About a week ago, Buster Olney wrote this interesting piece for ESPN.com about the apparent crash of the MLB free agent market over the winter. This is part of the second paragraph of Olney’s article:
“ … it became apparent that Scott Boras — baseball’s most prominent agent, someone with a long history of late-winter negotiation victories — lost to the market, in a rout.
The column points out that the current CBA does not contain any significant provisions to minimize the number of “tanking teams” and when there are “tanking teams” that means less competition for the services of free agents who are seeking major deals. Moreover, the current CBA punishes the normally “big-spending teams” with a significant luxury tax meaning that even teams who have access to plenty of revenue can think twice before throwing money at “the best player left on the board”.
As with almost all of Buster Olney’s writings, there is plenty of info and insight contained here. I think that the emergence and almost universal acceptance of advanced analytics in MLB also hurt many of the free agents this year. When GMs look back on some of the huge deals done with star players who were 30 and older, the landscape is not a pretty one.
- Albert Pujols has never lived up to his mega-deal and there are still plenty of years to go on that deal.
- Troy Tulowitzki got a lucrative long-term deal but his body fell apart.
- Alfonso Soriano signed a long-term deal with the Cubs that turned out to be an albatross around the neck of that franchise for its duration.
- Josh Hamilton got a huge deal and then the Angels had to eat more than $50M of that deal just to trade him away.
Those examples are from memory; the field is littered with other bad deals. And the list above does not even begin to consider the big contracts given to pitchers whose careers had peaked. The point here is that teams are becoming far more interested in young players in their prime production years and less interested in obtaining players on contracts that have an element of “lifetime achievement award” in there.
While MLB flaps around trying to deal with “pace of play” issues, the folks who run minor league baseball have put some new rules in place to see how they can speed up games. As with any set of changes, there are some good ideas and some bad ones.
- In Double-A and in Triple-A games, there will be a 15-second pitch clock whenever there are no men on base.
- There will be limits on the number of visits to the mound that can happen in each game. Here are the team limits: Triple-A clubs will be allowed six visits per team; Double-A clubs will be allowed eight visits per team; Single-A clubs will be allowed 10 visits per team; there will not be a limit on mound visits for Short Season and Rookie-level clubs. “Mound visits” will include any conference with a manager, coach or other position player even if the pitcher leaves the mound to go and talk to the player.
- In an attempt to shorten the length of extra inning games, each extra inning will begin with a runner on second base. The “designated baserunner” will be the player in the batting order one ahead of the player due up first in the extra inning. [Of course, the manager can elect to put in a pinch-runner for the “designated baserunner” and the normal rules for a pinch-runner would apply.]
I have no problem whatsoever with the limitations imposed by a pitch clock nor any limits on mound visits in a game. The third rule change related to extra innings is the most controversial of the bunch and I have to admit that my first reaction was that this is too fundamental a change to the rules that got the teams to the point where extra innings became necessary. Let me explain that last statement a bit.
Think about international soccer as my counter example. In final tournament competition, teams play 90 minutes of soccer under a set of rules and then play another 30 minutes under the same set of rules. If the game is still tied after all that, the winner is decided on penalty kicks. [The NHL does the same sort of thing.] The ultimate winner of the game/tournament is decided under a totally different set of rules and circumstances from the ones that produced the tie game. I do not like that circumstance.
Baseball and basketball have extra innings/overtimes where the teams simply continue to play baseball/basketball until there is a winner. If there is a tie at the end of a PGA Tour event, the players decide the winner by playing golf – they do not determine the winner for example by going to the driving range and seeing who can drive a ball the furthest. I prefer that way to break ties. So, my first inclination is to oppose the idea of starting every extra inning with a man on second base.
At the same time, I do not want to sound like an old geezer telling the kids to get off my lawn. So, I am going to reserve judgement on this until there is some data to say how it works out on the field. I will need to be convinced that this is a positive change – but I am willing to be convinced.
Finally, Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle had this comment recently regarding an aspect of baseball that has changed over the years:
“Not everything was better in the old days, but this was: You were not a feared hitter unless you strode to the plate swinging three bats, then discarded two.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………