Washington Nationals: Time to change free agency
By Ron Juckett
The Washington Nationals, Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association need to refigure how free agency works. The current way needs refreshing.
If you thought the Washington Nationals and Major League Baseball’s Hot Stove Season was frigid, you are not alone.
Whether there is collusion, or this year’s crop of players have agents overvaluing their talent, we sit and the end of January with many top players not knowing where they are spending this spring. In off-seasons past, the slugger had the toughest time getting a job. Now everyone waits outside of relievers.
Although there are several reasons for this molasses-flow of transactions, two things are becoming clear. Analytics has advanced enough with teams to show big-money deals after 30 are money losers. You are not as productive at 34-36 as you were at 32. Teams will not pay players $30 million at 36 for their numbers at 26.
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Second, even with an influx of cash by teams, prices are too high. For example, the Nats carry eight players making north of $10 million with two earning $20 million and up. Payroll now projects to $180.2 million for Opening Day.
Washington would love scoring Jake Arrieta to bolster their rotation, but not for five-years and over $120 million. A signing like that would kill whatever flexibility they had at the July trade deadline to fill any holes.
Yes, it is a stretch to say the whole system is broken. But, as your neighborhood Kmart’s show their age, the way baseball finances their employees needs refreshing.
Mike Axisa of CBS Sports, in an article worth a full read, makes five proposals to fix the system. The one that might work is restricted free agency.
Instead of offering a player arbitration after three years, the concept would be what the NFL and NBA do with younger players. For example, the Texas Rangers offer Anthony Rendon a three-year, $60 million deal to move to Arlington. If Rendon signs the offer sheet, Washington can match, and he stays. If not, Texas would likely lose their top draft pick.
Good luck getting teams to agree for fair compensation to make it work.
Axisa, and others, are right to point out the smart money should go to players in their prime productive years. How we get there is in the hands of owners and players. Would the Players Association give away their powerful arbitration rights for a complete revamp of free agency? Will Scott Boras and other agents allow it?
Something must give. Washington, and other teams who take deep approaches in roster building, would benefit. Would spice up a long winter.