Here's why the remaining free-agent market is so puzzling

It’s the middle of January, closer to the beginning of spring training than the end of the season, yet even after Tuesday’s reported agreements for Wei-Yin Chen to sign with the Marlins and Gerardo Parra to join the Rockies, there remains a lot of free-agent business to be done.In some cases, like Chris Davis turning down a seven-year, $154 million offer to return to the Orioles, the reasons for the stagnation are obvious. What makes less sense is the lack of buzz surrounding impact talents such as Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Upton. BOBBY BONILLA ALL-STARS: Eight former stars still getting paid by teamsThen there are the players who can be legitimate contributors, but are having their markets depressed by the attachment of a qualifying offer and the requirement that a signing team surrender a draft pick: Ian Desmond, Dexter Fowler, Yovani Gallardo, Howie Kendrick and Ian Kennedy all remain available. Those players might be hurt by the continued availability of players such as Doug Fister, Mat Latos, Alexei Ramirez, Alex Rios and Juan Uribe, who should be cheaper and do not come with an organizational penalty tied to their signature on a contract. Of course, the fact that all of those players remain unsigned says something, too.So, where will they wind up?Good question. If there was an easy answer, they would have signed by now.Using rough payroll projections from and historical salary information from Baseball Prospectus, there are 11 teams already on track to have their highest-ever opening day payrolls: the Blue Jays, Cardinals, Cubs, Mariners, Pirates, Rangers, Red Sox, Rockies, Royals, Tigers and Yankees.Another five teams — the Astros, Diamondbacks, Mets, Twins and White Sox — figure to have payrolls short of team records, but higher than they were on opening day in 2015.Then there are eight teams — the A’s, Angels, Giants, Indians, Marlins, Orioles, Padres and Rays — who are less than $10 million from either their team record payroll, their 2015 opening day salary figure, or both.That leaves six teams. The Braves, Brewers, Phillies and Reds are all in various stages of rebuilding and don’t figure to be landing spots for free agents.Who’s left? The Nationals, who generally appear set at every position, and the Dodgers, who are projected to have a $230 million payroll, don’t seem to want to approach $300 million again and have a fairly crowded roster.And just like that, we’re down to zero obvious teams for any free agent.Approaching payroll heights does not, of course, disqualify teams from adding more dollars to the equation. Kansas City, already into record territory, has been linked to Kennedy, and that makes sense both because of his profile as an innings-eater who can lean on strong outfield defense as a fly-ball pitcher and because of pitching coach Dave Eiland.Likewise, roster crunches are not death to free-agent signings. The Cubs had a crowded infield before they signed Ben Zobrist, but were able to trade Starlin Castro to the Yankees, making room while also acquiring a valuable pitcher in Adam Warren.The problem in trying to project the remaining free-agent market is that it’s hard to see how such multifaceted moves might work out for various teams. Davis, for instance, would be an upgrade at first base for the Nationals, but signing him almost certainly would require moving Ryan Zimmerman, who is signed through 2020 and has 10-and-5 rights to veto any trade.Where there’s baseball logic, such as “Cleveland could use Cespedes,” there are financial hurdles. Where there’s monetary flexibility, there are baseball obstacles. It does open the door for a team like the Phillies to make a bold move and pitch Upton on

the idea of jump-starting their journey back to contention, with the knowledge that a young core is developing and with him on board, the playoffs might be even closer than previously planned. Such as scenario, though, remains difficult to envision.What’s easier to see happening is that with high supply and low demand on the free-agent market, with spring training drawing ever closer, prices will come down and teams willing to do a little bit of financial stretching will be rewarded for following baseball logic to add quality players. It’s just impossible to know which teams will become the bargain hunters.