WEST PALM BEACH, Florida -- Mad Max is angry about the current state of free agency.
"When there's too many teams that are not trying to win, that poisons the game, poisons the fan experience, and it creates bandwagon fans," Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer said Thursday morning before his team's first spring training workout. "If you're constantly just trying to go in this win-loss cycle that MLB is pushing, you are creating bandwagon fans, and that's not the type of fans you want to create. You want to create the fans that are following the team year in, year out. It's put on the fans, honestly, to demand that from the league."
Scherzer's comments come at the end of an offseason in which the free-agent market was stagnant for a second straight year. Among the dozens of players who remain unsigned as camps opened this week is Bryce Harper. A teammate of Scherzer's for the past four seasons and a former MVP in 2015, Harper and four-time All-Star Manny Machado headlined an elite free-agent class and were both expected to flirt with the record-setting $325 million contract that Giancarlo Stanton received in 2014. Instead, midway through February, both players are still seeking employment.
"It's not just Bryce, but there's other free agents as well, and now this is consecutive offseasons," said Scherzer, a three-time Cy Young winner who signed a $210 million deal with the Nationals in January 2015. "Now you've got to start searching for what the answers are and why is this continuing to happen -- because it should not be happening. No other sport has this in their free agency. Why is this exclusive to baseball? You've got to start looking at different reasons of why is this happening.
"One thing I think that is going in, that's pervasive, is the amount of commentary from club officials and everybody that make their knowledge public of what they're trying to do in the offseason. It just feels like teams are negotiating through the media. To me, that's one of the key driving forces in why we're seeing a slower market than usual. We know every intention of every single team. It's something that other leagues consider tampering, and they don't tolerate that."
Although Harper does not yet have a home, his former team has been arguably the most aggressive in baseball over the past couple of months. In early December, the Nationals inked former Arizona Diamondbacks hurler Patrick Corbin to a six-year, $140 million pact that's more than twice as rich as the next largest deal of the offseason (Nathan Eovaldi re-signed with Boston for $67.5 million over four years). Washington also signed starter Anibal Sanchez, second baseman Brian Dozier, catchers Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes, and relievers Kyle Barraclough and Trevor Rosenthal.
Considered the premier starting pitcher on the market, Corbin is surprised by the glut of players still available, a group that includes fellow lefty and former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel.
"Signing that early, I didn't know what was going to happen," Corbin said Thursday morning, prior to throwing his first bullpen session with his new team. "I guess now, we didn't see this coming, so like I said, there are a lot of good players who can help good ball teams. So hopefully they find a place."