At the end of the regular season, a pair of alarmed baseball men, not friends who bounce thoughts off one another but adversaries, actually, shared the exact same sentiment about an emerging trend they believe will drive much of the offseason activity this winter.
"Where did all the power go?" asked one.
"Take a guess how many guys hit 30 homers this year," the other asked. "Go ahead."
Thirteen, the reply went, and he was surprised that others knew what so flustered him: The emergence of great young arms, specialized relief pitching and information-loaded scouting data has conspired with fewer players using performance-enhancing drugs to starve home run numbers. The consequence is stark: Power is more expensive than ever in both the free agent and trade markets, and it already is dominating the conversation among agents and executives.
It also puts those in a position with such players to consider locking them up before the market correction expected this offseason sends salaries to stratospheric levels. Take, for example, the Reds and Bruce. Only three players have 30-plus homers each of the last three seasons: Cabrera, Beltre and Bruce. And it's not like Bruce is a product of Great American Ball Park's short fences, either. His average home runs traveled 405.3 feet, according to Hit Tracker Online – two feet farther than Cabrera's average homer and about 10 inches shorter than the presumed distance king, Davis.
With $50 million freed up from an upcoming Brandon Phillips trade – "He's gone," one executive said Tuesday – and the departure of Bronson Arroyo and Shin-Soo Choo, the Reds have a decent amount of payroll flexibility, even if they extend Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto or Mat Latos, all of whom will hit free agency within the next two years. While the Reds control Bruce through 2017 with three guaranteed years at $34.5 million and a team option for $13 million, the prospect of a pre-emptive extension isn't far-fetched, not when it's precedent for players with premium skills.
The Reds understand Bruce represents a rare breed today. In history, 18 players have hit at least 20 home runs every season from ages 21-26. The first 11 to do it are in the Hall of Fame. Tom Brunansky was the 12th. The others are Darryl Strawberry, A-Rod, Andruw Jones, Pujols, Cabrera and Bruce.
As the offseason progresses, don't forget this. It will be obvious everywhere that what one wise man wrote nearly 70 years ago in a dystopian novel now has all sorts of resonance in the modern baseball market.