Newly reacquired Athletics slugger Brandon Moss appeared on MLB Network’s Hot Stove with Harold Reynolds, Matt Vasgersian and Ken Rosenthal earlier today and discussed not only his return to the A’s but also his candid views on the slow free-agent market (video link, CBA/free agency talk beginning around the 6:20 mark). Acknowledging that it might not be a popular opinion, Moss said that the players have no one but themselves to blame.
“Everything that happens in the game of baseball, as far as how things are done financially, is bargained into a collective bargaining agreement,” says Moss. “The way free agency runs, the way draft money is allotted, the way international signing bonus is allotted. Everything is bargained.”
The link between free agency and draft picks is hardly new to the current CBA, of course, as the previous iteration of the CBA actually had stricter penalization for teams that signed qualified free agents; prior to that, the old Elias Ranking System of Type A/Type B free agents also caused teams to forfeit draft picks, even allowing the team losing the player to effectively acquire a forfeited pick in the case of Type A free agents.
But, the CBA has also increasingly limited the avenues in which teams can acquire amateur talent, and the newest iteration ties that to free agency arguably more than ever before. The fact that signing qualified free agents can now force teams to forfeit international bonus allotments, plus the hard cap on international spending are new to the 2017-21 CBA.
Additionally, exceeding the luxury tax by a wide enough margin will eventually cause teams to see their top pick pushed back 10 slots. The new CBA also added surcharges of 12 percent and 42.5 percent for exceeding the CBT by $20MM and $40MM, respectively. Those trends, Moss continues, are troublesome more so for future generations of players than the current crop:
“My career’s almost finished, so I don’t have to deal with this much longer, but the worry is there for me for players in the future that enough attention is not being paid to the way we allow our system to be run. I feel like we put more things that are of less value at the forefront. I feel like we’re starting to have to walk a little bit of a tightrope that we’ve created for ourselves. I think that we have given the owners and we have given the people who are very, very business savvy the opportunity to take advantage of a system that we created for ourselves.”
The increases of penalization, relative to the shrinking means of amateur talent acquisition — hard slotting system in the draft, hard cap on international spending — has tipped the scales decidedly in favor of the owners, Moss suggests. Whereas teams once felt the need to meet or even exceed previously established market values in free agency, the more recent iterations of the CBA have done the opposite — pushing teams away from spending at previous market standards.
“…[W]e have the right to bargain and set our price, just like the owners have the right to meet that price,” Moss says. “But what we’ve done is we have incentivized owners, we have incentivized teams to say ’We don’t want to meet that price. It costs us too much to meet that price. It costs us draft picks. It costs us international signing money. … We’re going to have to pay a tax if we go over a certain threshold’ that we (the players) set ourselves. … And the only reason those things are there is because we bargained them in. If I’m an owner, my goal is to have the bottom line be in black — to put a winner on the field and the bottom line to be in black. The more opportunity you give me to do those things, the better off I’m going to be.”
Moss is eminently cognizant of the manner in which he has benefited from the previous efforts of the MLBPA, citing prior labor stoppages and hard-line negotiation tactics from the union that paved the way for today’s generation of players to be compensated at such a lofty level. The gratitude he feels for those efforts is almost as palpable in his comments as the concern he feels for future generations.
“I feel like, as players, we have to watch out for our own interest,” he continues. “If you run too good of a deal out there in a bargaining agreement, then of course the owners are going to jump on it. You have to be willing to dig your heels in a little bit — fight for the things the guys in the past have fought for. … I just hate to see players like me taking advantage of a system that was set up for me, by other players, and not passing it along to the next generation of players. Everybody wants to look up and scream collusion … sooner or later, you have to take responsibility for a system you created for yourself. It’s our fault.”
While Moss, clearly, hasn’t had to wait out this winter’s abnormally slow market, it’s worth reminding that he’s hardly unfamiliar with the process. The slugger was a free agent last offseason and was part of a class of first basemen/corner outfielders/designated hitters that developed never fully developed. He did manage to eventually secure a two-year deal that guaranteed him $12MM (on the heels of a .225/.300/.484 season and 28 homers with the Cardinals), though he waited until Feb. 1 for that contract to be finalized.
Although wholesale changes to free agency and draft/international compensation likely won’t be implemented any time in the near future — the CBA runs through the 2021 season — the unrest among free agents and their representatives this offseason figures to be a definitive talking point in that next wave of negotiations, even if this doesn’t prove to be an ongoing trend in the future.
That, of course, is something that can’t be determined for several years; it’s possible that this winter is somewhat anomalous in nature given the facts that a large number of teams are in rebuild mode, several typical big spenders (Yankees, Dodgers, Giants, Rangers) are looking to cut back on spending and some teams are holding out for a top-heavy crop of stars next winter.
Could the large number of rebuilding teams lead to an uptick in the number of contending clubs looking to spend in free agency in two years? Will the return of the Yankees, Giants, Dodgers and possibly the Rangers to their big-spending ways next offseason have a trickle-down effect on open-market spending? Or, will a large number of free agents settle for one-year deals in the coming weeks, setting the stage for an even more saturated class of solid-but-not-elite free agents next winter, thus creating an even larger logjam?
Given the lack of data at present and all of those variables, we may not have a true ability to contextualize the changing pace of free agency until the 2019-20 offseason. Regardless, it’s difficult to imagine that the concerns voiced by Moss aren’t being felt by other players and won’t priorities for the union next time around. Those interested in the matter are encouraged to watch the full interview with Moss, whose candid and insightful comments bring a new perspective to what has been the largest story of the 2017-18 offseason.