The ground has been shifting in MLB for this entire offseason, and finally, the verdict is officially in. The owners win, and the players go home hoping only for a chance to fight again next year.
The cat is finally out of the MLB bag. Mike Moustakas and Lance Lynn, two of the most coveted free agents on the market for the past five months, have taken one-year deals, and one of them will be making less money than he did last year. Unprecedented, but by now not surprising.
Contrary to what we might like to believe, the business of major league baseball (MLB) does not operate in a vacuum. It is susceptible to the same laws of economics as any other business entity. Supply and demand, inflation, weak sales, etc., all affect how each team conducts their business.
Seismic shifts in the way teams are thinking crashed into one another causing tremors in the free agent market never seen before.
For one, several teams who were normally big spenders bowed out completely this offseason to pursue a resetting of the luxury tax clock. The New York Yankees, who have paid almost a half-billion dollars since the inception of the luxury tax, together with the Los Angeles Dodgers, who led major league baseball last season with their “contribution,” took their ball and went home and (remarkably) stayed home.
Second, MLB is made up of a bunch of copy-cat teams. Fads like “The Shift,” rotating closers, and the like get tested by nearly all teams before the pendulum swings back to normalcy. The new thing in major league baseball now is rebuilding a la the Chicago Cubs, and Houston Astros, losers of 100 games before each won a World Championship.
If they can do it, so can we. Discounting the Marlins who have their unique circumstances in Miami, teams like the Tampa Bay Rays, Oakland A’s, and Chicago White Sox lead the league in dismantling their personnel in favor of getting younger and more athletic.
“Old” in MLB used to be 37 or 38; now it’s 34 or 35. Players hit the free agent market after spending six years under team control at the age of 30 or 31 (both Moustakas and Lynn will be 31 before the end of this season) – and teams say, hey, wait a minute. Why would I want to give either of these guys a five, or God forbid, an old-style eight-year deal at that age?
Thus, Lynn goes to the Minnesota Twins for one year at $12 million, and Moustakas amazingly returns to the Kansas City Royals, taking a pay cut of two million dollars from the $8.5 million he made last season. This is serious stuff, and the Major League Baseball Player’s Association (MLBPA) has no answer for it because they cooked their goose when they signed the current agreement, which remains in place until 2023.
Talk of collusion by the owners is silly. Collusion among teams implies a conspiracy with clandestine meetings and emails designed to manipulate the market to create a monopoly. There is no proof of this in MLB, and the players are barking up the wrong tree of public opinion if they continue to keep using the word.
All that’s happened is that teams have gotten smarter and away from throwing money at players who get the big contract and then, for one reason or another don’t live up to its value with production on the field.
Salaries and contracts given – and given is the right word – from Jacoby Ellsbury to Albert Pujols to Josh Hamilton to Alex Rodriguez, the list is endless and every team, at one time or another, has been guilty of committing the same crime.
The MLBPA does have a point, though, when it comes to the grievance they’ve filed against four teams, including the Rays and A’s, with regards to how teams spend the Robin Hood luxury tax money. In theory and perhaps even by the rules (we’ll see), the money is supposed to be used to rebuild a team’s farm system and spent on player salaries. Instead (the players charge), the money ends up in shareholders and owners pockets. An arbiter will decide, but not before the lawyers on both sides get rich.
Where this leaves someone like Jake Arietta is anyone’s guess. A client of Steve Boras, Arietta has been considered the cream of the crop in this year’s free agent class. Will he succumb to a one or two year deal, possibly with the Philadelphia Phillies, who have a bucket full of money to spend next year on a new deal?
And what of next year’s free agent class that includes Bryce Harper, baseball’s $600 million wanna be man, Manny Machado, and possibly even Clayton Kershaw if he chooses to opt-out?
Round and round she goes. And where she stops, no one knows. But we do understand this. Major League Baseball is changing and evolving right before our eyes.
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