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.