Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Death of Free Agency?

Excellent article in yesterday's WSJ about the death of free agency in today's MLB climate. Matt Kemp locking himself up for 8 years / $160M was part of the assessment:

For nearly four decades, Major League Baseball has been the last citadel of unrepentant capitalism in sports.

Starting in 1969, when an outfielder named Curt Flood went to court demanding all players be given the freedom to shop their services to any team, baseball's players have been at the vanguard of player rights.

While other sports leagues still limit their labor markets with payroll caps, "franchise tags" and seemingly contradictory contract mechanisms like "restricted free agency," baseball's powerful union has barely budged. Some teams, like the New York Yankees, have so thoroughly accepted the status quo that they've made it their business to win largely by showering money on the best available players money can buy.

Today, baseball is still ahead of the curve in player freedom. As young players come to the majors, they earn raises either through negotiation or arbitration. Then, after six years of service, they become eligible for one of the most potentially lucrative opportunities in sports: free agency.

But here's the thing: While players still have the right to offer themselves to the highest bidder, the motivation to take advantage of free agency is declining. It's not that the opportunity has been diminished or taken away—it's that the conditions of the modern game have changed.

Greater wealth has come into the sport, and under the terms of the latest labor deal, it's being distributed to more teams. The teams are figuring out how to read the game's actuarial tables to spend money on players at the most optimum moments. And players are contentedly lunging for the security of long-term contracts. The result is that something is happening with free agency that has never happened before. Very few players are using it. [...]

Since the beginning of the 2011 season, 49 players have opted to sign extensions with their current teams that give the club control of their destiny even after they've qualified for free agency. Just three years ago, 32 players signed extensions during the same period. A decade ago it was less than 15.

In the last few months, Matt Cain of the San Francisco Giants, Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds, Ian Kinsler and Derek Holland of the Texas Rangers and Matt Kemp of the Los Angeles Dodgers have signed contract extensions with their current teams that will keep them off the open market during some of the most valuable seasons of their careers. In doing this, they've potentially left tens of millions of dollars on the table.

But wait, there's more, from a former Dodger no less:

Older players say they've noticed the shift among younger players toward financial security. For the most part, they can't blame the kids for making these decisions. "There wasn't that kind of money when I was coming up," said 34-year-old Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Juan Pierre. "And where I'm from [small-town Louisiana], when they offer you a million dollars, you take it."

Way to get in there, Slappy McPopup!


Mr. LA Sports Czar said...

Stoopid Ned could have signed Pierre for $1 million.