In the aftermath of pitcher Ervin Santana and outfielder Nelson Cruz signing one-year contracts to get to spring training camps, agent Scott Boras said that shortstop Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales -- the only qualifying-offer free agents left on the market -- do not plan to lower their sights to sign quick deals and are willing to wait until June to find homes if necessary.
Drew, the starting shortstop on Boston's 2013 championship team, and Morales, who hit 23 homers and drove in 80 runs as Seattle's main designated hitter last season, remain unemployed four months after rejecting $14.1 million qualifying offers from their teams. Both players continue to work out six days a week at Boras' sports training institute in South Florida, where they are conducting what Boras calls an "intense spring training" under the guidance of former big leaguer Alex Ochoa.
Boras said he continues to have active dialogue with teams on both players, including discussions about potential multiyear contracts. One scenario under consideration, he said, is for Drew and Morales to sign after the June draft, when they will no longer be burdened by draft-pick compensation.
"The system they've been dealt has basically prevented them from free agency," Boras said. "They want to make sure about their next step, whatever that will be. It means either signing a long-term contract now -- and we're still taking offers on those -- or a number of other prospects that could occur after the season starts or in June, after the draft happens.
"Like any players, they want to play baseball. But they're also looking at the long-term aspect of their careers. This system has placed them not in free agency, but it's placed them in a jail."
Santana, who sought a deal of $100 million-plus at the start of the winter, agreed to a one-year, $14.1 million contract with the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday. Cruz signed a one-year, $8 million contract with Baltimore after rejecting several multiyear offers during the offseason, according to sources. Like Drew and Morales, both players turned down $14.1 million qualifying offers (Santana from Kansas City, Cruz from Texas) that entitled their former clubs to draft-pick compensation if they signed elsewhere.
The current system has come under criticism from agents who think it puts a significant damper on the market for top free agents. Tony Clark, executive director of the players' association, recently told reporters that the market for several top free agents this winter is of "concern" to the union. But barring any changes, the system will be in place until the end of baseball's collective bargaining agreement in 2016.
In the two years under the current landscape, all 22 players who have received qualifying offers have declined and decided to take their chances on the open market. Boras, an outspoken critic of the system, said that's no surprise.
"I started preparing these guys in November for what I knew was going to happen," Boras said. "Everybody talks about these players turning down these [one-year] qualifying offers like they're village idiots. The reason is, they don't want to be in the same position again next year. If I'm a good player, I'm going to take the prospect of free agency.
"If I'm one of these players, I'm not on the train to free agency -- I'm on the Ferris wheel of multiple qualifying offers. It is circular. There is no escape hatch to the system."
Boras was in a similar position a year ago with outfielder Michael Bourn and pitcher Kyle Lohse. Bourn signed a four-year, $48 million contract with Cleveland on Feb. 11, and Lohse waited until March 25 before agreeing to a three-year, $33 million deal with Milwaukee.
While Drew and Morales wait for their situations to be resolved, their former clubs appear ready to move on without them. Boston has plugged Xander Bogaerts in at shortstop, and Seattle will likely go with a combination of Justin Smoak, Logan Morrison and Corey Hart in the first base-DH slots.
In the meantime, their agent continues to take aim at the inequities of the system.
"The integrity of the game is at hand here," Boras said. "Clubs are refusing to employ premium free agents for their true market value because of an artificial, collectively bargained process that does not help the game or the fans' perception of the game. These players earned their free agency and played at very high levels to get it.
"The credo has to be, 'We pay performance, and the best performance should be compensated appropriately.' Under this system, we have a huge gap. We have players of lesser performance getting compensated dramatically more."