While there are still plenty of stars holding out, this year's free agency saw a flurry of early signings by big-name players.
So far, Buffalo and Memphis lead the way with 2 signings each, but 7 teams have signed contracts that could alter the balance of power in their divisions.
Let's start in Buffalo. New skipper gumbercules hasn't even figured out where his office is yet and he's already landed a pair of vets who, though aging, can still rake. Vinny Zhang and his lifetime .427 OBP come on to patrol RF for the next couple of years for $5MM per (average). Grade A. Then they go get William Katou - probably a future Hall of famer - for 3 years and a measly $4.1MM a year. Grade A and a candidate for Best Bargain In Free Agency.
The NL South may end up becoming the highest-payroll division: Mexico City and Memphis seem to be making big-money bids to get parity with Austin. The Desperadoes reeled in Wally Reid for a 5-year deal at $9.5MM a year, plus a $5MM bonus this year. Some may predict that his range will diminish too far to stay in CF for the duration, but I think his hitting will hold up. Not a cheap deal, but still a solid Grade B. The Mudcats grabbed perhaps the best SP available in Brian Nakajima (3 years, $9.5MM per). Good job not having to tack on a 4th year there - Grade B+. Memphis got another SP, Barry Carew, for 2 years, $6.2 per. I like this signing for their ballpark - Carew has a long history of doing well in big ballparks (see Tacoma years) and not-so-well in smaller spaces (See Trenton years). For this price - Grade A-. Look for both teams to keep spending.
San Jose got in on the action by signing IF Brad Hart to a 4-year deal averaging $7.925MM a year. Hart's a decent player - better than decent defensively - but this price tag is a little on the high side. Grade B-
Salem got a good-hitting catcher for a couple of years (at $5.2MM/year) in Lewis Bell. Bell's has a .406 lifetime OBP and decent pop (160 HR's in 7 seasons). The only question about this deal is why they didn't tack on another year or 2. Grade A.
Kyle Bradshaw inked a 2-year deal ($11.6 over 2 seasons) with Columbus. Not exactly sure why the Criminals went for a 37 year-old veteran while they're in rebuild mode, but there is an option on the second year...this may be a good way for them to stay competitive without commiting to long-term contracts. Grade B.
Finally, reigning NL MVP John Li signed with the upstart Jacksonville Jokers for 5 years, $10.875MM a year. That's an expensive deal, but Li has delivered pretty consistently. Grade B. The Jokers still have a lot of dry powder - this may be the year we see a challenger emerge in the NL East.