JUPITER, Fla. • As his former teammates crossed the chalk lines Wednesday, made some throws, took some grounders and went through their early, informal spring workouts, Lance Lynn watched, briefly, from the other side of the fence. He was, quite literally, on the outside looking in.
Welcome to the year free agency froze over.
Lynn, slimmed down and several weeks into his throwing program, has everything he needs to start the season — health, dates for the start of spring, when opening day is — everything, that is, except for a team. A free agent for the first time in his career, he, like dozens of other standout players, remains unsigned as the second week of February arrives.
“It’s an interesting offseason and I don’t think anyone saw it coming,” Lynn said. “You look at it this way: Every year you know when spring training starts. You know when the season starts. So you know what to do to get ready and nothing really changes there. I haven’t missed anything. There’s nothing really to worry about — at this moment.”
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Lynn, who lives in the Jupiter area, visited the Cardinals’ complex at Roger Dean Stadium on Wednesday to see a friend, he said. He spent some time talking with Matt Carpenter, who along with infielders Paul DeJong and Kolten Wong has been on campus taking grounders. Adam Wainwright played catch Wednesday as he readies his arm, and Luke Weaver was among the players who arrived Wednesday. Yadier Molina has been a regular at the facility all offseason, and first-round pick Delvin Perez tagged along Wednesday, wearing a red Molina-brand cap.
There are seven or eight teams that have showed interest in Lynn, a source said. The Milwaukee Brewers have interest, though a source described how they were looking toward trade options. Reports linked them to Tampa Bay, where Jake Odorizzi could be available. The Chicago Cubs also have had contact with Lynn’s agent. Multiple reports Wednesday suggested the Baltimore Orioles were pursuing Lynn. The Minnesota Twins are shopping for a starter and have looked to Lynn, and Washington has been mentioned as a fit. The New York Mets could yet emerge as a suitor.
Lynn declined to discuss any specific team or name interested ones.
The Cardinals are not in the mix.
The only club Lynn has known — he was a first-round pick for the team in 2008 and a member of the World Series championship team in 2011, an All-Star in 2012 — gave him a qualifying offer. He declined. The Cardinals appear content with their compensatory draft pick and don’t plan, at this time, to re-sign Lynn.
“The offseason got off to a slow start with (Shohei) Ohtani’s availability and the (Giancarlo) Stanton trade, and there has been a lot more trades than you’ve really seen,” Lynn said. “The pace has just been slow. No one knows the true reasons. A lot of guesses. You can point fingers here or there.”
That’s what happened this past week.
The players’ union and Major League Baseball exchanged barbed statements about the stagnant market. Tony Clark, the chief executive for the MLBPA, released a statement that accused teams of being in a “race to the bottom.” Multiple teams have embraced the game’s tanking culture, which means strip-mining rosters of age and going younger and cheaper now and contending later, maybe.
Clark’s statement said the lack of interest in free agents was a “breach of trust.” Major League Baseball responded with a statement that referenced how many nine-figure offers there were out there — MLB forbids teams from talking about such offers so as not to shape the market — and suggested that the accusations made by the union are “unfair, unwarranted, and inflammatory.”
Of the 166 players who filed for free agency in November, only 61 of them had signed by the start of business Wednesday, according to The Associated Press.
One of those with no deal is Lynn, who has felt the chill.
A year ago, as Cardinals executive John Mozeliak walked toward the spring training clubhouse, Mike Leake shouted that he could “get a deal done right now” between the Cardinals and Lynn. Leake, who was traded a few months later, suggested it would be “$100 million,” and then a news conference. That number wasn’t improvised. In 2015, coming off his age-29 season, Jordan Zimmermann signed a five-year, $110 million deal with Detroit as a free agent. At the time, he had a 70-50 record, a 3.32 ERA, and a 20.2 WAR. His ERA+, which compares his performance against peers with 100 being average, was 118.
After going 11-8 with a 3.43 ERA in 2017, his first season back from Tommy John surgery, Lynn has a 72-47 career record, a 3.38 career ERA, a 14.9 WAR and a 114 ERA+. He’s a year older than Zimmermann.
That is, as they say in baseball, his “comp.”
Or, as they used to say in baseball.
The market has changed, with teams almost universally reluctant to offer the kind of long-term contracts once considered standard. The use of advanced statistics has become widely accepted as the coin of the realm and teams talk about “value” as much as they do “production.” Pitchers in their 30s have felt a pinch. Lynn turns 31 in May.
“What the market has been and what you think your market will be is all it comes down to, and that’s this — you’ve got to see where teams want to go,” Lynn said. “For me, there was no true expectations because I’ve never done it. I’ve never been a free agent. Your expectation is to find a place that is going to be a fit for you and where you have a chance to be successful. That’s still my expectations.”
Lynn was able to have an offseason free of rehab protocols, and he has not altered his preparation at all as he waits for a new team.
A lot of the early weeks of spring training can be accomplished with access to a gym and a mound. He is in the process of building arm strength and readying for bullpen sessions, which he can do by enlisting a catcher. At some point he will, like pitchers in camps, have simulated innings and face hitters.
“As a pitcher, spring training is about building up pitch count,” Lynn said. “Now, going against big-league hitters is a little different feel. There are a lot of big-league hitters who don’t have jobs right now, so I’m sure I’ll be able to find somebody to throw to.”
He said that with a grin.
“It’s going to sort itself out,” Lynn concluded. “What’s there to be frustrated about? The season hasn’t started yet. You’ve got to just see where things fall and go when it’s time.”
And with that he climbed in his car and drove away.
He couldn’t say.