Baseball free agency is getting very interesting.
Free agency was meant to give players freedom to find
a new club, balance family lifestyle with professional duties
and to make more money.
But for the two superstars, this FA season is turning sour.
They interviewed with very few teams.
Current reports state that Phillies, Yankees and White Sox
interviewed with Machado, while the Cubs, Dodgers, Phillies
and Cardinals spoke to Harper after he rejected the Nats offer.
Both players don't want to play for the Phils (who seem to
be offering the most money). Both players prefer to play
for the Yankees, but the Yanks have no interest in Harper.
It just leaves Machado with the Yankees, who have signaled
they are not going to spend heavily this off season on players
and the White Sox, who have never spent heavily on free agency.
It just leaves Harper with the Phils as both the Dodgers and
Cubs claim not to have payroll room to sign him, and the Cardinals
don't seem to be the black knight willing to cough up $400 million
on one player.
One speculates that Harper may have to throttle back his 10 year
megacontract demand and take a 5 year deal with an opt out after
3 season (so he can get to FA again before 30). That kind of deal
could open up one or two more teams to bottom feed if the number
is not $40 million/year but more like $25 to $30 million/year.
In other words, Harper may have to settle for a J.D. Martinez
type of deal just before spring training begins.
And considering the current roller coaster stock market where
rich men's savings are are getting whipsawed with losses, team
owners are extra wary of signing a huge contract with problematic players.
This appears not to be collusion but basic economics. Teams are not growing
local revenue streams. A big market team signing a Machado or Harper will not
add any significant numbers to attendance revenue. Cord cutting has hurt
cable operators who see the sports license fees as a major reason households
do not want to pay increasing monthly cable bills.
Organizations are now more focused on the draft, international free agents
and the trade market to structure their minor and major league systems. Draft
choices are more important than major free agent signings. Major free agency
signings cripple payroll flexibility, can hit the team with luxury taxes and
potentially block rising homegrown stars in their minor league system.
Machado and Harper played so well during their career to earn a Tier 1 free agent
status. But by playing so well, they trapped themselves into a very limited market.
Teams and smart players who sign early in free agency, tend to do better at managing
the organizational budgetary pressures. Teams would rather fix their bullpens with
one or two relievers than sign a big money free agent hitter (with subpar defensive
Also, teams have wised up and do not bid against themselves. At the winter meetings,
teams interested in free agents gave agents their best offer (like the Nationals did to Harper
at the end of the season.) It is no longer an auction where the agent controls the flow
of bids or pits teams against each other. Teams with strict ownership budget guidelines
do not have the time or resources to go with the flow in an active auction setting.
Machado and Harper have probably gotten the "best" offers from the various suitors.
And those offers may have been less than their own perceived market value.
So the agents are playing the sports media card, telling Philadelphia their client(s) don't
want to play there (in hopes the Phils will increase their offer) or to have secondary clubs
make a second raise in their final bid to snare a superstar.
It is a cat and mouse, risk reward type of game that many teams have an advantage. But there
are always some teams that pay stupid money on players who underperform, get hurt or
handcuff the organizational budgets for years. All the big market teams have their golden anchor contracts choking their books. It is harder for player agents to navigate around those ships
trapped in their own dead money harbors.