I mentioned the 2018 free-agent class in the Bryce Harper piece from Tuesday and then again Wednesday in explaining that the Los Angeles Dodgers are collecting as much cheap, cost-controlled young talent as possible as they wait for the bloated contracts of their veterans to expire.
That's because the group of potential free agents that year will be incredible. Besides Harper, you'll have Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, Andrew McCutchen, A.J. Pollock, Dee Gordon, Jose Fernandez, Dallas Keuchel, Matt Harvey, Garrett Richards and Shelby Miller. Players with opt-out clauses will include David Price, Jason Heyward and Clayton Kershaw. Need a relief pitcher? How about Trevor Rosenthal, Zach Britton, Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Miller, Kelvin Herrera, Jeurys Familia or David Robertson? There will be veterans like Adam Jones, Michael Brantley, Adam Wainwright and Adrian Gonzalez available as well.
So as teams maneuver for 2016 and beyond, they're also keeping that 2018-19 offseason in their back pocket. Obviously a lot can happen in three years and some of those players may sign extensions, but it could be the best free-agent class ever.
(I'm not sure which class currently holds that honor -- maybe the first one in 1976-77? Reggie Jackson, Bobby Grich, Gene Tenace, Sal Bando, Rollie Fingers, Joe Rudi, Gary Matthews, Don Baylor, Bert Campaneris, Don Gullett, Dave Cash, Bill Campbell, Wayne Garland coming off a 20-win season. The 1998-99 group had Randy Johnson, Kevin Brown, Bernie Williams, Mo Vaughn, Albert Belle, David Cone, Rafael Palmeiro, Ken Caminiti, Roberto Alomar, Robin Ventura, Brian Jordan, Ellis Burks and Scott Brosius, all of whom had been worth at least 10.0 WAR over the previous three seasons. Thank you, Baseball-Reference.com.)
Anyway, take the Dodgers. The only money they have committed in 2019 is $3.5 million for Matt Kemp, plus $34.5 million for Kershaw, if he doesn't opt out.
Take the St. Louis Cardinals. They have just $24 million committed that year, the final seasons for Matt Carpenter and Jedd Gyorko under their current contracts. Oh, and 2018 happens to be the first year of their $1 billion local TV deal.
The New York Yankees? Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and others will be gone by then and they'll have just $57 million on the books for Masahiro Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury and Starlin Castro.
The Philadelphia Phillies? They may be ready to compete for the playoffs by then. Ready to spend big money on free agents.
The Boston Red Sox aren't in quite the same shape, with $97 million committed. But that drops to $66 million if Price opts out.
The New York Mets? Wait, they're not a big-market franchise.
You get the idea. Now, Dodgers fans don't want to hear that a team that spent $300 million on payroll in 2015 is avoiding spending any money for 2016 in order to save for 2019. But the model that Andrew Friedman & Co. inherited wasn't sustainable: Old, expensive players only get worse. The Dodgers may still be the NL West favorites, and the offseason isn't over. Acquiring potentially useful players like Trayce Thompson and Micah Johnson won't impress, but the front office continues to build roster depth. And Baseball-Reference estimates their 2016 payroll at $205 million, which doesn't yet include Hisashi Iwakuma, whose signing isn't yet official.
So Bryce Harper ... don't put him in pinstripes just yet.