December 19, 2017


You will soon hear the rumblings by agents about collusion.

Collusion in sports is where teams actively get together to adversely impact player contracts and benefits.

In this off-season, not one free agent player has received more than a three year contract.

The largest pitching contract had been Chatwood's three year, $38 million deal.

The hot stove league has been very cool, especially with top name pitchers like Darvish and Arrieta looking for 5 or 6 year deals near the $200 million range.

But the climate around baseball front offices has changed. Sabermetrics has given general managers new tools to evaluate (and in negotiations, de-value) players performance. The new CBA rules regarding the penalties for breaching the luxury tax threshold in multiple years have made even big money teams like the Yankees and Dodgers punting many player contracts to get under the $195 million cap.

In addition, teams now believe major league "controllable" assets are more valuable than established free agent veterans. Fans have come around to believe in a team's "rebuilding" process to go through some very bad years on the road to a championship (see, the Cubs and the Astros).

The new rebuild model has a focus of developing a young core of position players that a team can control for six full seasons. In conjunction with that model, expensive starting pitching is being replaced with more bullpen arms. Last season, only 15 starters threw more than 200 innings. The rise of using bullpen arms in the 5th inning of games is becoming routine. Relievers are less expensive than starting pitchers (even though this off-season most of the moves have been overpaying relievers in two year deals).

Because starters have had long term deals with the fear that the back end is dead money, teams are tentative to overwork them in spring training and during the season. The result has not stopped injuries and TJ surgeries.

Very few teams have pitching depth in their minor league system. The White Sox are the exception. If a team can develop their own starting pitching, it can effectively save hundreds of millions of dollars in payroll obligations. Those savings could be used to pay for a stud free agent to fill a final roster need (a Bryce Harper or Manny Machado).

Teams have become much more principled in their decision making processes. In the past, only Jerry Reinsdorf had a strict rule not to sign a starting pitcher for more than 4 years. And when that rule was not followed, the Sox got burned (example, Jon Danks).

In the past, teams expected their rotation to handle more than 68 percent of the innings thrown during a season (1000 of 1458 IP). Now, it is down to 60 percent which puts another 125 IP on the bullpen. In order to cope with this production issue, teams may think about going with a 6th starter to take those 125 IP or have one or two long relievers capable of throwing 3 or 4 innings from the pen.

The only other way is to adapt pitching philosophy to get more outs. The Athletics had a development strategy that every pitcher in their system had to learn to throw a change-up. The change-up became the team's dominate strike out pitch. Last season, high power teams like the Cubs were caught off-guard by curve ball pitchers. It is said that any major league hitter can hit a fast ball. It is harder to adjust to a slide or straight curve ball after a fast ball sequence.

The star free agents may have to wait a long time this off-season before signing new deals. This plays well with teams who are looking for a discount in years and in average annual pay from players.