One of the main criticisms of Major League Baseball’s recent free-agent periods is that star players have gone too long without signing contracts. Just last offseason, the game’s two premier free agents, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, didn’t ink deals until a few weeks before the regular campaign started. The same was true of Jake Arrieta, to name one prominent example, the prior winter. But MLB has shown interest in cutting down on big-name stragglers on the open market, Evan Drellich of The Athletic explains (subscription link). Earlier this month, the league sent a proposal to the MLBPA that would’ve placed a cutoff date on free agents signing multiyear contracts, but the union summarily shot it down, according to Drellich.
“After due consideration, we rejected their proposal as not being in the best interests of players,” MLBPA senior director of collective bargaining and legal Bruce Meyer said (via Drellich). “We asked if MLB was interested in discussing other, more direct and tangible ways of incentivizing early signings and they weren’t at this time.”
Had the union said yes to the league’s idea, there wouldn’t have been any contracts of more than one year doled out past the Dec. 8-12 winter meetings. MLB at least wanted to implement the plan on a one-year trial basis this winter, Drellich reports, but the union didn’t think it would benefit the players because it might have given too much leverage to the teams. In the MLBPA’s estimation, a multiyear signing deadline would have created a “take-it-or-leave-it” mentality among some free agents, who may have felt pressured to accept an offer before the drop-dead date, potentially decreasing their earning power.
Of course, there’s also an argument a deadline would’ve taken away quite a bit of offseason intrigue. In leagues like the NFL, NBA and NHL, free agency often opens with a mad rush of headline-worthy moves before becoming rather dull with most of the top players off the board. For better or worse (depending on your perspective), that hasn’t really been the case in baseball, nor does it look as if it will be this offseason with super-agent Scott Boras set to oversee negotiations for the likes of Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg and perhaps J.D. Martinez. Boras clients (including Harper and Arrieta) have shown a willingness to hang on the open market for months until the absolute best deal comes along.
The outspoken Boras shared his opinion on MLB’s rejected FA proposal with Drellich, saying in part: “They want to make the offseason more predictive as to when players sign, and the answer to do that is to provide incentive, not limitation, on the free-agent right. A player has six years, he should determine when he signs, that should be his choice, because he’s earned that right. Any restriction, any limitation on that timeframe would restrict the right. Because some clubs make decisions in February they wouldn’t make in December. And there’s obviously a strong history for that.”