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Kolakowski: Baseball owners should invest in free agents

| Monday, February 4, 2019

Super Bowl LIII is now over, and the College Football Playoff is long behind us. Now it seems there is nothing to do except set our alarms to Sept. 2 when Notre Dame football returns to challenge Louisville on the gridiron.

Fear not, sports fans. There are still basketball and hockey games being played regularly, and the greatest season of all is finally upon us. In seven days, the earliest pitchers and catchers will officially report to spring training, and baseball season will begin.

Polar vortex 2019 — and the negative 50-degree wind chills that accompanied it — has come and gone. Just days ago, it was rare to see a soul outside. Now, in the just-above freezing temperatures, students are out in the elements with only one extra layer to keep them warm. The piles of snow and ice are melting away to that gross slush that nobody likes. Notre Dame is certain to endure another blast of cold air this semester, but, for now, a taste of spring is here.

It is an exciting time that calls back to warm summer days at the ball park. However, with only days remaining before the first spring training workouts, some of baseballs biggest stars remain free agents.

There are several available players that can help Major League Baseball teams in 2019. Third baseman Mike Moustakas is without a home despite clubbing 28 home runs and providing serviceable defense in 2018. Craig Kimbrel, one of the game’s most dominant relief pitchers, is also without a contract going into the season.

Other unemployed players like Marwin Gonzalez, Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez can help teams win now.

It has been over three months since the Boston Red Sox won the World Series and took home the Commissioner’s Trophy, but the two premier free agents in baseball remain unsigned.

Bryce Harper and Manny Machado have been dancing with a small handful of teams since November. The San Diego Padres, Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago White Sox have all been circling the superstar free agents. Surely a few organizations are waiting in the weeds to pounce on Harper or Machado if their contract demands drop.

Harper and Machado are both 26 years old, and it is unusual for MVP-caliber players to reach free agency so young. Jason Heyward signed an eight-year, $184 million contract with the Chicago Cubs when he was 26, but Heyward’s career performance is outpaced by both Harper and Machado.

When Heyward entered free agency, he was a one-time all-star with a career .780 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS). Most of Heyward’s value comes from his superb defense in right field.

For comparison, Machado has a career .822 OPS and four all-star selections while playing premium positions on the left side of the infield. Harper owns six all-star selections, a career .900 OPS and the 2015 National League Most Valuable Player award.

The problem is not that Harper and Machado remain unsigned. The problem is only a handful of teams seem interested in signing them.

Both superstar free agents would provide teams with a proven slugger to add to the lineup. The left-handed Harper and right-handed Machado bring the star power to put fans in sights and send merchandise flying off the shelves.

Jon Heyman notes that the Padres ownership views Bryce Harper as a marketing opportunity. He would attract fans and certainly increase team revenues while also helping performance on the field.

All teams should view Harper and Machado in this way. These athletes are dynamic playmakers and personalities that most fans can get excited about.

The countdown to spring training is on, and it is time for owners to take the plunge on two superstars.

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