The new Collective Bargaining Agreement in Major League Baseball is in full effect for the first time this winter, at least as it pertains to free agency and other machinations of the league’s offseason.
One thing about this new arrangement: Everywhere you turn, there is incentive to accelerate. The signing period for draft picks used to end August 15; it’s now July 15. The season used to begin on Mondays, then on Fridays, but in order to cram the new playoff system into the same old season, Opening Day will now be as soon as they can make it each spring. Free agents-to-be used to have 15 days’ exclusivity during which to talk only to their own teams about new deals; now it’s five.
On top of all that, and focusing solely on the Hot Stove League, we now have qualifying offers instead of player ratings to determine draft-pick compensation when free agents change teams. This drastically lowers the number of players who will cost a draft pick to sign, and creates certainty on those questions much sooner than it used to be available. Intuitively, this, too, should speed things up. When free agency dawned as Saturday crashed Friday night’s party, it was clear that some baseball fans were bracing (if not for the NFL, where fire agency is a virtually instantaneous undertaking and resolves itself entirely within a week) for NBA-style floodgates to open.
It didn’t happen, and that should not surprise you.
The reason that the NFL and NBA operate the way they do at free agency time each year has to do with the salary superstructures in each sport. The salary cap and (in basketball) the maximum individual deal leave little negotiating leeway. Teams and agents can dicker over things, and players might have preferences based on the team, personal relationships and their lifestyles, but the money that speaks loudest in all salary negotiations is of little consequence in those sports.
In baseball, it isn’t so. There is no hard cap, on team or individual salary levels. Therefore, agents use the long time horizon of the winter as leverage in negotiations with teams. While surprisingly gaudy deals tend to come to players who pounce early, the true megadeals get done after a month or more of extortion by a good agent. That’s not going to change, so neither is the timeline on which baseball works during the winter.Next post: Torii Hunter a True MLB Free Agent: New York Yankees a Perfect Fit
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