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MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Time will come for unsigned free agents

Recent history shows players requiring compensation will find a home

Time will come for unsigned free agents play video for Time will come for unsigned free agents

With Spring Training four weeks away, a handful of the prime free agents remain on the open market.

Five of this year's free agents requiring compensation remain unsigned, which has led to an expression of concern about the players being limited in their free-agent bids because a team that signs them not only loses a top Draft choice, but also loses the slot money associated with that pick.

It is apparent, however, that the new system has limited the number of free agents who require compensation for being signed, and that it hasn't strangled the financial leverage of elite free agents.

There were nine impacted free agents a year ago, and 13 this offseason.

Under the revamped system, in order to receive compensation for losing a free agent, the team must offer the player a one-year contract worth the average of the top 125 player salaries from the previous seasons.

This year, that average was $14.1 million, which was rejected by the 13 players who were tendered. A year ago it was $13.3 million, which was rejected by all nine players who were tendered.

Of the eight who have signed deals this offseason, two have returned to their former team -- Hiroki Kuroda with the Yankees and Mike Napoli with Boston. Kuroda signed for one year and $16 million, while Napoli inked a two-year deal for $32 million; each contract garnered more than the tendered offer.

The other six signed multi-year deals worth $713 million that cover 36 years, an average of $19.8 million annually. The signees include Robinson Cano receiving a 10-year, $240 million deal from Seattle, Jacoby Ellsbury receiving a seven-year, $153 million deal from the Yankees, and Shin-Soo Choo signing a seven-year, $130 million contract with Texas.

All eight players who have signed have received annual average salaries in excess of $14.1 million.

As for the five remaining free agents who rejected the one-year, $14.1 million tender offer:

• DH/outfielder Nelson Cruz is 33, is coming off a 50-game suspension for PED violations, has played 130 games once in his career, has never driven in more than 90 runs and has hit 30 or more home runs just once.

• Shortstop Stephen Drew, 30, has played in a total of 289 games the last three years.

• Right-handed pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez was 6-5 in 13 second-half starts last year, but he had a 1.82 ERA, which added to his marketability. Or did it? Teams still question Jimenez's consistency. He has had two dominating half-seasons in his career -- the first half in 2010 and second half in '13 -- in which he was a combined 21-6 in 31 starts with a 2.05 ERA. The rest of his career, he is 61-69 in 182 starts with a 4.29 ERA.

• Designated-hitter Kendrys Morales is 30, and after battling injuries that limited him to 51 games in 2010 and kept him from playing in 2011, he has played in 290 games the past two years.

• Right-handed pitcher Ervin Santana is 29-35 the past three seasons, with an ERA above 5.00 in three of the last seven.

All nine free agents who were made a qualifying offer eventually signed a year ago, including Josh Hamilton, who received a five-year, $125 million deal from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Three of the nine re-signed with their former team -- Kuroda (one year, $15 million, New York Yankees), Adam LaRoche (two years, $24 million, Washington) and David Ortiz (two years, $26 million, Boston).

Those nine free agents signed for a combined $428.25 million for 28 years of service, an average of $15.29 million per year.

Five of the nine did not sign until after Jan. 1, including Kyle Lohse, whose three-year, $33 million deal with Milwaukee was finalized on March 25, 2013, and Michael Bourn, who signed a four-year, $48 million with Cleveland on Feb. 15, 2013.

The same goes for this year: The deals might not be consummated as quickly as some may want.

The end result, however, does not seem to indicate that the free agents have faced major financial hardships as a result of their current unsigned status.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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