Tuesday, January 18, 2022

MLB roundtable: Should MLB have a free agent signing deadline in the offseason?

The Atlanta Braves are World Series champions and now baseball is in the middle of its first work stoppage since the 1994-95 strike. MLB and the MLBPA’s were unable to agree to a new collective bargaining agreement prior to Wednesday’s deadline, so the hot stove has been put on hold. With any luck, the work stoppage will last days rather than weeks.

Throughout the offseason the CBS Sports MLB scribes will bring you a weekly roundtable breaking down pretty much anything. The latest news, a historical question, thoughts about the future of baseball, all sorts of stuff. In our last roundtable we debated Clayton Kershaw vs. Justin Verlander. This week we’re going to discuss a change to free agency.

R.J. Anderson: No. I don’t think the way to recreate this past week is through gimmickry; it’s by having teams operate in good faith and with the goal of winning games. On top of that, I don’t see how a signing deadline is a solution to anything. We want teams to participate in free agency more; inserting an artificial deadline halfway through the winter gives them an excuse to abstain from that point forward. (Besides, how would this even work? At some point, you’re going to have to allow the unsigned players to seek jobs, thereby undercutting the entire premise.)

Matt Snyder: There’s no doubt that these past few days were amazing theater and — if not for the impending owner-driven lockout — excellent for baseball in terms of getting eyeballs in the sport while in the offseason. It was especially huge on that front in the backdrop of all the other sports in such a big time of the year for on-field action. 

Of course, it happened organically and there’s just no way to recreate that by forcing some sort of arbitrary deadline. 

It sounds great on the surface. “What if we got this every single year?!?!” 

What about the players in DFA limbo? What about the “lesser” free agents, who could be important players and are also, you know, human beings? There are still big-name free agents out there (Carlos Correa, Kris Bryant, Marcus Stroman, etc.) and while it might be easy to say, “he should have signed,” what if they are legitimately getting low-balled? When can they start signing again? Jan. 1? Feb. 1? March 1? 

This would be putting an awful lot of power in the team hands at the expense of the players. There’s a good chance someone like Correa would be far down the road in negotiations and possibly only need another one or two days to sign, but then a deadline pops up and takes away all negotiating power. 

It’s an idea that I believe sounds amazing upon first glance, again, since it was so fun these past three days or so, but once you dig deeper, it’s just another way for owners to control the game. If a player has truly unreasonable demands, he won’t get signed at all. 

Speaking of which, there kind of already are soft deadlines, such as when the players need to report to camp in order to be ready for Opening Day. 

Mike Axisa: No, but it would be perfectly Manfredian to focus on the instant gratification rather than the long-term downside. MLB is great at unintended consequences and this is ripe for them. The issue is this: what happens to the players who don’t sign prior to the deadline? They have to be allowed to sign at some point and make a living. If they’re allowed to sign in spring training, then there’s not really a deadline, and if they can’t sign until the next offseason, MLB teams will squeeze them into below-market contracts. I don’t trust teams to not use a signing deadline to further reduce player salaries (The Athletic polled baseball people about this idea and all the team executives loved it, so yeah), which is at the core of the current work stoppage. I think a signing deadline would make a already big problem worse. The last few days were fun but I don’t think you can recreate that organically. Want to improve free agency? Incentivize winning rather than losing.

Dayn Perry: I loved the pace of what just happened at the end of November, but I just think there are too many unintended consequences in play. Broadly, I just don’t think the owners can be trusted to operate in good faith under such a system and would try to “run out the clock” to make certain free agents desperate for a deal. I think it’s unworkable in a sport that churns out 150-200 free agents every winter.

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