It’s a strange reality getting accustomed to, but free agency as we know it has died. With the advent of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams are treating their soft caps as hard, tightening up their value analysis, and collectively agreeing to pay players less money. This isn’t earth-shattering stuff—there are obviously bigger labor problems in the world right now and I’m not going to feel too bad for the likes of JD Martinez, for example. There is a class of players, however, where this will significantly hurt their livelihoods in comparison to the owners who are currently Scrooge-McDuck-ing in cash right now.
Travis Sawchik wrote an article about all of this, entitled “Baseball’s Middle Class Remains Embattled,” and what he found was fascinating:
This means that although the top players are still getting paid—Giancarlo Stanton is a testament to that—the mid-tier players are getting pinched more and more over time, culminating in this final CBA that has caused a luxury tax crunch before Opening Day. The result of this was Jonathan Lucroy getting only $6.5 million guaranteed from the Athletics, and now Mike Moustakas getting just $6.5 million guaranteed as well.
It’s worth talking about Moustakas. This third baseman out of Kansas City will return to his hometown after receiving nary an offer, and the reasons partially boil down to clubs not having a full-time spot available. It also came down to what they were not willing, but certainly able, to pay.
Sure, a lot of baseball fans are going to walk away from this thinking the owners won, or were smart, or that the players were being greedy in asking for too much. Yet baseball continues to make record profits, and those dollars have to go somewhere. If that above chart indicates anything, it means it’s not continuing to go to the players as much as it should.
It has another implication, of course. As the expenditure for these mid-tier free agents decline, so too does the advantage swing to teams with more financial clout. If teams are shelling out less than $10 million for what I would consider league average to above-average players, it behooves wealthier or low payroll teams to step up, or reap what they sow.
Because even though I generally trust Miguel Andujar to take up the reins competently, the third base insurance would be tempting. Todd Frazier signed for next to nothing, and now Moustakas has done the same. Contract estimates had him at something like $80 million, and getting him for 10% of that would be more than steal.
Where I think the pendulum swings back to paying these players is for teams that barely miss the postseason. The ones who find they’re one piece missing at the deadline and are forced to forfeit prospects, and not just money, when they never needed to in the first place. I’m not saying that’s where the Yankees will be, but you never know; one injury could very well change that.
All I’m saying is that the Yankees didn’t necessarily need Moustakas at his old asking price, but there was nothing stopping them from acquiring him around his current one. If teams like the Yankees even balk at that price, then something is deeply broken in free agency. If teams find themselves a couple of wins away from a playoff or division spot with players of this caliber kicked to the curb, then there is also something deeply broken with the sport at large.