A look at the list of still-available free agents makes it seem fairly certain that a lot of last-minute minor league deals will be struck in late January-early February.
Not that there won't still be some big money deals; certainly names like Matt Holliday and Jason Bay and a couple of others still figure to get premium dollars. But with more than 100 names still out there, it's also safe to say that some of those players are going to end up either out of the game completely, or playing in an independent league for peanuts.
Watching the sixth game of the 1952 World Series on the MLB Network this morning, both the Yankees and the Dodgers had no concerns at all back then that they'd lose a player to free agency, or be faced with having to offer a player arbitration. Their players were theirs, for as long as they wanted them. The players - who didn't know any better - were okay with that.
If you've never watched that game - they show it on their "All-Time Games" series with some frequency - it's worth a couple of hours of your time. Just to see how quickly the pitchers work, the size of the strike zone, players leaving their gloves on the field, the absence of any kind of dramatic shift against lefthanded pull hitters; it was clearly a different time then. Baseball was the clear leader in professional team sports, and New York was where the best teams played.
Billy Loes started game six for Brooklyn. Loes was a New York native who had gone 14-8, 4.54 in 32 games and 25 starts (9 complete games) for the Dodgers that year. He'd later pitch for the Orioles and Giants, though he was actually traded to Washington for pitcher Vito Valentinetti in 1959. Loes claimed he had a sore arm when he got there, and the trade was voided. He likely just didn't want to pitch for the Senators.
Loes is the pitcher who famously said he never wanted to win 20 games, because "they'd just expect you to do it again the next year." He also once lost a ground ball in the sun.
Billy Loes was finished at age 31. He'd been conditionally sold by the Giants to the first-year Mets, and returned to the Giants after not making the squad in New York. The Giants then released him, despite a 6-5, 4.24 1961 season in 26 games, 18 starts (3 complete games and a shutout). He left behind a 80-63, 3.89 career mark in all or parts of 11 seasons.
Loes is an example, I think, of a player that today would likely get a much longer look. Despite his claim of arm trouble after a trade to the Nats, he never spent a day on the DL in his career. He was considered a solid, if slightly flakey, teammate, based on what I've been told by the men who played with in Baltimore.
There were no agents in those days. Players were on their own to find employment, and Loes just went home to Long Island when he was released. There's no evidence he tried to play in the minors. He just went on with his life.
The current crop of major league free agents features a number of players who've made a lot of money in the big leagues. For many, if their baseball career is now complete - and they got some good financial advice along the way - they'll never have to lose sleep wondering how they'll make their house payment, or feed their families. A job? Not really a consideration.
Watching the old games is an education, but the real stories require digging a little deeper.
Oh, one more thing: Billy Loes turned 80 two weeks ago. Many happy returns, righthander.