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They come seeking opportunity, paying their own way, of course, for the chance someone, anyone, will offer them a job.

They do so in relative obscurity, away from the larger camps and TV cameras where optimism flows and everyone is welcomed.

Migrants?

Immigrants?

Laid-off workers in need of a handout?

No, these are current Major League Baseball players who are still unsigned free agents with just weeks left before the start of another season. More than 20 former big-leaguers are working out at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., hoping for another opportunity. Because they are not signed, they cannot attend spring training camps with any MLB team.

Most in attendance are fringe players like Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who is trying to squeeze another season out of his 11-year career.

He came and left the camp without receiving an offer.

"I can't believe this is happening," players agent Joshua Kusnick told USA Today about the high number of unsigned free agents. "I'm currently saving every penny I get and I'm advising my clients to do the exact same thing."

Well, welcome to the real world, Mr. Kusnick. We've missed you.

And thank you Major League baseball for reminding me why I haven't spent a penny at one of your ballparks in over 30 years. You lost me after the third players' strike in the 1980s.

Elite athletes should be compensated just as anyone who is highly skilled in their profession. But we can do without the whining and threats, including the suggestion by one prominent agent that players should boycott spring training until baseball owners start spending lavishly again.

"A fight is brewing," agent Brodie Van Wagenson said. "A boycott of spring training may be a starting point if (owner's) behavior does not start to change."

So, fans are supposed to sympathize with multi-millionaires like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Jake Arrieta, who left their former teams to test the open market? How about some loyalty toward the fans?

Maybe owners are just tired of getting burned by big-ticket free agents like Pablo Sandoval, who, basically, ate himself out of the league after signing a fat contract with the Boston Red Sox. He's now trying to earn a utility infield spot with his former team the San Francisco Giants.

Hosmer, the former NWA Natural and Kansas City Royals first baseman, is employed again after he signed an 8-year contract with the San Diego Padres worth $144 million. But his agent, Scott Boras, who has clients who are still unsigned, continues to complain about the restraint most major owners have taken toward free agency.

"We have a non-competitive cancer that's ruining the fabric of this sport,'' Boras said. "Until we change the system, this is going to continue. Remember when Bud Selig used to always say that every fan must have hope and faith? He said, 'If you remove hope and faith from the fan, you destroy the fabric of the sport.'"

Selig rejects the idea that baseball franchises, even the tight-fisted ones, have no interest in winning.

"The idea that people don't want to win is nonsense,'' Selig said. "I understand what clubs are doing. If you're trying to rebuild your club, the best way to do it is through your farm system. If you don't have a farm system, you're in trouble. Teams are simply recognizing that."

I do not dislike baseball, I dislike the process, and I share the disdain for a franchise like Tampa Bay, which sells off star players to greatly reduce its payroll. I look forward to covering high school baseball games beginning next week and I'll be in the stands on occasion to watch Dave Van Horn's Arkansas Razorbacks compete for an SEC championship, and maybe more.

But I've pretty much had it with all professional sports, including the NFL, where no one can determine what a catch is and where the action is constantly interrupted by replays. Oh, and I don't have any interest in an NBA season that stretches from Halloween to summertime in June.

So, I'll keep watching high school and college baseball games and search for inspiring sports stories about people like Jonathan Cheever. He's a snowboarder competing in the Winter Olympics in South Korea.

He's also a part-time plumber.

Sports on 02/25/2018

Print Headline: From frenzy to freeze, MLB free agency not what it used to be

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