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Pitchers and catchers report to spring training in less than a week, yet there’s a strange smell in the air. Big names: Mike Moustakas, Jake Arrieta, Eric Hosmer and Yu Darvish are yet to sign with teams, raising tension between the MLB and the MLB Players Association.
Both signed and unsigned players are displeased with the lack of effort to sign personnel, stirring accusations from the MLBPA of collusion between team owners.
While there are differing views to this year’s slow-moving free-agency market, there are a few points that everyone can agree on.
Owners made smart business decisions
In December of 2016, the MLB and MLBPA reached a five-year labour agreement. The way the latest collective bargaining agreement is constructed, players who enter the league on entry-level contracts are generally paid close to the league minimum. After the expiration of the contract, the player becomes arbitration eligible.
Basically the first six years of a major leaguer’s career is spent under team control with next to no power when deciding annual salary.
Once a player becomes an unrestricted free-agent, he’s no longer under team control, and can negotiate the term and price he desires to any team interested. The idea is for players to sign high-price contracts with term in their prime, while their stock is its highest.
But why would an owner pay a 31-year-old millions of dollars when he can pay a 23-year-old a fraction of the cost?
Ergo, the league is getting younger every year, and free-agents aren’t getting paid. This doesn’t mean owners won’t lock down franchise players, it just means players who hit the open market might not be paid their market value.
We should have seen this coming
J.D. Martinez ended 2017 with a .303 average, 45 homeruns, and 104 RBI, to enter free-agency as one of the top outfield options in the game. With just over a month before the start to the 2018 season, Martinez is still without a team.
It’s too hard to believe that he hasn’t garnered enough interest, which makes me think blue-chip free-agents and team owners are smack-dab in the middle of a good old fashioned waiting game.
When Edwin Encarnacion declined the Blue Jays’ four-year, $80 million offer last off-season, nobody thought he would get even less on the open market. Yet Cleveland signed him for $20 million less and a year shorter than Toronto offered by following the very same tactic.
Martinez, Arrieta, Hosmer, Darvish and Moustakas might not be signed right now, but they should be before the season starts (barring a strike or spring training boycott). The way negotiations have progressed since the winter meetings, it’s possible the players will be the first to break, and ultimately accept less money and term to return to work.
Baseballs becoming a “young man’s game”
The game is getting much younger, faster, and more athletic.
The Cubs won a World Series with a team comprised of Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Javier Baez, Albert Amora Jr., Willson Contreras and Kyle Schwarber; all of whom below 25 years of age when they won.
The Astros did the same with Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers Jr., Alex Bregman and Joe Musgrove.
Drafting and developing is the name of the game in all four major sports. Teams are far less-willing to dump money on aging players whose performance could drop-off at any point.
With Josh Donaldson’s contract expiring after 2018, he could share the same dilemma by this time, next year.