Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Fixing Free Agency, MLB’s Dark Cloud

We are now halfway through January and are in the middle of a free agency cycle that is highlighted by two premiere talents. In a sport that suppresses player earnings for nearly a decade, opportunities to sign youthful megastars at the height of their potential is largely uncharted territory. Even with that reality currently sitting before us, players are watching as organizations hand out moderate deals and scrutinize anything that truly would move the needle.

At the current juncture, there’s no less than 50 major league caliber players still awaiting a home for the 2019 season. Multiple teams have yet to sign a player to a big-league deal, and even more are looking at spending thresholds that fall significantly short of anything reflecting actual revenues. We’re still talking about athletes becoming millionaires in this entire scenario, but owners are sitting on wads of cash that have them all starting at sums best described with a “B.”

There’s little reason to deny significant flaws in the current CBA structure. Owners took the MLB Players Association to the woodshed, and that has never been more apparent than the past two winters. You can bet stronger negotiation tactics will be employed during the next round of discussions but coming up with ideas in order to spark improvement is the first step. While we won’t see anything implemented right now today, there seems to be one avenue to create buzz and heighten fan interest.

Looking across the landscape of the three major sports, fans hang onto the opportunity to watch transactions occur at a breakneck pace. Whether it be the MLB trade deadline, NFL free agency, or either of those instances in the NBA, players moving at a fast pace gives fans something to gravitate towards. The success that Major League Baseball sees mid-season could potentially be harnessed over the winter as well.

We can talk a certain threshold of dollars needing to be handed out, and there could even be a mandate put on percentage of revenues being spent. What if the league decided to create a free agency window?  By forcing teams to conduct negotiations between a certain time period, you’d allow agents, players, and organizations to all have their cards on the table together. Inciting some sort of bidding war for talent could be a nice by-product of this exercise, and a sense of urgency would have fans involved in the progress their perspective team is making.

In this proposed scenario, one of the largest hurdles would seem to be what to do beyond a presented window of opportunity. Inevitably not every player would find a deal and you can’t simply ask them all to accept MiLB pacts or something of that ilk. Finding an incentive for teams to sign players during the free agency period, while also working in the best interests of players, would seemingly marry all attempted goals together.

At the end of the day, I don’t think there’s any way some drastic changes won’t be taking place. We’ll see multiple propositions as to what they may look like, and eventually different options will come to fruition. For now, we’ll have to continue this waiting game while a significant number of talented players wonder where spring training will take place.