Dating back since the start of the 2017-2018 offseason, a silly narrative has circulated around baseball in an effort to explain the problem with modern day MLB free agency. The narrative that I’m referring to is “collusion”. Unfortunately for the players, that’s not the case. With new analytics and research, MLB GM’s and front offices are simply just smarter.
Not long ago, there was a time where if a player performed well in his 20’s, he’d get paid quite handsomely to do the same in his 30’s. Soon enough, beginning right around the 17-18 offseason, teams began to hold back on big-name free agents due to their likely eventual decline, and for good reason.
With prime examples being Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, David Wright, Miguel Cabrera, etc, teams and their intel now seem to fully understand the duration of a player’s prime. Most sabermetric crusaders label one’s peak performance years as age 27-32. With the unavoidable decline of bat speed, exit velocity, hard-hit rate, durability, etc, why would a team want to lock up a player on a long-term deal?
That’s the very question teams who’ve dealt with long-term busts wish they asked themselves all those years ago. Which is why the average age of a major-leaguer is only going to get younger. Players who hang around till age 40 just because they can still hit .270 with 15 home runs are going to no longer exist on major-league ball clubs.
For example, Brandon Phillips. In 2017, a 36-year-old Phillips hit .285 with 13 homers and 60 RBI in a walk year heading into a free agency with a thin quantity of 2nd baseman. Ten years ago, Phillips would have likely seen multiple two-year offers, instead, he didn’t sign until June on a minor-league deal. Collusion? No. Teams just saw an OBP of .319, a below-league-average wRC+ of 91, and -7 Defensive Runs Saved. All that headed into his age-37 season. Yeah, not so appealing whatsoever.
So is that the case with all of the remaining free agents this year? For some yes, but not necessarily. As for Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, who are both 26 years of age, they’ll see their money. If contracts with sums touching $250M-$300M (reported offers) is considered collusion, then I think its necessary for the MLBPA to be mentally evaluated.
Mike Trout on slow free agent market: ‘Everybody sees it. It’s obviously not good for baseball. It’s disappointing for the players.’
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) February 18, 2019
However, there are rules that do need change come the next CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement). To solve the issue of most players entering free agency already exiting their prime, the union should fight for a shorter span of years that a team controls their young players, perhaps only four seasons of service time instead of six. That way, players would enter the free agent pool a couple years younger, giving them a better chance at a better contract.
The bottom line is that the players are complaining about regulations that they themselves agreed to in the latest CBA. To say that MLB owners and analysts are colluding against them is borderline laughable. Once again, the answer is simple as to why players aren’t getting their desired contracts. Team front offices are no longer stupid and financially irresponsible.