MLB Shift Driving Market Realities
Image courtesy of © Jim Young-USA TODAY SportsLooking at the list of the top 25 free agents for 2018 from MLB.com, only four of the top 10 players available have been inked to deals. Shohei Ohtani chose the Los Angeles Angels in a deal that was never going to reflect true market value. Wade Davis inked the largest relief contract ever with the Rockies, Jay Bruce rejoined the Mets, and Lorenzo Cain entered the National League with the Milwaukee Brewers. However, the battle cry continues to be that money is scarce on the market, and players demand better.
In a tweet from agent Brody Van Wagenen, threats regarding a strike were made, and indications of former $200 million and $300 million deals were alluded to. It's absolutely fair on one hand to see players band together; being represented by a union, that's what should take place. That being said, the threat of a strike while failing to realize market indications seems somewhat like misplaced frustration. First and foremost, a strike would effectively squash all positive momentum the sport has, which is currently experiencing popularity at its peak. The players stand to gain nothing in the long run from a strike, and comparing the current landscape to that of 1994 couldn't be further from level ground. The second part of the equation however, is what both market factors and available commodities are telling us.
There're two real situations at play this offseason in my mind. Situation number one is that the crop of free agents is, for lack of better descriptors, rather week. Jay Bruce was a top ten name, Yu Darvish is truly the only ace, and as good as he is, J.D. Martinez as a true designated hitter becomes a top three get (this coming from someone who genuinely supports the DH, and believes it ought to be universal). No doubt owners have revenues to disperse, but there is a lack of players worthy of the funds to be allocated, in a sense.
The second situation is that the impending free agent class represents one of the greatest to ever hit the open market. Brian Dozier, Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado, Charlie Blackmon, Byrce Harper, A.J. Pollock, and Andrew McCutchen highlight the bats. On the mound, names like Gio Gonzalez, Clayton Kershaw (likely), Dallas Keuchel, Klevin Herrera, Craig Kimbrel, and Zach Britton all get the engine running. As harsh of a reality as it may be, the money allocated for those players should be significantly more than what's currently available.
I'm absolutely in favor of a player being paid whatever they can get, and your worth as far as a contract goes should be whatever someone is willing to pay you. However, it seems that agents are overreaching while players are lulled into a false sense of reality. When it comes to a free market structure, it's generally the market that dictates valuations. One player commanding an unrealistic amount would effectively throw off the valuations surrounding the entirety of a current class or one in the future.
We have heard reports of Darvish seeking something north of seven years and $175 million, while someone like Hosmer has been reported to have seven year deals on the table, but holding out for eight. There've been notes reporting Martinez is looking for $200 million, and Arrieta could be commanding as much. Sure, given the current availability of free agents, those numbers might not be ridiculous in a vacuum. The problem however, is that organizations are trying to create a culture of consistent winning. By offering Martinez $200m or Hosmer eight years, the correct structure of a Machado or Harper deal becomes $600m or 15 years. At some point, there has to be reality to the sliding scale matching talent or return, with valuation.
Throw into the equation that front offices are also now more intelligent than ever before. Analytics may not have entirely taken over the on-field product, but you can bet that algorithms are run for virtually every dollar amount thrown into a discussion. No longer does a team want to get stuck paying Albert Pujols $240m over 10 years, while he limps through two-thirds of the deal. The Zack Greinke's and Giancarlo Stanton's over the world make the money easier to wrap your head around given the age factor (similar to what Machado and Harper will experience), but massive paydays spread across significant time commitments for players into their 30's has long been a negative proposition.
At the end of the day, I expect a dam to break, and it's the players that probably need to do some budging. Sure, there's absolutely money to be spent, and the sport should continue to foster payroll growth. What can't happen however, is for talent to hold money hostage until market inefficiencies are forced. The future viability of contracts relies upon a level of consistency year over year. Baseball being an uncapped sport leads to an interesting economic study created entirely by its own doing. The sport needs Darvish and Hosmer thrilling fans, but it also needs them doing it in a scenario that makes sense for future markets as well.
We may have had one of the most boring off-seasons in recent memory, but there's a time crunch coming, and the craziness could just be about to start.
Originally posted at Off The Baggy.
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