Jan 9, 2019 - Sports

MLB's "riches of free agency" no longer exist

Data: Spotrac; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

For the second straight year, baseball free agency is moving at a snail's pace as a new crop of risk-averse general managers are refusing to pay players for past results and are increasingly embracing the rebuild (it's not "tanking" but it's close).

Why it matters: "For decades, players thrived under the current setup — club-imposed salaries for their first three years, arbitration-inflated numbers for the next three, the riches of free agency after six," writes The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal (subscription).

By the numbers: Four of the top seven free agents (Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel) and nine of the top 20, per Sports Illustrated, remain unsigned.

  • Silver lining: Relative to a year ago, the number of free agent signings and total money spent have both increased. Still, they're lower than in any of the previous six seasons (as depicted above).

But in recent years, teams have started to take advantage of that system and, for many players, the "riches of free agency" are simply no longer there.

  • The bottom line: "There is a growing consensus ... that the system is broken," writes Rosenthal.

Closing remarks, via the WSJ's Jared Diamond: "It's perfectly reasonable to say that it's smart for teams not to pay free agents the enormous sums of money they want, as long as you acknowledge how anticapitalist it is for players to be forced into below-market wages for as many as seven years before they hit the free market."

  • "Maybe players have an unreasonable expectation of what they're worth on the open market. ... But remember that they spent their entire career up to that point making far less than their worth because of baseball's economic system."

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