Free-agent stars still on hunt for teams

The Detroit News - - TIGERS - BY RON­ALD BLUM As­so­ci­ated Press

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.”

Greg Fi­ume/Getty Im­ages

Free-agent out­fielder Bryce Harper re­mains with­out a team as spring train­ing nears.

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