Pay your players.
Pay. Your. Players. Say it with me, MLB franchises: Pay. Your. Players.
Feel it. Live it. Breathe it in. Drink it in, man.
Those three words could probably be repeated 30 to 40 times in the rest of this column to prove a point and send a message — after all, following a pretty dead two years of MLB free agency with no pizzazz, it needs to be said. But so far during this free-agency period, there’s been hope that this offseason won’t be a total drag, which is a good sign for fans and players.
Mike Moustakas got his money and years from the Cincinnati Reds; the Braves inked Will Smith to a fairly lucrative contract and it sounds like Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg could sign sooner rather than later. So please, MLB teams, keep spending money. Keep wanting to win.
The elephant in the dugout is the CBA expiring at the end of 2021, so teams have two years to get it right and prove they want to do just that: spend money and win. It seems as though in 2019 baseball, teams are more concerned with their bottom line than the left column. Mets relief pitcher Justin Wilson said as much last year during his introductory conference call.
“I agree with [Justin Verlander] on some aspects on that, that there is a lot of the league that would rather make money than win,” Wilson said. “Which, if you’re a player, it isn’t really fun, because we play this game to win.
“I don’t go into the season with any other goal than a World Series. So having two-thirds of the league not really involved in that, not trying to win a championship, that’s holding free agency.”
It wasn’t long ago that Neil Walker vehemently criticized the free-agent process the year he landed with the Yankees, signing in mid-March. Walker was far from ancient or washed up — he was 32 at the time and coming off a good run with the Mets and Brewers in 2017 in which he was worth more than two wins, per Fangraphs.
The trend continued when Gio Gonzalez, who was lights out for the Brewers in 2018, had to wait until March 2019 to sign. Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel signing post MLB Draft because teams wanted to avoid giving up draft compensation.
Yes, the big-market guys like Patrick Corbin, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado got their money, and presumably Gerrit Cole, Rendon and Strasburg will get theirs. But this isn’t so much about the big-ticket guys, but those serviceable veterans who had to wait a little longer to get paid.
It certainly seems like it’s starting to turn for the better: In addition to Moustakas and Smith, Travis d’Arnaud and Yasmani Grandal signed, maybe a bit earlier than many expected them to. Shocking, but true: Signing early in the offseason is what’s best for business.
Put aside the benefit for media and fans for a second. Think of the players, some of who had to suffer through terrible minor league conditions to finally wait four or five years for the chance at free agency only to be set aside because owners want to play a cute game of “payroll flexibility” with players — something that could lead to labor unrest in the coming years.
There’s a lot more that goes into it than just the way free agency has been handled: The minor-league contraction fiasco, service-time manipulation and other rules are at the forefront of change for the MLBPA and the league.
But for now, teams seem to be getting smart by opening up their wallets again, and that’s a welcome gift for fans ahead of the holiday season.
Keep stuffing that stocking, folks.
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