As of 12:01am ET this morning, the free agent market is officially open for business. Free agents can now receive and accept offers from all teams, which means we’re going to see tons of (bonus) rumors and (legitimate) signings in the coming weeks. It’s fun stuff.
We always expect the Yankees to be a major player in free agency because they can outspend everyone else, but the open market is not always the best way to go about plugging a hole in your roster. Sometimes the solution just isn’t out there, and other times the solution presented to you isn’t a good fit. That’s where trades come in, which like free agency, has some advantages of its own…
Money Still Talks
The big advantage in free agency, especially for the Yankees, is that they can just throw their money around and let that do the talking. Yeah, you have to give up an asset in a trade (i.e. one or more players), but the Yankees can still use their financial might to absorb salary that most other teams could not. MLBTR projects John Danks to make somewhere between $8-10M next season (just using him as an example), and how many teams can realistically take that on in a trade? It’s probably less than half the league, maybe even less than a third.
The general rule of thumb is the more money you take on a trade, the less you have to give up in terms of players. That doesn’t mean the Yankees can just buy players they want from other teams, but their superior budget can help keep the player cost down in some cases.
There are a ton of free agents out there, hundreds of them if you start counting the minor league guys, but that doesn’t always mean the open market will offer what you need. It’s no secret the Nationals are looking for a center fielder that can hit near the top of the order this winter, but they’re completely out of luck in free agency. It’s Coco Crisp or bust in that department. The Yankees want another lefty reliever, but that market is close to barren.
The trade market can offer viable alternatives in many cases. Sometimes it’s a non-contender looking to beef up their prospect pool, other times it’s a contender dealing from a position of depth to shore up another hole. It’s just another pool of players you can mine for talent.
This is the biggest advantage the trade market has over free agency in my book. Because players need at least six years of service time to qualify for free agency, most of them are over 30 by the time they hit the open market. Yeah, there is the occasional Alex Rodriguez or CC Sabathia or Jose Reyes or Prince Fielder, but those guys are the exception and not the rule. If you’re looking to buy peak performance years, those age 26-30 seasons, you’ll have a very tough time finding them on the free agent market. You might have to pay a little extra for them in a trade, but it’s usually worth it.
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want need pitching this offseason, but there’s not much available in free agency aside from Edwin Jackson, C.J. Wilson, and potentially Yu Darvish. The trade market may or may not offer some attractive alternatives, but if it does, the Yankees have the big budget and cache of upper level prospects (David Phelps, Adam Warren, Austin Romine, etc.) to get a deal done.