The US economy is humming along quite nicely. Major League Baseball achieved record revenues of over $10 Billion last season. After several high drama, big market World Series, the sport is very relevant again and poised for future growth. So why are there still over 100 Major League free agents still on the market and team payrolls expected to drop for the first time since 2009?
You wouldn’t know this would happen in November. When Giancarlo Stanton was traded to the Yankees and it looked like teams would quickly be jumping into the market to build their 2018 rebuttal to the Houston Astros. It appeared imminent that the rival Red Sox would sign 2nd half superstar J.D. Martinez. Then?
Teams have committed less than $285M to players than their 2017 Opening Day salaries and while some superstars remain on the market that will be signed like J.D. and Jake Arrieta, at what kind of market discount?
Taylor Swift notes that “players want to play, play, play…” but as Commissioner Manfred waits for a pace of play proposal response they are telling the Commish: “Look what you made me do.”. They are drawing out the response and asking Mr. Manfred what HE is going to do about getting these players signed.
We are in February now – 11 days before pitchers and catchers report – and Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish don’t know where they will be reporting yet. Is this insane?
Is this the result of teams looking to save money, make profit and focus on youth – or something more nefarious?
As for the players using the pace of play as a bargaining chip, Rob Manfred had this to say:
“The players seemed to be saying that pace of game was a problem, it’s a problem that needs to be addressed, but we don’t like clocks,” Manfred said. “Our proposal then was, ‘Let’s see how year one goes.’ If in fact we get a reduction in our game time … there would be no clock in the second year of the agreement either. What we tried to explain in the process of making the proposal was, we were trying to put control over whether or not a clock went on the field in the hands of the players. We are waiting for a response to that proposal.”
I don’t think this will take the players very far. The Commissioner has the ability to push the changes he has proposed forward anyway, it is more of a passive-aggressive move anyway.
Right now the Milwaukee Brewers are the runaway favorites to make the biggest payroll jump after falling games short of the playoffs last year. They went big with the Lorenzo Cain signing and trade for Christian Yelich.
What about the other close teams that need to make that push? As more teams adopt a “tanking” approach to pay with cheap players while they build up the farm system then going for it which has been a proven success for the Royals in 2015, Cubs in 2016, and Astros in 2017, WHO is that team this year?
What about the Atlanta Braves, who have the #1 ranked farm system? What about the Nationals who are facing the prospect of the last guaranteed year of Bryce Harper? What about the Cubs – who will be losing half of their rotation – and clearly need bullpen help after watching Carl Edwards Jr pitch his arm halfway off during last years NLCS.
The word collusion should send shudders down the spine of any sports fan. Next, to gambling, it implies that we watch for, root for, pray for is all fake. Yet in Major League Baseball we have seen this before. Commissioner Peter Ueberroth in 1987 was forced to resign as commissioner of Major League Baseball after it was found he led the owners to collusion in the offseasons of 1985 and 1986. It was found
“at the Winter Meetings in San Diego that winter, the idea of ‘fiscal responsibility’ was preached to ownership. A list of the 62 players who filed for free agency was circulated to all teams and a message was sent to avoid the free agent market until a player was ‘released’ by their former club, meaning a team would have to make it public that a player no longer fit in their plans.”
Kirk Gibson was the biggest case for this secret as explained in this great FanGraphs article and it is true no one really fits that same bill in 2017/18. After a couple years of being ignored, he did find a deal with the Dodgers. Of course, that one turned out pretty well.
Now charges of collusion are appearing again. Agent Brodie Van Wagenen is threatening a boycott and makes this claim:
“Many club presidents and general managers with whom we negotiate with are frustrated with the lack of funds to sign the plethora of good players still available, raising further suspicion of institutional influence over the spending. Even the algorithms that have helped determine player salaries in recent years are suggesting dramatically higher values than owners are willing to spend.”
Of course, these kind of claims are serious and must be investigated earnestly. MLBPA Chief Tony Clark issues this statement in response that free agency is the”cornerstone of baseball’s economic system. Each time it has been attacked, Players, their representatives and the Association have united to defend it.”
So here we are again. Two weeks before pitchers and catchers report. Only a couple of more weeks before everyone reports. Over 100 players, many of whom can make a significant difference in the fate of the 2018 World Series Champion remain unsigned?
Slow market? Penny-pinching owners? Or collusion?