Sep 25, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Paul Maholm (28) pitches against the Milwaukee Brewers during the first inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Fair or foul: Role players can't count on big league deals

Apparently, the times. Well they are a-changin’.

Left-hander Paul Maholm signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers earlier this afternoon, a deal far below was many in the baseball world – including myself – were expecting for such a reliable rotation arm.

While the New York Yankees are throwing $155 million (plus a $20 million posting fee) at Masahiro Tanaka, who general manager Brian Cashman called a three starter in an interview recently, several solid arms are on the outside looking in, despite the fact that several teams have already reported to Spring Training camp.

Now, let me preface this by saying that there are other factors at play, including several of the available players being tied to draft pick compensation. However, having this many quality players still in the free agent pool in the second week of February is unprecedented.

In terms of pitching, A.J. Burnett, Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana, Suk-Min Yoon and Chris Capuano are all still looking for somewhere to call home in 2014, with Bronson Arroyo only recently removing himself from the ranks of the aforementioned players via a two-year deal with Arizona that includes a club option for a third year.

Maholm, who, as mentioned, signed a one-year deal for next-to-nothing with the Dodgers today, was expected by many to fetch an AAV of somewhere around $7 million. Needless to say, his current deal is a far cry from that, despite his consistency over the past few seasons with Atlanta and Chicago.

Don’t get me wrong, the asking prices for some of these names were astronomical to start the season. There were rumors that Santana and Jimenez were looking at the $70 million-plus range for their deals when the offseason began, and if the waiting game pays off for the front office executives in on the pair, they won’t get anywhere near that.

Capuano will be lucky to even get a minor league deal at this point, something that disappoints me, personally. I know he’s not exactly ace-material, but he could make a very nice back-end piece for a legitimate team this season. Yoon’s suitors have been detracted by concerns over his health, but it’s still a bit surprising that no one has jumped on him yet, either.

In terms of offensive players, common names like Reed Johnson, Brent Lillibridge and Placido Polanco are all without a deal. Again, these are players who are never going to compete for an MVP in their remaining time in professional baseball, but there are several teams that could use solid veteran pieces, even if just as role players, in 2014. Stephen Drew and Nelson Cruz are also still available, and tied to draft-pick compensation. It appears, however, that it is only a matter of time before Cruz joins Robinson Cano in the Pacific Northwest.

As Spring Training kicks off, it will be interesting to see how many of these role players get a guaranteed big league job. If the current trends continue, then I wouldn’t be shocked if all of the above names, with the exception of the big-name items (Cruz, Drew, Santana, Jimenez), have to play their way onto a big league roster.

What do you think – is it fair or foul?

Tags: Free Agency MLB

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