So the big deal this past week has been the two monster extensions handed out to both Justin Verlander and Buster Posey. Everyone from Jonah Keri to Rob Neyer are writing about the death of free agency and how the space time continuum we know as the Hot Stove, will cease to exist in the way we presently know it – if it’s not gone from this earth already.
OK –maybe they’re not that dramatic about it. In fact, Neyer pretty much wrote an obituary of the obituary of free agency, so maybe he was a bad example. But the rumblings are out there and worth talking about – especially if you write about big market teams like the Red Sox, Yankees and Dodgers who won’t be able to flex their money muscles the way they once did. That’s not to say they won’t still, but how they spend their money and in what arena they do it in will seemingly dictate success from here on out, especially if these market trends continue.
Regardless, placing Free Agency on life support is a mostly silly stance to take, especially without the benefit of a crystal ball that can see into the future of many of the long-term deals that have been handed out over the past season or so. All in all – baseball is in a new world where they’re taking a bit of a leap of faith and hoping for the best. Not until we see the end result of many of these super-long extensions, will we know whether it was a successful strategy or not.
Still, regardless of the outcomes of the deals themselves, there are still forces that exist in today’s market that are undeniable truths and stand directly in the way of the death of free agency:
There are desperate teams who will be at a certain place on the win-curve who will need to fill holes for whatever reason– and in some cases will do so by overpaying mediocre players. Big star players (in the recent present view) are viewed as expensive luxuries to wealthy teams and often far-too-risky overpays/burdens for teams with fewer resources. When you add in market inefficiency and the over-eagerness of certain owners, it’s virtually impossible to think of a baseball world where free agency doesn’t exist. There might be a change or even a dramatic shift in how it’s approached, but make no mistake about it – its here to stay.
And about those changes… For one, the overall quality of free agents will likely take a hit – meaning that it’ll be more difficult to find those expensive, long term/franchise changing players in free agency. However, I’d also expect that if more money were going to talented core pieces in their prime, then less money (internally) would be paid to players heading out of their prime. That will likely result in older, experienced free agent pools that will be rife with quality short-term solutions as opposed to long-term ones.
What it should also do is dramatically warp the trade market to an absurd degree. Smaller market teams like the Pirates and Rays will likely try to move some of their bigger name players that they won’t be able to afford to team that will be willing to part with significantly more prospects than before. With fewer high quality players available than in the past, the price for stars in trades could jump exponentially and in some cases, result in teams mortgaging their entire future for the sake of getting that last – oh-so-needed piece of a championship team.
Is this good for baseball? I’m not entirely sure yet. But if the recent wave of extensions suggests anything, it’s that teams are now far more willing to gamble and incur risk on overpaying for a player’s peak years on the aging curve, then they are in waiting for him to hit the team up for equal/similar contract at a point in said player’s career where the risk of owning their rights increases exponentially.
Simply put – if you gave two six-year, $125 million contracts to the same player – one in their age 23-29 seasons and another from their age 29-35 seasons – then the chances are far higher that the contract will come far closer to fulfilling it’s value in the player’s prime age 23-29 seasons than it would in his age 23-29 seasons where the risk of losing money isn’t just high – it’s the most likely scenario.
So while giving lots of money to younger players might seem crazy on its face, it’s probably the better bet. Whether this becomes a long-term shift depends on a lot of things –including TV revenue streams, bursting bubbles and other business-y odds and ends that are bound to change in scope over the next 10 years and none of which we can predict with any real certainty. For right now, we’ll just have to strap in and go where the ride takes us.