Justin Verlander became the latest Major League Baseball player to question the current state of free agency, taking to Twitter with his thoughts on the fact that several top players remain unsigned.
The most notable free agents still on the market are Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, who have not attracted a frenzy of attention from teams despite the fact that they are two of the best players in baseball and only 26 years old.
Verlander: Rebuilding Excuse is ‘BS’
Verlander posted a tweet on Monday pointing out not only the fact that Harper and Machado haven’t found homes, but that many other available players are also waiting on teams to sign them.
“100 or so free agents left unsigned. System is broken,” he wrote. “They blame ‘rebuilding’ but that’s BS. You’re telling me you couldn’t sign Bryce or Manny for 10 years and go from there? Seems like a good place to start a rebuild to me.”
100 or so free agents left unsigned. System is broken. They blame “rebuilding” but that’s BS. You’re telling me you couldn’t sign Bryce or Manny for 10 years and go from there? Seems like a good place to start a rebuild to me. 26-36 is a great performance window too.
— Justin Verlander (@JustinVerlander) February 11, 2019
Lack of Signings Has Players Concerned
Players would likely be curious about the lack of interest in Harper and Machado even if this were a one-off issue. But it comes on the heels of a historically slow free agency period last year, one that led to accusations of competitive indifference and even collusion against league owners.
The hope was that this year’s free agent class, headlined by Harper and Machado and also including many other premium players, would bring the market back to business as usual.
Once those two players sign – even in this market, they’re likely to command long-term contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars – there will be an uptick in the amount teams spent compared to the previous offseason. But it won’t be anything like teams were spending a few years ago, particularly in the 2015-16 offseason when teams spent nearly $4 billion on free agents.
Already, players and management are debating the issue on social media. Former Marlins team president David Samson responded to Verlander’s tweet by saying that players and agents would need to “adjust to a new reality.” That prompted NL MVP Christian Yelich to fire back at Samson for his “anti-player rhetoric.”
Consistent with your anti player rhetoric but adjusting to this “new reality” isn’t exactly the solution either https://t.co/OT8Z9HpGgH
— Christian Yelich (@ChristianYelich) February 11, 2019
Winning Doesn’t Necessarily Pay
Whether or not teams are colluding to dampen the free agency market, there are other reasons why they might be reluctant to spend what they were just a few years ago.
Many teams have shown a willingness to tank for one or more seasons – something players have suggested should be punished – in order to build up their farm systems. The fact that media rights contracts have sent guaranteed revenues through the roof also means that the value of winning is less than it once was, further reducing the incentive for teams to spend money on star players.
But while this is all true, there is one obvious reason why players might think collusion is a factor: it has happened before. Ownership colluded in the mid-1980s, until players were able to prove it and the owners were forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars after arbitrators ruled that ownership had violated the collective bargaining agreement. Similar allegations were made in 2002 and 2003, though without any admission of guilt from owners.