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How to Solve the Free Agent Crisis

Posted by minnesquatcha , 10 February 2018 · 608 views

For the past month there has been a growing frustration from players in the free agent market and across the game. There have been calls for, a more myth than reality, spring training boycott and now a free agent spring training will be held for the dozens of players still unsigned to this point. It might be a bit dangerous, but I'm going to start this blog out with a series. This series will be aimed at finding solutions to the perceived issues with free agency. This first installment is focusing on how to disincentivize loosing. Despite the mutters of collusion, there is a fair assertion to be made that teams value players at a similar rate. The aging curve that teams often ignored to sign players to long term deals in order to push for a championship has disappeared and free agents don't like it. But, if you asked agents and players alike what the biggest drag on the current free agent market is, the majority would likely mention the lack of teams in the bidding. There are a lot of teams in the midst of a rebuild. The Twins AL Central alone includes three teams at one stage or another of a rebuild, which should give them a solid shot at a wildcard, if not the division if things break right. That being said, with so many teams in rebuild mode, there are less teams to bid on free agents and that, to these free agents, is a problem. I know there are a few years until the next CBA, but here are a few things the players could try to mitigate the want to rebuild.

Idea #1 Historic Average

I made up the name, so don’t go googling this. I am actually borrowing this idea from a TwinsDaily from a couple years ago. The idea is pretty simple. Since all you have to do is tank for one year to get the first round pick, if you make the pick based on an average of a couple years, then less teams may be inclined to tank. I ran the numbers based on the last two years and I came up with some interesting results. For example, despite making the playoffs this year, the Twins historically bad year last year would still have them picking 5th this upcoming summer. Looking at its influence as a deterrent, it would definitely impact a few teams plans. Teams like the Marlins, Rays and Royals would be less inclined rebuild after having a middling year because they would still be tied to the better record of the previous year. Even a two year running average may not be enough to prevent all teams from tanking, but it might bring a team or two back into the mix.

Idea #2 A Draft Lottery

The precedent for a draft lottery exists in both the NHL and NBA. The NBA’s rules for when you can pick are complicated, but everyone has a chance at the first pick and everyone can move up a certain number of places and your odds are based on your previous year’s record. Likewise, the NHL draft lottery odds are based on record. In the NHL a team can move up or down by no more than 4 spots (the worst team in the league can pick no lower than 5th). Both leagues employ the lottery in order to encourage more teams to compete instead of tank.

There are issues with the lottery though. In leagues where high draft picks are more likely to produce franchise altering players, bad luck can leave a team mired in a prolonged slump. Additionally, teams still are willing to play the odds and go for the high pick, even if they might pick lower than expected. The NBA has been considering things like giving the worst four teams equal odds in the lottery to discourage this, but it probably wouldn’t change a whole lot.

Idea #3 More Teams in the Playoffs

My first two ideas were related to the draft, so here is one that isn’t. There is no clean way to do this with the current MLB set up. If you go to 12 teams, one of the division winners needs to play a wildcard, or any number of circumstances could lead to a team that doesn’t deserve to be in the playoffs, being in the playoffs. On the flipside of that though, with more teams in the chase for playoff contention, teams would be less inclined to start a rebuild midseason based on a poor start. It may also encourage teams on the fringe of rebuild to stick it out for a year or two more with more playoff potential available. I know last year would have meant a team with a sub-.500 record making the playoffs in the NL, but if there was a 6th playoff spot available, teams like the Royals or Rays may have considered going for it more seriously.

Honorable Mentions: A Salary Minimum, Improving the Luxury Tax System

These are both going to be harder to do. A minimum salary in a capless league would be really difficult for teams to swallow. In addition, sometimes teams have a wave of successful prospects or prospects who need major league time who drive down salary due to their making the minimum. The luxury tax would be a bit easier to change and improve players chances of large market teams staying in the bidding, but owners, especially in small markets have fought hard for that cap and it might be hard to get rid of for the time being.

In summary, there are a lot of things that the players could vie for to in the next CBA to up the number of bidders on the market. This is just me throwing some things out there, if you have any other ideas, please share them in the comments! Next time, I’m going to discuss the ways players can increase their marketability.

  • The Wise One likes this

It's complicated.


First of, drafting. Your placement is also hindered by the amount you have to spend vs. the number of guys you basically need to sign each draft season to keep the minor league system developing. Actually, the draft is almost a parallel of free agency. What determines a guy getting multiple millions from someone getting a few hundred thousand. More askew because you are totally rewarding potential rather than (a a home team) contributions made in the past. And then you still have the hundreds of guys who don't get signed, but do sign at some point, for basically a 1 in 40 chance of getting a cup of coffee in the big leagues.


I like to think Jack Morris is the eprfect free agent example. He walked from the Tigers, who ahd every incentive to reward Jack with a BIG multi-year contract, because he was one of many Mr. Tigers at that point of his career. But there was also the chance that he was on the downside. Jack took the "hired gun" route to the max, and got a lucrative deal with the Twins for one season, and then turned around and got an even better two-year deal with the Jays with a taken buyout, and then signed a pretty low deal in his last year to try and stay in baseball. Would the Tigers have given him $10-12 million over three years at that stage of his career? Would the Twins up the ante to a multi-year contract at Jack's age and the budget they had at that point in time?


Budget. You can't legislate minimum overall spending for a team. But if you did, do you basically see more of what is happening now, high-price salary sent to rebuilding teams so bigger teams can have money to spend...and the receiving team basically gets an aging vetean for nothing as the other team uses the write-off for the current season, not the future season/s. 


It would be like (almost) saying that since the Twins offered, say Yu, $20+ million a year for five years...that means they can spend that $20 million still today (and tomorrow) on product, rather than just $5 million of $10 million.


Which brings up the question, what happens to the money NOT spent. Does it pay off your stadium investment (the Twins are doing this ahead of schedule, I believe), go into development (which now has caps on how much you spend) cheaper beer and brats, lower ticket prices, raises for front office staff, better butter on the popcorn.


Like so many unionized businesses, the players demand their share of the pie, usually 55%. No, the share of the pie is whatever ownership wants to pay for certain levels of talent. A rebuilding team doesn't have to spend that amount. A rich team is spending 55% but, like the Dodgers and Yankees, can still spend more (and they do). They spend more because they have to pay penalities which are rewarded to teams NOT spending their 55%. Go figure. Plus the outmake and outspend a team like the Twins almsot 2-1. Which also means they can afford to have $20-30 million sitting on an inactive or disabled list. (Look at the Twins in 2017...Phil Hughes and Glen Perkins NOT playing and controlling x-amount of salary dollars).


I'm sorry, the best player/s in a free-agent class don't have to be the best paid players in baseball or at their position JUST because there is lesser competition. They are paid what they are perceived to be worth to a team, and how that team will have to juggle money today and tomorrow.


Yes, the Twins were prepared to commit $20+ million to ONE player for the next 4-5 years. That's a good sign, or smoke and mirrors from the front office (something we have seen in the past..."we are in the game, look at us...dang, we didn't get the prize"). If the puzzle piece succeeds, you are loved. If they start treading water (look at Mauer comments the past few years...up and mostly down at one point) we cry "Foul!" 


It is hard to run a major league franchise in any sport. You want to pay for play (as fans do too). 


Again, look at the Draft. It shows you everything that may be wrong with the sport and free agency-type ideas. What are you aying someone millions to do...ride the bus and star in A and AA ball, never make the Big Leagues, drive a better car than msot of their teammates, rewards for being a Top High School of Collegiate player? Same with Free Agency...are you getting the rewards that player gave to his previous team during his early and arbitration years?


And don't get one started on arbitration. Yes, the system rewards you above expectations for years you played for cheap. But often at a price. You become too expensive for a team to keep and end up signing on the cheap elsewhere (then getting lucrative deals after-the-fact, see Anthony Swarzak and Brian Duensing, for example, or Pat Neshek). Again, being paid for what YOU DID, not what you MAY DO FOR SURE.


It's the FOR SURE that is the tell. You just don't know, and you must gamble.