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Why are so many free agents unsigned?

Yeah, a lot of players are still available, but there's a good reason for that: They're pretty bad.

Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports

This morning, marveling at the free agents still available, Jayson Stark tweeted out his All-Unemployed team:

It's surprising to see so many totally qualified major league players available this late in the offseason. And it naturally invites the question of why so many are still out there. Well, the answer becomes clear as we look at Jayson Stark's All-Unemployed team and how they're projected to do in 2016. Thankfully, we have Baseball Prospectus's PECOTA system, which came out yesterday (and some of which are deeply weird) and Dan Szymborski's ZiPS projections to help us.

Position

Name

TAv

PAs

PECOTA WARP

ZiPS WAR

C

Tony Sanchez

.251

250

0.7

NA

1B

Justin Morneau

.255

250

0.1

0.6

2B

Juan Uribe

.244

375

1.3

1.5

SS

Ian Desmond

.257

604

3.0

1.4

3B

David Freese

.265

455

0.7

1.2

LF

Marlon Byrd

.255

531

0.9

0.0

CF

Dexter Fowler

.267

613

1.7

1.5

RF

Austin Jackson

.254

527

1.4

1.3

DH

Pedro Alvarez

.262

452

0.8

0.7

A couple of notes here. First, this is going to be the worst offense in baseball, probably by a good margin. An average "True Average" is around .260 and this club has just three players projected to beat that, none of them by much. For some context, the Royals are projected to have the worst offense in the American League this year by PECOTA. They have five members of their starting lineup who are projected to have a TAv above .260, including three in excess of .270.

It's also a bad defensive squad, with Juan Uribe forced to move to second base and with a couple of underperforming defensive outfielders. It's easy to see why teams are avoiding these players, given that they simply don't project to be all that good. Certainly, it's an open question whether it's worth sacrificing a draft pick to bring in Dexter Fowler or Ian Desmond for anything short of a deep discount. And if anyone on this list, beyond those two, is holding out for a multi-year deal, they should probably stop. And that's before we get to Stark's list of reserves.

Now, on to the rotation:

Name

PECOTA ERA

PECOTA IP

PECOTA WARP

ZiPS WAR

Yovani Gallardo

4.35

158

1.1

1.8

Alfredo Simon

4.75

159

-0.1

0.7

Tim Lincecum

4.03

78

0.3

0.7

Kyle Lohse

4.36

140

0.7

0.7

Jeremy Guthrie

4.75

139

-0.1

0.4

The worst pitching staff in the American League belongs to the Orioles, who are also projected to be the worst team in the AL. It's truly awful, with no pitcher worth more than two wins, just three projected to be worth more than one win, and two within spitting distance of replacement level. It still is better than the five starters projected above by a good half win (that said, it will be significantly improved by the addition of Gallardo, should that happen.

So why are these guys still out there? As you would expect this deep in the offseason, it's because we're looking at the dregs of the free agent class. Oh sure, there are a lot of recognizable names, but most of them project to be worth no more than a win or a win and a half. And sometimes worse. And some have injury issues that prevent teams from counting on them (Morneau, Lohse, Simon).

There are still players who can help a contending club, such as Fowler, Gallardo, or Desmond, but they come with that pesky qualifying offer that continues to stymie their attempts to sign anywhere. The overwhelming majority of those left are worth no more than one year deals in the $5 million range, if not just a minor league contract with a Spring Training invitation. With a ton of passable Major Leaguers left out there who don't appreciably move the needle for any clubs still in the market for help, no wonder nobody seems to be in a huge hurry to sign them.