With two days left until pitchers and catchers officially report to Spring Training around the majors, a majority of free agents, up to almost 120 free agents, are still left unsigned. The biggest free agent prize recently signed yesterday. Yu Darvish signed with the Chicago Cubs for six years, worth $126 million with incentives that would reach up to $150 million, but free agents like star ace, Jake Arrieta, and star outfielder, J.D. Martinez, and star first baseman Eric Hosmer are still left without teams. So why are these big names among many other free agents still without a team with spring training dangerously close? Luxury tax.
Luxury Tax has really affected teams’ approaches towards free agency because players like Arrieta, Darvish, Hosmer, and Martinez are demanding a lot of money for their services. Baseball is the only sport that pays their athletes the most. Darvish got $126 million despite coming off of Tommy John surgery over a year ago and two very bad timing starts in the World Series with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Darvish is 31 years old right now, he is going to be well paid until 37 years old.
It took Darvish this long to sign, but that was partly his patience with the Dodgers because he made it clear that he wanted to return to LA. The Dodgers wouldn’t budge because they made it clear that they wanted to stay under the salary cap threshold, which is set at $197 million this season. Adding Darvish would then hurt the Dodgers chances of keeping Clayton Kershaw, who is expected to opt out of his contract and become a free agent after the 2018 season. Kershaw is expected to sign what could be his last big contract and could get a payday more than $200 million. Therefore, the Dodgers were hesitant to sign Darvish unless they cleared roster space. If the salary cap threshold scared the Dodgers, who have big money pockets, then it is likely that other 29 teams are scared as well. With Darvish off the board, there has been no domino effect at all this offseason for free agent signings with 2 days left until spring training?
Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association Tony Clark gave out a statement regarding the slow free agency:
“Pitchers and catchers will report to camps in Florida and Arizona in one week. A record number of talented free agents remain unemployed in an industry where revenues and franchise values are at record highs. Spring training has always been associated with hope for a new season. This year a significant number of teams are engaged in a race to the bottom. This conduct is a fundamental breach of the trust between a team and its fans and threatens the very integrity of our game.”
Top baseball agent, Scott Boras, has been very outspoken about the club owners and even called them out on their desire to win:
“We have a non-competitive cancer that’s ruining the fabric of this sport And until we change the system, this is going to continue. Remember when Bud Selig used to always say that every fan must have hope and faith? That was his legacy. He said, ‘If you remove hope and faith from the fan, you destroy the fabric of the sport. My job is to restore that. Those were his words, not mine.”
Another agent, Brodie Van Wagenen very strongly suggested that the owners were colluding and has suggested the free agents should do a spring training boycott. Here’s a statement that was posted on Twitter from Van Wagenen:
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred defended the owner’s actions during free agency:
“Our Clubs are committed to putting a winning product on the field for their fans. Owners own teams for one reason: they want to win. In Baseball, it has always been true that Clubs go through cyclical, multi-year strategies directed at winning. It is common at this point in the calendar to have large numbers of free agents unsigned. What is uncommon is to have some of the best free agents sitting unsigned even though they have substantial offers, some in nine figures. It is the responsibility of players’ agents to value their clients in a constantly changing free agent market based on factors such as positional demand, advanced analytics, and the impact of the new Basic Agreement. To lay responsibility on the Clubs for the failure of some agents to accurately assess the market is unfair, unwarranted, and inflammatory.”
This could get ugly between the Players’ Association and the MLB. Spring training is a very important need for all the teams because it helps players get to know the new players on their teams, see how they go about in the clubhouse, find their comfort zones with one another and create a team bond before going tackling the 162-games schedule. Taking that away can mess up a lot of teams’ plan for the season. Chemistry is very important in any sport. So if players delay spring training, it may prevent teams’ season plans to compete for a playoff spot if each of their 25 man rosters are all not on the same page.
If the players and the MLB can figure out a way where luxury tax is not as big of a danger it is to teams, then it will be an easier time for free agents to be able to sign with teams sooner and avoid strikes. The days of guaranteed money, I think would be somehow affected if they are to resolve this. The reason I say that is because players get hurt all the time. Injuries can be critically serious more than others. I’m sure teams cringe at the idea of losing money when their players sit out with injuries and still earn guaranteed money. Perhaps the MLB could come up with a stronger injury insurance than they already have for the likes of players sitting out with long-term injuries, the less money they would have to give back to the team or they could earn less money for sitting out. The word guaranteed regardless of injuries, I think certainly affects things especially when a player is older, the body might not be the same.
With this luxury tax affecting the approaches between teams and players, it is important that both sides have a sit-down and hash out all the problems between the two sides. If spring training is to be a boycott, that won’t sit well the fans of all 30 teams. Fans pay to see their favorite teams play, so if players boycott, it is possible that fans could also boycott their favorite teams depending on how they see the situation.
What do you thinking of this slow offseason and how it has affected free agency between players and teams? Be sure to tweet @TheUtilityMan17 on Twitter!