College football season is over, and the NFL already has trimmed its field of championship hopefuls from 32 to eight. The NBA has only 11 days left in its All-Star balloting process. On Sunday, will we be one month away from the initial spring training reporting date for pitchers and catchers. Yet we do not know where this year’s top free agents — Manny Machado and Bryce Harper — will be playing this season.
Is this unusual? You bet it is. I maintain a database of various free agent-related data, which ranks each class according to a simple 10-year projection, even if that length of projection is likely to extend well past the end of a player’s career. The error bar on any one of these projections is enormous, but it’s meant more to look at group dynamics than to pin down a decade of any individual’s future production.
Anyway, including this hot stove season, there have been 86 players ranked first or second in a free-agent class by this system. Only 15 of those elite targets were unsigned as of the month and day on which you are reading this — Jan. 11. That includes the system’s top two last winter (Lorenzo Cain and Jake Arrieta) and this winter (Machado and Harper).
That means only 11 of the first 82 (13 percent) top-two free agents since 1976 lasted this far into the offseason. And the vast majority of those 11 had easy explanations for why it took so long for them to sign: