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WAITING GAME

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE NOT-SO-HOT STOVE? TEAMS HAVE THEIR EYES ON NEXT WINTER'S DAZZLING FREE-AGENT HITTER CLASS
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BASEBALL has a pace problem. Sure, there's the time between pitches and the lack of balls in play, but in the dark days of the offseason, we have a more immediate concern: the Hot Stove has gone cold. Player movement is slower than Pedro Báez with a man on base.

With six weeks until spring training, no player had signed a major league deal of longer than three years. There are many reasons for this inaction: this particular class of free agents is uninspiring; last winter's collective bargaining agreement instituted stiffer penalties for teams that exceed the luxury-tax threshold; and GMs are waiting out agents in the hope of finding bargains.

But most of all, next year's class looks historically tempting: Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson and Charlie Blackmon will hit the market at 33 or younger, and Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher of his generation, can opt out of his deal. No team wants to spend now, incur luxury-tax penalties and take itself out of the market. Teams are pursuing the players they actually care about: the ones available next year.

2017--18 FREE AGENTS

J.D. MARTINEZ OF AGE 30

ERIC HOSMER 1B AGE 28

LORENZO CAIN OF AGE 31

MIKE MOUSTAKAS 3B AGE 29

JONATHAN LUCROY C AGE 31

2018--19 FREE AGENTS

BRYCE HARPER OF AGE 25

MANNY MACHADO 3B AGE 25

JOSH DONALDSON 3B AGE 32

CHARLIE BLACKMON OF AGE 31

ANDREW MCCUTCHEN OF AGE 31

0

7

4

7

4

CAREER MVPS

ALL-STAR APPEARANCES

30-HOMER SEASONS

SEASONS SLUGGING OVER .500

SEASONS WITH 5+ WINS ABOVE REPLACEMENT

3

18

9

12

13