Another Slow MLB Off-Season Burly’s Baseball Musings

Is it collusion? Maybe, maybe not. Given the past history, I’m am always justifiably suspicious when teams stop spending on free agents. Player salaries were down in 2018 for the first time since 2010. However, things aren’t exactly rosy for MLB in spite of a currently booming economy. Post-season TV ratings are down, and eleven teams failed to draw two million fans or average 25,000 fans per game in 2018, with attendance in Tampa and Miami absolutely dreadful by recent standards.

I have been particularly impressed with the accuracy of mlbtraderumors.com’s contract predictions for its list of the top 50 free agents this off-season, at least in terms of the amounts of the contracts that have signed so far.

The main difference between the predictions and the actual contracts signed so far is that many of the contracts are a year shorter than predicted, but actually feature higher average annual salaries. As such, it really could be possible that teams have simply gotten smarter about giving long-term deals to the majority of free agents, who are not reasonably likely to any good in those last additional seasons.

[As an aside, I noticed that mlbtraderumor’s predictions piece got many comments criticizing the fact that it hadn’t accurately predicted most of the actual signing teams. In my opinion these criticisms are kind of stupid and fairly typical of a lot of the negative comments people like to write. With 30 MLB teams, the vast majority of the top 50 free agents are going to have three to five teams serious about signing them, with numerous other teams who see the player as a Plan B if the free agent they really want signs with someone else and also a few bottom-feeders like the Twins last off-season willing to jump in at the last minute if the free agent can be signed as a relative bargain. That makes it pretty hard to accurately predict which team signs which free agent. The contract-length-and-amount predictions, and the relative accuracy thereof, feels a lot more pertinent and significant to me.]

It’s also worth noting that we could expect Bryce Harper and Manny Machado to go into January unsigned, as both are trying to wring record-setting deals out of their respective suitors. Neither Harper (injuries, inconsistency, maturity level) or Machado (maturity level, post-season performance) is without his faults, which means it’s going to take some work to get them the deals that they and their agents dream about.

As a final note, I appreciated the creativity of the most recent big free agent signing, that of Zach Britton. While it guarantees Britton $39M, which was just a little more than mlbtraderumors.com predicted, it provides tremendous flexibility to both the Yankees and Britton. Britton can opt out after two years and $26M, and after year three the Yankees have a $14M team option for 2022. Although I have a problem with Scott Boras’ conflicts of interest and his Trumpesque puffery, he is extremely creative in terms of working out the best possible deals for his most elite clients. I can’t imagine that Britton doesn’t feel pretty good about this deal.