This offseason, the term “Free Agency” in baseball, appears to mean it is free of all signing activity.
Other than a few exceptions early, such as relief pitching, which seems to be the one area at a premium this offseason. The Cleveland Indians of 2016, and the Yankees of this past season are the new blue print of a championship baseball team. A starting pitcher need only go six innings, as more emphasis has been placed on a deep bullpen; usually a minimum of three quality pitchers finish innings seven thru nine.
The latest example of this strategy was the recent acquisition by the Colorado Rockies of former Cub’ closer, Wade Davis for an MLB record, 3 years paying out $52 million.
Every other baseball player that is a free agent is still sitting at home waiting for an offer as spring training approaches rapidly. Even the high end free agents like J D Martinez, & Jake Airetta remain unsigned.
Major League teams not named the Yankees, Dodgers, or Red Sox, are unwilling, or perhaps better stated, unable to sign free agents to long term deals anymore. The large market teams referenced above, are starting to take an approach similar to many of the smaller market teams due to more severe luxury tax penalty implications being enfored by the MLB.
So while the bulk of free agents remain unemployed with the spring training clock still ticking, a long term solution is obviously necessary to fix this problem.
The small market teams have no margin for error when it comes to awarding big contracts. A wrong assessment results, in a roster that is unable to increase payroll until the ultimately, too steep contract runs its’ course.
So what’s a small market team to do to remain competitive?
A prospective solution is a two step approach. The first is to have a definitive free agent time period such as other leagues currently utilize.
Second, and we do apologize for sounding like a broken record here, as this is no news to any avid baseball fan, but baseball remains the only sport of the major four, that still has no salary cap.
The other three major leagues (NFL, NBA, & NHL) all utilize the salary cap to create a competitive playing field for all markets, and teams (some could dispute the NBA lacks balance, but that’s not due to a lack of salary cap, and could be solved with a simple franchise tag, but that’s a whole other discussion)….
While these changes are critical to address these issues in baseball, they will not take place until the MLB Players Association, the strongest players union in sports, comes to the realization that they must change for the long term health of the sport.
Now for fans of those small market teams, we say, don’t hold your breath. This is an issue that is brought up by fans constantly, and has never seen it addressed to a serious degree.
Now, that being said, if the league continues to stick with this route, it is of the utmost importance when approving franchise owners, that these owners have the funds, and resources to keep their franchise competitive.
The Miami Marlins are an example of a recent carless purchase fiasco, that clearly shouldn’t have been approved. Yes, Derek Jeter was in the group, and unfortunately, the MLB didn’t look past this fact.
Now the Marlins have been sold, and it certainly looks like the new ownership group has any interest in spending money to field a competitive team in the near future. Not to mention trading their top players for a few buckets of baseballs (not really, but you get the idea).
So please, MLB… If you are going to stick with the cap (and the players union will likely make sure of it), it is your job to make sure these owners are making an effort to win. It’s not fair to the fans, it’s not fair to the players & personnel, and having owners willing to exhaust the proper resources also creates a more active free agency period.
Wait, sorry, active ‘free agency.’