It’s fair to wonder why the free agent market was all but frozen throughout this just-ending offseason, and there have been whispers and veiled accusations that baseball owners have been guilty of collusion.
Baseball’s labor agreement prohibits the owners acting in concert to hold down salaries — as well it should — but there has been no smoking gun and there is evidence that ownership recently got a glimpse at where the game’s payroll structure is going and are putting on the brakes.
I was around for the great collusion controversy in the mid-1980s and this doesn’t really smell like that. It does smell a little, but proving any actionable wrongdoing is going to be pretty tough.
This is what I think happened:
Remember a couple of years ago when agents were speculating on the future value of budding superstars Bryce Harper and Manny Machado and the numbers they were throwing around — for Harper in particular --- got as high as $500 million?
That’s a big jump from the $300 million-plus deals that have been given to a few select players, and it clearly emboldened some agents to start throwing around ridiculous numbers about the top free agents at the start of this offseason.
Maybe somebody talked to somebody — which isn’t supposed to happen — or maybe it’s not such a leap to think that the supposedly smart businessmen who run the 30 baseball franchises are finally figuring out that teams generally end up regretting or trying to find their way out of those mega-contracts.
Who, really, was going to give Yu Darvish nearly $200 million after a 10-12 regular season and a horrible meltdown in the World Series? The same goes for Jake Arrieta, who’s still waiting for his big deal after his numbers declined in 2017.
The best players are still getting big money, but the environment has changed and it looks like they’re not going to get the last dollar for awhile.
It’ll be interesting to see how this affects the Machado situation. Very interesting indeed.