With a under a month to go before pitchers and catchers report for spring training, some of the biggest names on the free agent market remain without a home for the upcoming season. Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and closer Craig Kimbrel are all currently treading water and waiting for the right offers to come in. The situation is eerily similar to last winter, when some of the top free agents on the market, and many of the middle-class of players as well, didn’t have a team until the final moments before spring training.
According to a story from the New York Daily News, agent Scott Boras believes the tepid interest in free agents over the last two winters is a symptom of a larger problem, what he calls a ‘noncompetitive cancer’ sweeping through the league.
“Despite the fact that baseball is making record profits, we have had four straight years of attendance dropping and we have teams that are rebuilding and not competing,” Boras told NYDN writer Kristie Ackert. “Three years ago, I said this was a stage I cancer, now, it’s in stage II of the noncompetitive cancer.”
As a result, you have fewer teams bidding for the top free agents than in the past. And, with every team having their own in-house analytics departments, a team vice president told Ackert that teams are largely all placing the same value with the same evaluations of players hence an unwillingness to get into a bidding war. Add to that the same emphasis that we have seen other leagues place on young, cost-controlled players, and you have the recipe for a frigid free agent market.
Whether Boras’ theory is correct or not, he has a solution to the problem that he sees. He wants to create an additional two wild card teams per league to the playoffs thereby creating an incentive for more teams that may be on the fringe or just outside of playoff contention, to push to be competitive.
“In our game, clubs and GMs who are moving the needle from 68 to 74 wins are getting no reward, no playoff opportunity,” Boras said to NYDN. “My idea is to have an October World (Wild) Card Eight. We add two wild card games to each league. … You are rewarding the division winners because they won’t have to play as many games, but you are also reward teams with 85, 87 wins.”
With attendance rates continuing to decline, Boras is seeking to add more fan interest for those teams that may consider themselves to be outside of playoff contention currently. The piece states that Major League Baseball itself has defended team payrolls and doesn’t see any connection between the attendance decline and rebuilding teams. On the flip side, players continue to get more restless with Ackert stating that some have begun to talk about a strike as the only way to potentially fix the situation during the next round of CBA negotiations.