Baseball is in a REALLY weird spot right now. Stop me if you’ve heard that before. Just a few months ago we were thinking that maybe, just maybe owners and players were on a bee line for a work stoppage after the current CBA expires for myriad reasons, the most notable being the following:
– service time manipulation
– middle of the road players not getting paid as free agents I.E. Mike Moustakas, Dallas Keuchel, Adam Jones
– free agency stagnancy
There are other reasons why it looks like there *might* be dark days on the horizon, and I understand both sides:
1. The players want to be paid with reference to past precedent
2. Teams are now smarter with how they spend their money
3. Losing has advantages
Look at Dallas Keuchel. To keep it simple, Keuchel has averaged 2.6 fWAR over the last 3 years, with last year being 3.3 fWAR. I use fWAR even though each organization has their own analytics department that says “sign” or “don’t sign” X player. Nevertheless, Keuchel has been solid. Not great, but okay. And right now he’s unemployed. Nobody wants to pay him what he perceives his personal value to be.
If we’re looking at similar players who have signed free agent contracts, let’s look at Cole Hamels. He signed a 6/$144MM deal at age 29. He’s similar in that he’s not a power pitcher, but is a former All Star that succeeds by working off his changeup instead of blowing people away like you guessed it… Dallas Keuchel.
Keuchel and Hamels have a similar enough career path that we can say that the former would garnish a similar contract this winter as a free agent right? Well, for all intents and purposes, since he’s 31 years old to Hamels 29 at free agency, let’s say that we take 2 years off Hamels’ deal and the $24MM AAV. That’d mean Keuchel would be looking for a 4 year, $100MM deal. Fair right? Hamels got it. Jon Lester got 6/$155 with a big ass signing bonus. Keuchel should make $100MM easy.
But teams aren’t paying that kind of premium anymore. They know players, and pitchers especially, don’t age well. They project Keuchel to have a negative value with a mega deal like that. Sucks for Keuchel, but you can’t force an employer to pay you to work if they think you won’t work well for them… Even though Tony Clark and the MLBPA will try like HELL to make organizations to do so.
Let’s use the White Sox as an example. Hypothetically, let’s say if they signed Keuchel it would knock Lopez out of the rotation (it wouldn’t). They’d be removing a 2 win player at $550K or so for a player that’s 1 win better (maybe) for $20MM or more? Nobody on earth would do that. So I get it.
And this explains points 1 and 2. Why pay a player who’s been around the block lets say… $10MM AAV to play CF for 3 years and provide an average of 2-3 WAR when you can pay a player who’s up and coming $550K to provide similar or a little less value? The latter provides much more bang for your buck.
And it provides more bang for your buck, even though your team isn’t as good, at least not on paper. Which is the shitty part of where baseball is right now. Teams would rather win 60 games than win 78 games. Tank, tank, and tank some more. Shed payroll, go balls out for a primo talent a la the Phillies and Harper, accrue 2, 3 or 4 years of top draft picks, sign 16 year old LatAm talent and play for 5 years down the road instead of playing to win now.
And it’s pretty much a proven model. The Astros mastered it. Theo hit a home run with his rebuild. The Braves, Phillies and Yankees all had quick turnarounds and should compete sooner than later. The Padres have a terrifyingly good farm system. So why not mimic these teams at least to some degree? The more you lose the more draft capital you get. Literally capital. As in your organization has more pool money. That’s what made the White Sox able to sign Bryce Bush last year in the 33rd round though he was a top 5 round talent. Losing wins. Easy as that.
The answer is rebuilding teams would be dumb not to. From their perspective, I get it. I get why they don’t want to pay 30 year old free agents. I get why they’d rather be really bad than just okay. I get why they’d say “fuck that” when a player like Mike Moustakas wants a 4 year deal. But I also get why the players are pissed off too.
And the players aren’t just pissed off, they’re a little scared. As are agents. Today we saw Jake deGrom sign a big ass extension. Last week we saw it with Sale, and just before him we saw it with Verlander, Arenado and the Rockies, Trout and the Angels, etc. Not only that, but the White Sox just extended Eloy Jimenez before he ever stepped foot on an MLB diamond. They want financial security now, when they know they can get it, instead of risking being Adam Jones on a 1 year, $4MM deal when they’re free agents in 6, 7 years. Win/win for players and teams.
Thanks to Machado, Harper and Trout, among others, all getting massive deals, we don’t have to worry about the MLBPA bitching about their stars not getting paid. What we have to worry about now is the MLBPA bitching about their middling players paid.
And kudos to the White Sox for extending Eloy before stepping foot on an MLB field. That will pave the way for other teams to act similar with their star prospects, which will only help in CBA negotiations after the 2020 season. I do think it was an overpay in that they paid a premium for his 8th year and they should have absolutely gotten 9 out of the deal, but that is semantics. He’ll be in the opening day lineup, as he should, because he’s “ready”.
Long story short, I’m a lot more confident that there won’t be a work stoppage in 2 years now than I was 2-3 months ago. There is just a few things that need to be tightened up, and I’m now I’m at least fairly confident they will be.