Jump to content

Providing independent coverage of the Minnesota Twins.
Subscribe to Twins Daily Email

The Forums

Free Agency / Re-Signings 2020-21 Offseason

Other Baseball Today, 12:09 PM
Free agency is likely going to be a really slow burn this year, but I still think it's worth having a thread to discuss signings. ...

Feinsand: Twins Interested in Marwin Reunion

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 11:25 AM
The Twins reportedly have expressed interest in re-signing free agent utilityman Marwin Gonzalez. MLB.com's Mark Feinsand shares the repo...

R.I.P. Hank Aaron

Other Baseball Today, 11:18 AM
Hank Aaron passed away this morning. He was 86 years old. Feels like we're losing MLB legends every week, unfortunately. 

Does Aaron Make It In All-Time Best Outfield?

Other Baseball Today, 09:45 AM
He makes my all time outfield: Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Henry Aaron. But think of whom is left out - Roberto Clemente, Ted Williams, Willie...

Adrianza signing elsewhere?

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 08:39 AM
Ehire Adrianza posted a Thank You message to the Twins and their fans on his Instagram page earlier today. Can't find any reports yet on...


Why MLB Free Agency is a Mess – and Why That Actually Helps the Twins

Posted by Allen Post , 07 January 2021 · 1,754 views

free agency jose berrios max kepler miguel sano jorge polanco
Why MLB Free Agency is a Mess – and Why That Actually Helps the Twins As we turn the calendar page over on a new year (or actually replace the calendar I guess), it’s fair to say that we’re all a little bit anxious. We may be anxious about any number of things, but, specifically regarding the Twins, we see holes in the roster, unsigned free agents capable of filling those holes, and a whole lot of nothing in terms of new signings. Everybody has their favorite potential signing and their own opinion on whether Nelson Cruz should come back, but, save for the Minnesota contingent of the Hansel Robles fan club, nobody’s ideal plan has even started to take shape. We’re just waiting, hoping that the holes get filled soon, and guessing at who they’ll be filled by.

Though it’s been worse this year due to uncertainty about game schedules and a potential National League DH, this anxious waiting-for-things-to-happen period has become a staple of the Major League Baseball offseason because the league’s free agency rules have one pretty major flaw. Every year, fans have to sit and wait while signings trickle in slowly and the top free agents – some of the best players in the league – can go months without a team. And it’s due in large part to the league’s rules about service time.

Under MLB’s free agency rules, a player does not qualify for free agency until they have six years of major-league service time or if they’re not offered a contract by the team that owns their rights (non-tender free agents). This means that almost all successful major-league players won’t see free agency until they’ve been in the league for six years. And, taking into account the significant time players spend in the minors, it means that most are pushing thirty by the time they get to choose where to play (as you can see here). Ok, so what? The issue is that, at 30, most players are at their career peak or just past it, and there’s often no telling how fast a player’s decline will come. There are just as many immediate disappointments like Lance Lynn as there are ageless wonders like Nelson Cruz. There are very few “sure things.”

Lance lynn
Lynn's failures as a Twin show the unpredictability of signing most veteran free agents

And, because baseball doesn’t have a salary cap, the guys that are closest to “sure things” (Realmuto, Ozuna, Springer and Bauer this year) can demand massive, $25+ million per year deals as the price for their services. Understandably, teams are wary of spending this kind of money, but they still want those blue-chip players. As a result, we get long drawn-out negotiations that cause fans to wait while players and teams are stuck in stalemates. And, because many teams are holding their money for the star free agents, the markets for the lesser free agents don’t really start until the big fish find new homes.

The result of all of this is a lot of waiting for the upper- and mid-level free agents to sign, and when they do, the best players will cost a scary amount of money and the others may or may not ever significantly help the team that signs them. Major League Baseball could fix this by peeling back the service time requirements (creating younger, deeper free agent classes) or by instituting a salary cap and max contract system (keeping players from demanding such huge contracts), but neither is likely to happen, so it seems that we’ll be stuck with baseball’s inefficient free agency system going forward.

Fortunately, this inefficiency actually helps the Twins. You see, if baseball had less stringent service time rules and free agency was more efficient, the wealthy teams that already dominate free agency would become that much more dominant. The better free agency gets, the better rich teams get. Imagine for a second if baseball had free agency rules like the NHL, where players are eligible for free agency at age 27 at the latest (NBA and NFL players see free agency even earlier) – Miguel Sanó and Max Kepler may already be in Yankee pinstripes or Dodger blue and José Berríos would be a year away from heading to Boston. That’s not good. Flashback to reality and the Twins can feature these players for years to come and have time and security to work out long-term deals without having to bid against richer teams. That is good. Major League Baseball’s free agency rules value team control more than any other major sports league in America and team control of young talent is exactly what the Twins have been successful with throughout their history.

miguel sano Max kepler
Sanó and Kepler are players the Twins are glad to have long-term

Sure, the new front office group has been able to spend more in recent years and they deserve real credit for turning Target Field into a free agent destination worthy of bringing in players like Josh Donaldson and Nelson Cruz. But, even so, it’s naïve to think that the Twins could compete with the top spenders in the league if free agency were expanded. The team is still built on developed talent, and that’s okay because they’re damn good at it. “Fixing” free agency would only allow other teams to steal the Twins’ homegrown talent away earlier in their careers.
So, the next time you find yourself getting frustrated at the lack of Twins signings or at the fact that Jorge Polanco is still the best shortstop on the roster, remind yourself to be thankful that Jorge Polanco and others are still on the roster at all. Yes, I’d like a more exciting free agency period, too. But, in this case, we should be careful what we wish for.

  • LA VIkes Fan likes this

I see your point but will also have to disagree. There are a couple major points the NBA AND the NFL have over baseball. (Though popularity and viewership has been declining somewhat recently). Revenue sharing in these sports, particularly the NFL, are much more balanced than they are in MLB. That creates a more solid floor and ceiling for each franchise. And it becomes even more important for each franchise to draft and sign smartly and just run said franchise better.

I refuse to take sides in MLB labor situations because I think both sides need to "smarten up" to understand the future health of the sport. If profit sharing was more equal in MLB, a salary cap actual works, because you then also have a concrete floor that all teams have to maintain.

Today, forgetting covid adjustments, just think of a $200M payroll cap but a $75M floor. There might be fewer 5-7yr deals for $25-35M per, but like the NBA...who's roster size is closer to MLB...minimum contracts would be closer to $1M plus. Shorter FA regulations, which I would endorse with a new system, means players reaching FA status earlier. They might not get the HUGE contracts we talk about, but they would also gain at least as much $ in the long term by signing smaller contracts in their 20's vs the current arbitration years, etc.

Both sides need to be smart enough to realize change takes place. I DO place some onus on the MLB union. What's more important? A small collection of players making BIG $, or EVERYONE seeing a rise in their potential $ earnings?

I personally feel the union is absolutely focused on a power play for top earners vs a more balanced system and earnings for everyone.
    • Tom Froemming likes this
Jan 08 2021 05:43 PM

Well put Doc Bauer. Baseball needs to get its house in order from collective bargaining that distributes the revenues in order to equitably allow for profits and strong salaries that build the product, labor peace that recognizes the role of milb and those players just gaining a job in their first years as well as public relations to celebrate teams and stars, to standardizing the rules a year or two in advance as opposed to the current shifting status. A plague on both the MLBPA, the commissioner, and the owners for the present condition of MLB. Both sides share blame and the sport suffers.