Eric Hosmer. J.D. Martinez. Jake Arrieta. Carlos Gonzalez. Mike Moustakas.
Anyone would kill to have one of these studs on their team. They’re guaranteed to increase your chance of winning. The competition for these top free agents has been off the charts and I can’t wait to see where they end up. The rumors have been swirling like crazy!
That’s probably what I’m writing in an alternate universe where Yu Darvish got $160 million back in January and clubs have been outbidding each other since the winter meetings. Instead, we’re stuck in this world where tensions are high between players and owners and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.
The players, specifically the MLBPA, blame it on the owners who intentionally aim to lose in order to secure better draft picks and stock up their farm system. The owners are saying that prices are much too high for players that are too old for seven-year deals.
But who is right?
It really depends who you ask. I don’t think either side is particularly wrong— the Astros just proved that you can build a World Series-caliber team from draft picks and international signings without having to shell out big bucks to big name guys, and it would make sense that more analytical executives would play it conservative, so the “race to the bottom” argument is certainly valid. On the other hand, I can’t blame owners for not wanting to give someone like 31- year-old Arrieta a long-term deal when plenty of teams have expressed their willingness to give him a high-salary, short-term deal, as ESPN’s Buster Olney reported.
All five of the big free agents I listed at the top are Scott Boras’ clients, which should come as a surprise to literally no one. Boras does not bend, let alone break, but this is the first time in a long time that front offices are responding in kind. Tensions are as high as they’ve been since 1994, when the season was shortened due to a strike and there was no World Series. The collective bargaining agreement, which essentially taxes teams with payrolls over a certain amount to disincentivize spending and ensure that all teams can be competitive (I’m not the biggest numbers person, so if you want to learn a bit more about the details, go here), is locked in through 2021, so anything the MLBPA would want to change to promote spending on big free agents will have to wait.
I think players are going to have to settle if they genuinely hope to be signed. It’s clear that clubs are not going to shell out huge amounts, as exemplified by the Darvish contract of six years, $126 million, an amount that some experts are saying is $20-30 million fewer than he deserves. Hosmer is definitely not worth $200 million like Boras thinks, and honestly, the seven-year, $140 million amount that surfaced around January is also too much. Clearly, every other baseball club agrees with me, since he’s not signed yet (although I think the Padres are probably a good bet to land him before the season starts).
Boras conceding to the market would be a huge development in player-owner relations. Labor unrest and treatment of players has been at the root of Major League Baseball since its inception, and situations like this are inevitable as the nature of the game ebbs and flows. But for now, if the plethora of free agents—a lot of whom will undoubtedly make whatever team they land on better—hope to be on a team come opening day, they’ll need to get back to reality and realize that owners aren’t willing to overpay anymore.