MLB teams, players locked in free agency standstill

David Borne | Staff Writer

Jan. 31, 2019

In most sports-related labor conflicts between players and team owners, it’s very difficult for me to side against the players. At the end of the day, the players are the ones that are putting their bodies on the line and helping the owners reach a profit by doing so.

This stagnant MLB offseason, however, has me feeling differently. Team owners and general managers are tired of handing out massive contracts to players and seeing little on-field reward for doing so, and I could not agree with them more.

During the last decade, we’ve seen teams hand out massive — almost insane — contracts to players like Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera, just to name a few. These players signed contracts worth around $250 million for durations of about eight to 10 years.

Each of those deals went the same way. The players produced for two or three seasons after signing, and then began to dramatically decline while continuing to cash massive paychecks.

While Rodriguez is now retired, Pujols and Cabrera are still inked to the contracts they signed in their heyday. The pair played just a combined 155 games last season while making a total of $60 million. Yikes.

On top of that, borderline playoff teams have been quick to hand out massive money to free agents, just to finish the year missing the postseason or with a quick first-round exit.

Finally, teams are tired of it. Gone are the days where teams will quickly agree to expensive, decade-long contracts for just a few productive seasons. They’ve also realized that there is no incentive for spending a fortune just to win 85 games anymore, and they couldn’t be more correct in their approach.

Should generational talents on the free agent market like Manny Machado and Bryce Harper have been able to work out a deal by now? Yes. Of course they should have. Will they eventually be signed to huge contracts? Yes, they will. But the players that have signed expensive deals before they failed to meet expectations and let names like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado down.

Some players and player representatives have screamed “collusion.” They seem to want to believe that the owners have all come together, and have collectively agreed to not sign free agents as a way to drive market prices down significantly.

It isn’t collusion, though. Teams are just finally becoming smarter with their money. Players and agents have pushed around owners for years, and now the owners are refusing to meet their insane demands. The owners have been burned by bad deals so many times and are tired of it.

So here we are as baseball fans, in a similar situation that we were last year around this time. The free agent pool is still filled with a group of disgruntled quality players, with less than a month until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training.

It’s not a great look for Major League Baseball, and from a fan’s perspective, it isn’t the slightest bit exciting. Especially in comparison with the energetic offseasons that other leagues like the NBA and NHL have. But again, the players have nobody to blame but themselves.

If MLB players want to continue to sign massive contracts when they reach free agency, they have to begin to prove they are worth the money.

Once Harper and Machado eventually find their new homes, they will have to remind owners that spending big money is worth it by backing up their mammoth sized contracts on the field. If they don’t, the new trend of teams being unwilling to spend will become a permanent change.