There were no ceremonies held to honor this winter’s batch of free agents at Target Field on Sunday. That was a missed opportunity for baseball’s owners.
Baseball braintrusts spent most of the winter making suspicious people like me think they were engaging in collusion. Now they can claim to have been displaying intelligence.
Sunday, when the Twins beat the woeful Orioles 10-1, Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn and Logan Morrison were in attendance. As contributors to two of the most disappointing teams in the American League, the three might have helped set back free agency to the days when Jack Morris signing with the Twins for one year at $3 million was considered a risk.
Remember this winter? Until a late flurry of bargain-shopping, the Twins were being accused of cheapness because they weren’t signing someone like Cobb, and owners were being accused of collusion for letting so many free agents sit on the market like charred burgers on a hot grill.
Free agency is Giancarlo Stanton. It produced a home run, a few doubles and a slew of strikeouts. The Red Sox signed J.D. Martinez, who leads baseball in home runs. Jake Arrieta has been pretty good for the Phillies, and Lorenzo Cain was an important addition for the Brewers.
Consider the players the Twins seemed to be mulling:
Lynn has a 5.21 ERA. Morrison is batting .192. Cobb has a 6.57 ERA. Yu Darvish has a 4.95 ERA. If owners did engage in collusion, they did so wisely.
The Twins aren’t even enjoying the other potentially productive aspect of free agency — the contract year.
In 2009, Joe Mauer was heading into free agency and he produced by far the best season of his career. He missed a month and hit 28 home runs. He has never hit more than 13 in any other season. He turned his power spike and MVP award into an eight-year, $184 million contract.
In 1996, Chuck Knoblauch anticipated potential free agency by hitting a career-best .341 and landing a then-lucrative five-year, $30 million deal.
One of the Twins’ many problems this season is that players in their so-called contract years are performing like they hate money.
Brian Dozier was frustrated the Twins didn’t want to discuss a lengthy contract this spring. He’s hitting .222. Lynn and Morrison signed one-year deals and are destroying their value. Only Eduardo Escobar, who will become a free agent this fall, has created a market for himself.
Or has he? Dozier has been the Twins’ best player for years, yet the Twins didn’t find much interest in him on the trade market two years ago, and seem set against investing in a 31-year-old middle infielder.
Twins starter Jake Odorizzi earned the victory Sunday. He shares a clubhouse with Lynn and is friends with Cobb. He believes the uncertainty faced by free agents this winter affected their performances.
“I think so,’’ he said. “We’re all creatures of habit. ... You see things on TV about spring training getting underway and you still don’t have a job, you don’t know where you’re going to be.”
Odorizzi noted that Lynn and Cobb started slowly after signing late. “With Lance, you see how good he can be once he’s back to his normal self,’’ Odorizzi said. “We’d all be guilty of rushing back to pitch in a big league game again. It’s tough. Hopefully, there’s a lot better to come from [Cobb]. I know that for a fact.
“Give it some time and you’ll see a really good pitcher.’’
Modern general managers are less inclined than their predecessors to bow to public pressure to spend money on players, or to reward players for what they have accomplished instead of what they are expected to accomplish. That’s one of the benefits of analytics — removing sentiment from big decisions.
Free agency has always been a risky endeavor. The Twins and Orioles have provided a reminder this season that throwing money at a baseball problem can be the financial version of throwing to the wrong base.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MNSPN.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org