BOCA RATON, Fla. – Now that they’re playoff teams for a change, the Blue Jays, Cubs and Mets believe they can make a winning sales pitch to free agents.
The Blue Jays ended baseball’s longest active playoff drought with their first AL East championship since 1993. The Cubs snapped a stretch of five losing seasons and made the NL Championship Series for the first time since 2003. New York ended a nine-year playoff drought and reached the World Series for the first time since 2000 before losing to the Royals
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All three teams have a core that should make them contenders again in 2016, adding to their appeal as free-agent shopping begins.
“Players want to win,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said at the annual GM meetings Tuesday. “That is a tipping point for them. And in our situation, we haven’t won in 107 years, so there’s an added benefit of trying to break a long drought. I think they find that very appealing.”
Blue Jays interim general manager Tony LaCava agreed his team’s success will make it easier to recruit players.
“Guys that are free agents, they’re looking to try to finish it off and get a championship ring,” LaCava said. “We’ve made this a spot where we think players are going to want to come.”
Free agent talks are in the early stages but slowly heating up at the four-day meetings, where the groundwork is sometimes laid for deals culminated later. This year’s free-agent class is led by starting pitchers Zack Greinke, David Price and Jordan Zimmermann.
The Mets don’t need starting pitching – their entire rotation is under club control through 2018 – but lineup changes are likely. They’re coming off their first winning season since 2008, which changes their approach with free agents, assistant general manager John Ricco said.
“I’ve been here a long time – through down times and up times – and you try to sell different things,” Ricco said. “When you’re coming off a poor season, you sell opportunity and playing time. Now we’re selling the ability to win a championship, and really meaning it. When you get within one team of winning it all, you can say it with a straight face. It definitely changes the sale pitch.”
At the other end of the spectrum are the Miami Marlins, coming off their sixth consecutive losing season and handcuffed by a small payroll. But even in their case, with a talented young core, president of baseball operations Michael Hill believes he can sell winning.
“Free agents look at your situation – the makeup of the club and how close they may be to being ready to win,” Hill said. “Anybody who looks at our situation sees a club ready to take that next step. Our talent speaks for itself.”
And also-rans can outbid the teams atop the standings. Everyone’s chasing a championship, but it’s still money that drives the market for free agents.
“They want to win. They want good spots for their family. And they want to be paid what they feel they should be paid,” Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. “You try to see how many of the three you can deliver on. You can sell the first two as much as you want; if you can’t deliver on the third, you usually don’t get the player.”