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Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Some of baseball’s biggest stars are ready to change the game’s free-agency system – The Athletic

Transition the minimum salary to $2-$3 million a year (which essentially puts in a floor between $52-$72 million). More players get money and it moves the base for marginal dollars.

The service time manipulation that affected Lindor and Bryant, along with a slew of other young stars, is a financial benefit to teams, but it also prevents players from being on the field when they’re ready. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was the most recent example last spring. Guerrero started the year in Triple A despite clearly being ready for the majors.

Under the current system, players earn a year of service time after 172 days in the majors. The union could negotiate to add an age component to service time, it could negotiate to have the number of days needed reduced (perhaps by as much as half) or they could negotiate for players to be arbitration-eligible after two years. A number of baseball agents believe getting guys to arbitration after two years would be more beneficial than getting them to free agency a year sooner than the current system allows.

Jim Furtado Posted: December 10, 2019 at 12:12 PM | 29 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: cba

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   1. Walt Davis Posted: December 10, 2019 at 03:49 PM (#5907542)
I generally agree with the notion of the article. I doubt they can get anything like a $2 M minimum (what would they give ownership in exchange for that?) but we almost always see a large jump in the minimum in a new agreement and I'd like to see them introduce some sort of sliding scale. Maybe this is realistic -- <1 year service time $750 K, 1-<2 $1 M, 2-<3 $1.25, 3-<6 $1.75 M -- with those raises coming whenever they actually pass the threshold which is why we need the 3+ category. (I'd like to see bigger salaries there but am tempering my hopes). By having raises occur mid-season, you mildly reduce incentives for playing service time games -- wouldn't make any difference on a Bryant, might make a difference for a more marginal player.

To clarify that bit, say a player has 150 days of service time. The team doesn't get him for $750 for all of the next season just because he's not yet to 1 year. They'll have to start paying him $1 M after 30 more service days. I suspect it would need more clarification on that 3+ stuff -- i.e. presumably we want some mechanism such that FAs can sign for basically whatever they want. No doubt there is some 2+ years service time guy that teams would be willing to have at $750 but not $1.25 and we don't want to screw him out of a job. The key there being that he'd be an FA choosing from 30 teams and accepting that $750.
   2. Walt Davis Posted: December 10, 2019 at 03:50 PM (#5907545)
Some nitpicks though: Vlad was going to get screwed but he had a legit, conveniently-timed injury that meant he wasn't going to be on the opening day roster anyway. There's never been a time when teams would add an injured guy to the 25-man roster then DL when they didn't have to.

Further, Lindor and Bryant are different types. Lindor was a standard "delay until past the uncertain super-2 deadline." That too has been standard practice with very young, emerging star prospects -- Lindor still just 21 at the time. Bryant of course already had 1+ years of destroying the ball, was surely ready in the 2nd half of 2014 and was 23 ... just a straight screw job and not standard practice at the time (standard practice is that he'd have been up the 2nd half of 2014).

Also Lindor wasn't a very good minors hitter. He was being promoted aggressively, but he'd shown no power yet and, in AAA at 21, hit just 284/350/402 ... I'm sure that's very impressive for 21 in AAA but it doesn't scream ML-ready. He proceeded to put up a rookie line of 313/353/482 ... and of course it seems likely the ball was juiced in the 2nd half of 2015. It's only because he took that big step forward when he came to the majors that we'd even single him out as a major service time manipulation.
   3. bbmck Posted: December 10, 2019 at 05:11 PM (#5907592)
Teams pay ~$3mil each into a pool, that money is distributed to pre-arb players who don't have a long term contract based on performance. Pre-arb MVP ballots, either separately for each league or combined filled out by some combination of executives, BBWAA and SABR and pay something like $10mil to Mike Trout down to $1mil or even $500k. If the Jays offer Cavan a long term contract, he has maybe an extra $2mil less taxes already in his bank and reasonable confidence that he will earn another $3-5mil next year, in his particular case being the son of a multi-millionaire it doesn't make as much difference but for most players that's life changing money based on excelling at a sport with ~$10 billion in annual revenue.

As a hedge against corruption could have a pool of 100 voters and discard the best and worst 10 results for each player so that Rowdy Tellez needs to bribe at least 11 voters rather than just needing Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun or Ross Atkins of the Blue Jays to place him 3rd on their ballot. Voiding their ballot is easy enough if either simply fills out their ballot with all/mostly Jays while one 3rd place vote is T17th in the AL MVP vote and it's much harder to dispute a single vote on the basis of leadership or other intangibles.
   4. Walt Davis Posted: December 10, 2019 at 05:54 PM (#5907599)
I think it's unlikely they'd move to a "performance"-based system much less one voted on by writers. If there is such a thing, it will be an arbitration style process to decide how that money is divided. But given tradition it would be easier to put in bonuses/raises based on playing time (PA, GS, GR). That's still unfair to Trout but would ensure that somebody like Brian Anderson (670 and 520 PA) gets paid more than Lewis Brinson (406 and 248 PA) even with identical service time (they don't have that). So something like 502 PA or more plus the top X% of the Y-year service time players below 502 PA get the "big" raise and the other Y-year service time guys get the "standard" raise. That might help ensure the bench guys still have jobs. (The X% thing as a way to try to avoid obvious PA games ... and obviously some similar reasonable pitching thresholds.)

We're all pointlessly speculating of course so it's just for fun. But realistically, neither side seems interested in blowing the whole thing up and starting over (especially not Stephen Strasburg) and that would take a long time to negotiate. So I'm not shooting for "fair", I'm shooting for "fairer" while retaining as many of the established parameters of history as I can. The MLBPA has steered way clear of "pay based on quality" and I assume they will continue to do so. The only place where quality officially enters into it is in arb awards so if there's to be an extension of "quality pay" to pre-arb players, it would be through a similar process. I guess I could see automatic bonuses for ASG, MVP/CYA and RoY finishes.

So the "realistic optimum" is to balance a system that continues to give teams a lot of early control (otherwise owners get riled up) but pushes up the minimum floor, achieves a more fair distribution to good young players while finding a per-arb salary sweet spot that helps fringe veterans keep jobs (because the youngsters aren'e WAY cheaper anymore) without screwing over fringe young players too badly. The reshaping of the minor-league system fits nicely with the idea of freeing up more money for minimum salaries.

   5. bbmck Posted: December 10, 2019 at 06:19 PM (#5907608)
The problem with playing time is that you send a lot of the pool money to AAAA teams. Make it $3.5mil per team and you have a $5mil administration budget to figure out how to distribute $100mil. That's $5k to each of 30 voters per team to further discourage corruption since taking Rowdy's money jeopardizes future income and another $500k to some accounting firm that didn't screw up the Best Picture Oscar to tabulate confidential results.
   6. Hank Gillette Posted: December 10, 2019 at 10:24 PM (#5907643)
Apropos of this and Marvin Miller getting elected to the HOF: Does anyone else think he really screwed up by giving the seven years before free agency to the owners? He got nothing in return, as far as I can tell, and it has really screwed marginal and average major leaguers ever since.
   7. JRVJ Posted: December 10, 2019 at 10:58 PM (#5907647)
The more I read about the state of the market and future CBA negotiations, the more I doubt the MLBPA will be able to strike next time out.

I simply don't see the stars of the sport striking so that new players get higher 1st year or 2nd year salaries or get 4 years of arbitration.
   8. The Yankee Clapper Posted: December 10, 2019 at 11:31 PM (#5907650)
I simply don't see the stars of the sport striking so that new players get higher 1st year or 2nd year salaries or get 4 years of arbitration.
Many MLB owners & executives had similar thoughts decades ago, but the players were more united than many thought would be the case. I suspect most players (and the MLBPA) have now come to the conclusion that veteran players are harmed by younger players being so cheaply available, making established players more inclined to make changing the current practice a priority.
   9. Walt Davis Posted: December 11, 2019 at 12:12 AM (#5907654)
The problem with playing time is that you send a lot of the pool money to AAAA teams.

Well, I wasn't trying too hard to make your pool money idea work but I'm not sure that's a bug rather than a feature. Tie it to another idea of mine of having service time begin when added to the 40-man and it could work quite well.

But that's not what I thought you had in mind nor what I was trying to address. I read your idea as "create a big pool of money, dole it out to the top-performing young players as bonuses on top of the minimum" (with none of it going to those who didn't do so well). I suggested MLBPA would want to stay away from "performing" but might go for "dole it out to the young players who start/get playing time" (with none of it going to those who didn't get a lot of PT). The 2020 AAAA players would generally be guys who didn't receive a lot of 2019 PT, would likely be below whatever cut-off is established for "deserves a bonus" and others might fall into a "deserves a small bonus" group. Of course there would be guys, especially relievers, who might have earned a bonus based on a big 2019 but stink at the start of 2020 and find themselves back at AAA -- oh well.

Or maybe you meant that as a comment on my broader higher minimum salaries based on service time idea? I'd only see that operating as the min salary does now -- if you're in the minors, you're earning your minors salary even if you have service time (unless of course you have a guaranteed contract). But if you're in the majors and you have between 2 and 3-years service time then you get paid at the 2-3 years' service time rate.

Another one I've just thought of that I'm not sure would help the players or not but might be worth discussing -- whenever a team options a player to the minors mid-season, they pay him $X. I'm not thinking $X would be earth-shattering but maybe something as high as $25,000 (more likely $10,000 ... something roughly equivalent to 1 week of the min sounds about right). Make it a payment only after he's been down for at least 2 weeks or something. Maybe make an exception if the guy was brought up as an officially designated "injury replacement" (in which case he must return once the original player is taken off the DL or the bonus comes in if he is later optioned out).
   10. Red Voodooin Posted: December 11, 2019 at 01:04 AM (#5907656)
Apropos of this and Marvin Miller getting elected to the HOF: Does anyone else think he really screwed up by giving the seven years before free agency to the owners? He got nothing in return, as far as I can tell, and it has really screwed marginal and average major leaguers ever since.


Well, he certainly thought he was getting something at the time. He reasoned that scarcity would increase demand. I think he was right for a while. Were Miller's actions beneficial to today's players? That's another question entirely.
   11. Rusty Priske Posted: December 11, 2019 at 09:09 AM (#5907681)
The service time should be changed to 'time in the organization' (and then increase it, obviously).

Encourage the teams to play their best players.
   12. jacksone (AKA It's OK...) Posted: December 11, 2019 at 12:53 PM (#5907799)
Teams pay ~$3mil each into a pool, that money is distributed to pre-arb players who don't have a long term contract based on performance. Pre-arb MVP ballots, either separately for each league or combined filled out by some combination of executives, BBWAA and SABR and pay something like $10mil to Mike Trout down to $1mil or even $500k.


The NFL does this - Performance Based Pay. Nice little reward for players that signed super cheap and outperformed expectations.
   13. Nasty Nate Posted: December 11, 2019 at 01:03 PM (#5907804)
Apropos of this and Marvin Miller getting elected to the HOF: Does anyone else think he really screwed up by giving the seven years before free agency to the owners? He got nothing in return, as far as I can tell, and it has really screwed marginal and average major leaguers ever since.
Well, he certainly thought he was getting something at the time. He reasoned that scarcity would increase demand. I think he was right for a while. Were Miller's actions beneficial to today's players? That's another question entirely.
Didn't it change from infinity years before free agency to 7 years before free agency? That seems like a pretty big get.
   14. cookiedabookie Posted: December 11, 2019 at 01:15 PM (#5907810)
Get rid of the arbitration process.

Year 1: $750,000 minimum (prorated if under half the season on MLB roster)
Year 2: $1.5 million minimum (prorated if under half the season on MLB roster)
Year 3: $3 million minimum (prorated if under half the season on MLB roster)
Year 4: $6 million
Year 5: $12 million
Year 6: $24 million
Year 7: $48 million (unlikely, but maybe in a case like Trout)

A team can cut ties an any point. But this would increase potential money made in the first three years from $1.5 million to $5.25 million. It would also likely decrease the time it takes to reach free agency, but would probably hit the middle and lower tiers (more supply, lower contracts). The doubling salary aspect would increase the likelihood of long-term contracts signed in the first three years, more guaranteed money for the players at a lower AAV for the teams.
   15. Karl from NY Posted: December 11, 2019 at 02:21 PM (#5907845)
Apropos of this and Marvin Miller getting elected to the HOF: Does anyone else think he really screwed up by giving the seven years before free agency to the owners?


No, because by now that's not Miller's legacy. If there were significant pressure for that to change in either direction, it would have happened in the 40 years since.

Why it stays at 6-7 years: That's roughly the median service time among MLBPA voters. Each time a new CBA happens, roughly a majority of the membership is past that mark, so that majority is happy to vote for an agreement that keeps salaries down for players who haven't reached that yet. By contrast, the pre-FA period is shorter in the NFL, at 4 years, because the median career length is shorter.

Thinking in terms of the MLBPA voters also explains what happens with the minimum salary. Each new CBA sees a big jump in the minimum but very small increases over the subsequent years. That's because there's a significant proportion of MLBPA voters making the minimum who stand to benefit from that initial bump... but future minimum increases mostly benefit future members not current voters. Players making the minimum don't stay that way for long; they either get better or fall out of the league.
   16. Howie Menckel Posted: December 11, 2019 at 03:38 PM (#5907889)
didn't see a good place for this, so.....

Jesse Sanchez
@JesseSanchezMLB
·
41m
Meanwhile, back in the Dominican Republic, Bartolo Colon, 46, is still chasing the big league dream. He still wants to pitch. #MLBWinterMeetings
   17. cookiedabookie Posted: December 11, 2019 at 03:44 PM (#5907891)
Meanwhile, back in the Dominican Republic, Bartolo Colon, 46, is still chasing the big league dream. He still wants to pitch


How cheap? The Orioles are going to need some warm bodies next year
   18. Walt Davis Posted: December 11, 2019 at 07:04 PM (#5907952)
Get rid of the arbitration process.

But why would owners agree to this? What can the players offer?

The principle of "team gets X years of cheap control" is perfectly reasonable -- with obvious contention about X and how cheap. But teams invest a substantial amount in signing bonuses for amateurs then a good chunk more for their development in the minors and it is perfectly reasonable for the MLBPA to recognize that and provide some mechanism to offset that investment cost. Jumping the cost of the first 3 years from $1.5 to $5.25 would seem to throw a big wrench into the calculation of X and "cheap." It's probably a perfectly good number, teams should still make a lot of "profit" off of that but it's still a big give from owners and they are gonna want some of that money back elsewhere in the CBA.

Now the MLBPA has always been more than happy to negotiate away the pay and rights of its pre-members and new members in exchange for what they hoped would be increased money and security for its more senior members. I'd say they've overdone this in recent years -- draft slotting, intl bonus limits, etc. only make sense if it results in the money teams saved being passed onto members but it's not clear to me it has been. Plus putting greater cost controls on players before they reach the majors and a lower minimum over their first 3+ years of service time also drives more young players to sign arb-year buyouts which teams have generally done a good job of leveraging.

EDIT: That take sounds overly negative. I have proposed similar things myself. I think a system that moves more pay early is more "rational" and therefore probably more "sustainable" ... sustainability should require a better alignment between performance and pay. An athletic union is not the same as a standard union -- there are some benefits to experience and longevity but they are clearly more than offset by declining skill as the player ages. But I don't think you can get from here to there in one fell swoop ... maybe never.
   19. Hank Gillette Posted: December 11, 2019 at 11:16 PM (#5907994)
Didn't it change from infinity years before free agency to 7 years before free agency? That seems like a pretty big get.


I guess it would be except for the fact that they could have had unlimited free agency. Miller, for some reason, thought that unlimited free agency was a bad idea. I blame it on his previous labor experience, where workers got higher pay for seniority, not matter how proficient they were on the job.
   20. Hank Gillette Posted: December 11, 2019 at 11:26 PM (#5907996)
The service time should be changed to 'time in the organization' (and then increase it, obviously).


That has the potential to screw the very best players who are good enough to play in the majors immediately (or almost so).

Maybe that wouldn’t matter much. Even Mike Trout had three years in the minors before he lost his rookie status.
   21. Hank Gillette Posted: December 11, 2019 at 11:36 PM (#5908000)
No, because by now that's not Miller's legacy. If there were significant pressure for that to change in either direction, it would have happened in the 40 years since.


The owners have no incentive to lower the number of years to free agency, and what could the players’ union offer to bargain it down? It would have to be something major, now that the owners realize they get seven years of below market labor before they have to pay market prices (mitigated somewhat by arbitration, but still below market).

IIRC, Charles Finley actually tried to get the owners to go for unlimited free agency, but he misunderstood the market even worse that Miller did. He assumed that all the owners would sign players to one year contracts, making everyone a free agent every year.

Note: I know it is pretty arrogant to say that Miller was wrong, but I have the advantage of seeing 40 years of it in action. It works out quite well for stars who stay healthy for seven years, and pretty well for mediocre players who can stay mediocre for more than seven years, but everyone else gets screwed by playing for for less than market rates.
   22. Nasty Nate Posted: December 12, 2019 at 09:23 AM (#5908035)
I guess it would be except for the fact that they could have had unlimited free agency.
I admit ignorance about labor history. Is this true? The owners were willing to let players be free agents any time they wanted? A year after being drafted? After their first year in the majors? If they wanted that, why didn't they just voluntarily get rid of the reserve clause?
   23. Hank Gillette Posted: December 12, 2019 at 02:22 PM (#5908217)
I admit ignorance about labor history. Is this true? The owners were willing to let players be free agents any time they wanted? A year after being drafted? After their first year in the majors? If they wanted that, why didn't they just voluntarily get rid of the reserve clause?


No, the owners did not want that, but Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally tested the reserve clause by playing a season without signing a contract. An arbitrator said that the reserve clause was only good for one year, rather than in perpetuity, as the owners had claimed. That meant that any player could play for one year without signing a contract and become a free agent the next year.
   24. Karl from NY Posted: December 12, 2019 at 02:27 PM (#5908220)
Is this true? The owners were willing to let players be free agents any time they wanted?

He's speaking hypothetically, the "could have had" is that maybe Miller could have gotten that for the players if he had tried. The question is whether Miller's legacy was a win for the players in getting FA after 6-7 years, or a loss in failing to get FA right from the start.

I believe the question is moot; the current status is its own equilibrium rather than deriving from Miller's legacy. The 6-7 year restriction remains because there are roughly a majority of MLBPA voters whose tenures are already past that, and so are willing to vote to restrict the salaries of younger players.
   25. Hank Gillette Posted: December 13, 2019 at 02:11 PM (#5908527)
He's speaking hypothetically, the "could have had" is that maybe Miller could have gotten that for the players if he had tried.


How is it hypothetical? That is what the arbitrator ruled.

Miller and the union agreed to the six years service restriction, perhaps for the reasons you stated*, or perhaps because they thought the service time would make free agents scarce and drive up salaries, or possibly because they though the owners would not agree to any CBA without a service time restriction.

Information about the thinking at the time is surprisingly scant on the internet. I may have to go to the library!

*I do agree that the players already in the union have been willing to bargain away possible benefits for players not yet in the union. That’s the same human nature that allowed hazing at military academies to continue for so long.
   26. Nasty Nate Posted: December 13, 2019 at 02:21 PM (#5908530)
Thanks for the responses.
   27. The Yankee Clapper Posted: December 13, 2019 at 03:48 PM (#5908567)
How is it hypothetical? That is what the arbitrator ruled.
The issue was still subject to collective bargaining. It’s more than a little unrealistic to suggest that the owners would have agreed to unlimited free agency if Marvin Miller would only have pushed for it. You’d likely have had a prolonged work stoppage, followed by a compromise somewhat similar to what we have today, or perhaps a bit better from the players perspective.
   28. The Yankee Clapper Posted: December 13, 2019 at 03:56 PM (#5908568)
The owners have no incentive to lower the number of years to free agency, and what could the players’ union offer to bargain it down? It would have to be something major, now that the owners realize they get seven years of below market labor before they have to pay market prices (mitigated somewhat by arbitration, but still below market).
Owners seldom have any incentive to make concessions to players, other than doing what they need to do to guarantee an uninterrupted supply of the best players in the world. The owners still don’t have an effective response to a players strike, and would likely make some concessions to avoid, or end, one.
   29. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: December 13, 2019 at 04:37 PM (#5908581)
Didn't it change from infinity years before free agency to 7 years before free agency? That seems like a pretty big get.


I think this is the correct way to look at it. Hank is assuming too much.

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