Baseball’s owners were found guilty of collusion once, so is it unreasonable to think they won’t try it again? After all, they’ve slowly implemented a salary cap with a luxury tax and restricted free agency with compensatory draft picks.
Also, not beneficial to the integrity of the game – at least in my opinion – are such things as scheduling, interleague play, screwing around with the All-Star Game, playing in ridiculously cold and wet weather, not having any day games during the World Series, not resolving the designated hitter issue, and an almost neurotic obsession about the length of games [see pitch clock].
These things are made possible because the agenda of the owners and commissioner’s office is almost rubber-stamped by the Players Association because its interests lay with salaries and not the issues surrounding the game. This is, in part, because in exchange for not giving the owners a hard time on drug testing the salaries keep spiraling upwards.
So, it’s reasonable to assume something could be going on behind the scenes. Agent Brodie Van Wagenen of Creative Artists Agency said the behavior of the owners “feels coordinated, rightly or wrongly,’’ but didn’t use the word collusion.
Let’s give the owners some benefit of doubt and think there are other reasons why players such as Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, J.D. Martinez, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Alex Cobb, Todd Frazier, Eduardo Nunez, Carlos Gomez, Logan Morrison, Neil Walker, Lance Lynn, Jonathan Lucroy, Greg Holland and Jon Jay remain unsigned.
What could those reasons be?
• Next year’s market: It’s loaded with Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Charlie Blackmon, Clayton Kershaw, Carlos Carrasco, Cole Hamels, Dallas Keuchel, David Price, Daniel Murphy, Joe Mauer, Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz and Andrew Miller. It’s far deeper than this year’s market and we’ll be talking about landmark salaries next winter. There’s also Matt Harvey, but I digress.
• Owners getting smarter: Seriously, some of them are learning most long-term contracts don’t pay off because they get little return at the end as the Mets have with David Wright, Jason Bay, Johan Santana and are on their way again with Yoenis Cespedes, and the Yankees have with Alex Rodriguez.
• Trading expensive contracts: To get out of paying long-term contracts, Marlins part-owner Derek Jeter helped sabotage the market when he traded Dee Gordon to Seattle; Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees; Marcell Ozuna to St. Louis; Christian Yelich to Milwaukee; and Pittsburgh dealt Andrew McCutchen to San Francisco.
• Salary arbitration: Although arbitration has been in play for a long time, it’s origin stems from the owners’ refusal to grant unrestricted free-agency. As a compromise, the owners adopted arbitration where the two sides each submit a salary figure that an arbitrator must pick without establishing something in the middle ground. This process caused salaries to spike more than if there was conventional free-agency. To bypass the arbitration and free-agent players, the owners outsmarted themselves by offering longer and longer contracts. That obviously hasn’t worked so the owners are trying to again manipulate the system. The economic system the owners don’t like is netting them billions, but it’s not enough.
Not all of these reasons explain the slowness in the market, just as collusion isn’t the sole explanation. But, combined they explain why the market has changed and won’t be normal for a long time.