If the more than 100 baseball players who remain unsigned just ahead of the opening of spring training are looking to place blame, they can start with themselves.
If their signed colleagues want to boycott something, it seems like it ought to be their union leadership for recommending the collective bargaining agreement that created the understandable trend that controllable contract years for players under 30 are more valuable than players hitting free agency over that age.
If players think the owners have colluded, then prove it. If somebody can find the emails or texts detailing the steps by which teams have agreed to such a conspiracy to suppress costs, then sue and win the way they did in the owners’ ham-handed act in 1987.
Thirty-one years later, there remains a stripe of stupid in the game. See the Angels for details of Albert Pujols’ and Josh Hamilton’s contracts. But most franchises — the smart ones — have evolved by building teams within the organization first, as painful as it might be for several years.
MLB Players Association executive director Tony Clark and agents scream about teams not being competitive, but their understandable priority would seem to be competing to add years and zeroes to the end of players’ paychecks.
This is not to call free agents greedy. They’re not. They’re fighting for the best deal they can get. They should. It’s not greed if someone agrees to fork over what a player asks for. Players lose 100 percent of the money they never ask for.
However, trying to be competitive on the field is a different deal. Spending wildly on free agents every year is a loser strategy. See the Cubs for details. The Alfonso Soriano contract, to cite just one example, earned the player $136 million and earned the team zero championships. It wasn’t until all that nonsense stopped that the Cubs tore it down and built it up that there was a parade.
Being competitive in the modern game under this CBA, see, is all about making every move within a plan aimed at winning a World Series or having a chance to win it every year. Being competitive in the modern game under this CBA requires a race to the bottom to secure higher draft picks, collect all the young, controllable talent possible, trade to fill in the holes and then try to sign a free agent or two to complete the set.
Think of team-building these days like this: Free agency is a string of Christmas lights. It’s the flourish decorating the outside of the house. It is not the foundation of the house.
Clark said owners are threatening the “integrity’’ of the game. Seems to me the smart owners are maintaining the integrity of a budget, a bottom line and a promise to fans to stick to a plan.
Because it works. Being an ATM in free agency has proven to deliver mostly a handful of magic beans.
It’s not that the Cubs don’t want to sign Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvish. Either would make the Cubs a threat to win their second World Series in three years. But the Cubs apparently want to sign one of them at their price, not the pitcher’s. It’s called negotiating.
If players and their agents believe it should be called collusion, then find the smoking email or text that proves it. Otherwise, the players should find leadership that gets them a better CBA that starts with fewer years controlled by the team and allows an earlier jump into free agency at an age when teams want to pay big money for future performance instead in past accomplishments.
That’s the fate of players over 30 these days. That’s what they’re finding out. Teams are avoiding payroll taxes and a lot of bad money on the end of big deals. It’s smart.
As long as Theo Epstein’s Cubs don’t get to October one starter short.