Will Smith and Yasmani Grandal were not the best free agents. They are not Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg or Anthony Rendon. They were the most distinct, though. That is why, well before Thanksgiving, they became the first free agents to receive multi-year deals to join new teams.
Yes, Cole, Strasburg and Rendon are Scott Boras clients, and that often entails a drawn-out process through the offseason. But when it comes to Cole, there is a Strasburg and even a Zack Wheeler or others to consider at the next level if you miss out on the best available starter. If a third-base-hungry team fails on Rendon, there is Josh Donaldson still on the free-agent market, and then Mike Moustakas.
There are legitimate alternatives.
But the gap between Smith (Braves) and the next best lefty reliever on the free-agent market and, especially, Grandal (White Sox) and the next-best catcher were so significant that teams had to act — and now — or else lack a comfortable fallback position.
This is how the free-agent market works now. Teams will pay for elite players with prime years still ahead of them — Cole and Rendon this offseason, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado last year. Or they…