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It’s February, and we’re still waiting on the MLB Free-Agent market to heat up. There has been plenty of finger pointing, but who is really to blame? The players? The owners? The awesome NBA season? There is a lot of blame to go around, hell, there is even talk about a strike.
A lot of people seem to think there is some sort of collusion in play on the part of the owners and general managers. And while, to some degree, this is probably true, it certainly isn’t the biggest thing holding up the market. I don’t think it’s realistic to say the owners all got on a big conference call and decided not to overpay free agents this off-season. In reality, with the emergence of advanced statistics and the ability to more accurately predict future performance, owners just have a better understanding of what players are worth. Take Yu Darvish, for instance (we will be talking about him more in a minute). There is still a massive disparity between what he thinks he’s worth and what teams think he’s worth. It was reported this week that Darvish has been offered multiple contracts in the 5 year/$100-$125 million range. However, he wants a 7 year/$175 million contract. That is a gigantic gap, and there is no chance Darvish will live up to that contract. He’s a 32 year old starting pitcher who has had Tommy John surgery and has a bit of an injury history. If we’re being honest, a 5 year deal makes me nervous.
It is thinking like this, and well known (and hated) agent Scott Boras that is likely making the biggest impact on the market. There hasn’t been a top tier free agent sign, excluding Lorenzo Cain, and the agents are playing a big role in it. You have top tier pitchers in Darvish, Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn, and even Alex Cobb still sitting out there. You have very good hitters in J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas waiting to get signed. There will be a record number of free-agent signings in February and March, a trend that has been growing in the past few seasons, and a large part of it is greed. I get wanting to get the most money you can, but at this point, Boras, and agents like him, are causing problems for teams and players alike. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see Boras lose a few big name clients.
Another aspect to look at, that might be causing the slow market– it’s a weak free agent class. J.D. Martinez is a great bat, but he is by far the best one on the market. Darvish and Arrieta have been great in the past, but they are aging arms asking for a ton of money. Next season will be one of the best free agent classes in recent memory. You will have some of the best bats and arms in the game hit the market, and a lot of teams are likely saving up some of their money for that class. It’s been well documented that the Yankees and Dodgers, two of the league’s most notorious spenders, are taking a step back this off-season to get under the Luxury Tax threshold, so that way they will be loaded and ready to spend next winter. When the heavy hitters are out of the market, it’s sure to slow everything down. This class being a little weaker than the traditional FA class is likely causing a bigger impact than people think.
I will never take the owners side. I tend to be against billionaires just as a principle, so I want to go on record saying I definitely think there is some level of collusion going on. There is strife between the league and the player’s union, which I hope can be fixed soon. Some of which has been caused by the recent announcement of a pitch clock potentially being used in 2019 (which I’m in favor of) and trying out a new rule which would automatically place a runner on 2nd base in extra innings (which I find utterly ridiculous), and a lot of players are unhappy with these developments, which they have been very vocal about. There are definitely some things going on which are reminiscent of the ’94 strike.
The last thing I want to point out that I think is holding up the market is Yu Darvish. He is the top free agent pitcher, and it seems like everyone is waiting on him to sign to get a gauge of where they should set their price at. The problem? He seems to be waiting on the Dodgers to make him an offer, which doesn’t seem likely. It was reported earlier this week that he is waiting on them to clear some space in their salary to sign him, and they are his top option, but it seems that the Dodgers just flat out are not interested in spending the $100+ million it would take to bring him back. I think once he finally signs, the rest of the free agents will start to fall in place.
I’m sure that since I’ve finally decided to take the time to write this (it’s probably the 10,000 piece like this written this off-season), Yu Darvish will sign by the end of the weekend setting off a chain of events that heat up the freezing cold stove. So to summarize my messy thoughts (apologies for that), the players, agents, and owners are all to blame. There is plenty of blame to go around. Sure, there is probably some collusion, but I also don’t think that’s any different than any other off-season in MLB history.
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