism, and his footwork at third base was always okay. I think he can do it for a couple of seasons at least. I'm always more up on guys moving from position-to-position, and my optimism doesn't always turn out well-founded. (See Ramirez, Hanley and Santana, Carlos)

NS: I think that if you're going to sign Davis as an outfielder, you probably don't want to plan on having him out there for too long. He's just too big a dude for me to envision his body holding up well enough over the long term for him to not be a statue out there at some point. You're going to want to be able to move him back to first base at some point.

JV: He has very mixed results metrically in the outfield in very small samples. Having watched Lucas Duda try to navigate the outfield for two seasons, color me skeptical that Davis can do it. My skepticism is more related to what other players have done in trying to make that transition and is not a reflection on what Davis' talents might be in the OF since the sample size is so small and I've never watched a game where he was out there.

TO: I'm with Joe on this one, very skeptical. Especially since Davis has typically been a below average fielder at first base. Perhaps I'm biased since I watched Hanley Ramirez flounder in the outfield last season, but I'm wary of moves up the defensive spectrum.

TO: I'm also curious about the state of the pitching market because it seems to have moved in the opposite direction as the hitter market. It seems like a few teams still need pitching, but the available pitchers in free agency are dwindling. Will a pitcher (such as Ian Kennedy) get overpaid?

NS: Ian Kennedy is so weird. I was shocked that he didn't take the QO. I mean, unless someone gets injured in spring training, do you really want to give up a draft pick for someone that couldn't keep the ball in the ballpark at Petco? Kennedy has also had only one truly good season and a few decent seasons, but overall he's the definition of unimpressive. Now, Mike Leake got paid a lot of money for being average while being 28. But Kennedy is almost surely not as good as Leake. There was talk of the Royals being in on him, but if you're going to punt a draft pick, why not pony up for Gallardo?

JV: The QO on Kennedy definitely hurts his value, but there's almost definitely a pitching coach out there who thinks that they can "fix" him and get him back to his 2011-2012 form. I think the draft pick attached to him will prevent anyone from overpaying for him, but he's an attractive option. Gallardo is a better candidate to be "overpaid" especially if Kennedy gets scooped up first and he's the biggest arm remaining. Lincecum and Latos are also candidates for that. Plenty of reclamation projects available too, like Mike Minor.

TO: That's a solid point. I could see Gallardo getting similar numbers to Chen. Kennedy is interesting because he pitched pretty well in 2014 and had a terrible HR/FB rate last season that almost has to come down.

BG: I find it hard to imagine that Kennedy will get overpaid with the QO attached to him, and I actually can't imagine he gets inked before the draft unless it's by a team who doesn't care at all about draft picks. The guys left like Gallardo, Kennedy, Latos and Lincecum all mentioned above all have giant red flags. Gallardo and Kennedy are known quantities, but the draft pick cost is harsh. Pitchers went early and often, and most teams pretty happy to sit on what they have. I expect the Royals to get one of Gallardo or Kennedy, but I also bet that deal doesn't look too good in 2017. Lincecum and Latos are total flyer guys at this point.

TO: Before we depart, how about one prediction per person. It's been a strange offseason defined largely by the spread of opt-outs. Will anything else particularly unexpected occur over the next two months? This could be a signing, trade, etc.

NS: Tim Lincecum will be the closer for some low-teir team and do a surprisingly fantastic job. Let's say the Rockies.

JV: Ian Desmond becomes this year's Stephen Drew. Nobody signs him until June. He stinks when he finally plays.

TO: I'll go with a late-March Charlie Blackmon to the Cubs trade a la Craig Kimbrel last season.

BG: Justin Upton takes a one-year pillow contract in a place no one's talking about: Detroit.

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Tom O'Donnell is a staff writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is also a junior at Colby College. You can follow him on Twitter @Od_tommy.

Nicolas Stellini is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score. He also covers the Yankeesat BP Bronx. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets.

Joe Vasile is the Assistant General Manager and Voice of the Fayetteville SwampDogs of the Coastal Plain League. He is a contributor to Beyond the Box Score. Follow him on Twitter here.

Bryan Grosnick is the Lead Writer at Beyond the Box Score, a columnist at Baseball Prospectus - Boston, and a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He cannot afford Justin Upton, no matter the price.