November 10, 2013

The Free Agent Conundrum

Major League Baseball free agency used to be difficult to follow. Back 30 or so years ago, teams had to "draft" players they wanted to negotiate with as free agents. I remember the Tigers doing this one time — when they went after and signed Darrell Evans in the winter of '83. Back then, teams could only sign a couple of free agents every off season. Evans had a major impact on the 1984 Detroit Tigers. Free agency later went through a rough period when no teams would sign any free agents, e.g. collusion in the late '80s. Collusion pretty much destroyed Lance Parrish's career as the Tigers brain trust themselves colluded to NOT give Parrish a fair offer and he ended up going to the Phillies.

Later, free agency made sense and was simplified. Any team could sign any number of players every year. Free agency went though a great period but is once again going through difficulties. Now, there is a what's called the qualifying offer, which just happens to be a $14.1 million one season offer. It's similar to what free agency arbitration was for several years but now it comes with a specific offer. And teams are reluctant to sign players who were offered qualifying offers because they have draft picks associated with signing them. It's become a confusing system once again.

The qualifying offer was supposed to benefit players but it seems to have created one additional level of confusion for baseball. Bring back the simplified version ... when you could sign a Type A, B, or C free agent and know what the value of the draft picks would be. Besides that, with $14.1 million qualifying offers the cost of average baseball players, guys who may not even be regulars, is going through the roof. It's going to make Prince Fielder's contract look like a good deal instead of an albatross.

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