Why are the New York Yankees, and all of MLB, sitting out free agency?

We have all seen the headlines “cold stove”, “when will they sign?”, “will there be a labor stoppage?” etc. The gist of most of the articles is that it’s some type of outrage that there haven’t been 10 year/400 million dollar contracts for Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, or that Craig “the greatest closer in history” Kimbrel remains unsigned. The reality is it’s THEIR Fault, not the owners. A “cheap” New York Yankees team has emerged as the biggest spenders.

Where are the issues stemming from?

I know when it comes to labor issues we all become part of the proletariat and unite, but at what point does banking on others stupidity as the baseline for your contract become your fault? The pendulum for the power in contracts is swinging back towards equilibrium in baseball and it’s freaking the MLBPA and agents out.

Is anyone enjoying watching Albert Pujols decompose in Anaheim while eating up a huge chunk of the team’s payroll, and that Josh Hamilton deal worked out great too right? Are the Red Sox still paying Carl Crawford and Pablo Sandoval? How’d the last few years of Arod’s deal work out? Finally, there’s the ghost of Jacoby Ellsbury, may he rest in trainers tape. With those and countless other terrible contracts, I’m confused as to why there’s a mystery as to why teams aren’t interested in long-term big money deals.

Money is earned through consistency:

I know what you want to say “but Manny and Bryce are in their mid-twenties, they’ll produce for the life of their deals” Harper hasn’t consistently had great years the first seven years of his career, do you want to bet 30 million a year on his age 35-37 seasons? Do you want your team paying that much to anyone at that age? As analytics have swept through front offices they’ve finally realized “oh we don’t have to pay superstar salaries to watch these guys circle the drain.” This isn’t collusion, it’s a market correction.

Obviously, prior to free agency, the owners had all the power. Thanks to the reserve clause players were treated, as the great Coop Cooper of the Milwaukee Beers put it, like indentured servants. Then Marvin Miller flipped the script, owners lost their minds and George Steinbrenner of the 1980s happened.

Eventually, though the contracts got out of control and created a small market vs large market issue that threatened competitive balance and the viability of some franchises. Gradually teams started to look for ways to compete on tighter budgets (money ball era A’s, Ray’s earlier in the 2000s etc.) and after seeing their success the smart large market teams began to follow their blueprints. It quickly dried up inefficiencies for teams to exploit but has brought us where we are now.

Why the players are frustrated:

So while I see why players are upset, their arguments sound pretty stupid to me. “Guys that have put up the numbers and produced the way that they have should get long-term deals. I think that’s the way the game always has been. I’m not an analyst; I’m a player. I want players to succeed and get what they deserve.” That’s a quote from Walker Buehler (who hasn’t even had one full good season).  Essentially in the past players would expect a long-term deal based on prior performance, long past when they would still be at that level.  I don’t see how anyone could abide that logic. If you went into your boss and said you wanted a raise, that would be in effect for 10 years but you’d only work at your current level for 3 or 4 they’d think you were insane, but that’s what the MLBPA thinks is right.

I’m sure these players could get the money they want on a 5-year deal, but right now they’re refusing to accept that reality. If they really want to be paid based on the prior season they could sign a one year deal every year but none would do that for fear of injury. That’s what the trade-off has always been, you sacrifice dollars for security. Now the players want both and teams aren’t biting. Do you blame them?

I’m curious to see what deals these players get, and what shape free agency continues to take in the future. I know there are threats from the union about striking over this, it’s hard to see how the public would side with “give us millions while we atrophy over the next decade”. Until then I heard Manny Machado and the Padres had a second meeting, so clearly it’s about winning and not the most money for the longest amount of time.

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