Today is Tuesday, February 5. Beginning as early as next Monday, pitchers and catchers across baseball will report to their respective spring training camps in Arizona and Florida before being joined by their fellow position player teammates several days later—for the players who have a team, that is.
With the Super Bowl now behind us and baseball gearing up for its 2019 season, the two superstars perched atop a once much-hyped free agent class remain unsigned. While it’s perfectly understandable to have little sympathy for the likes of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado in a world where millions suffer from abject poverty, for example. that doesn’t automatically justify a pivot towards support for baseball’s owners.
Strategies such as deliberately omitting one’s top prospects from the MLB roster certainly make for a lower quality of competition and in turn lesser level of fan enjoyment, but at least there is a clearly recognizable tactical incentive to pick up an additional year of service time before a player reaches free agency. MLB needs to patch up the loopholes that allow clubs to game the service time system, but I don’t think Cubs fans will be airing many grievances in 2021 when Kris Bryant is set to play on an arbitration contract as opposed to testing free agency.
The league’s collective standstill on otherwise prized free agents? That’s a different story. There is no service time advantage to be seized here. As for concerns about how free agents age, both Harper and Machado are exceptionally young at 26 years. Both have been in the past and project to continue to rank among the game’s most all-around valuable players. This monster free agency class we have been anticipating for years is headlined by undeniable talents.
Another fact that is not questionable: the amount of revenue that owners are pocketing is currently skyrocketing while player salaries remain relatively stagnant. Those same owners utilize billions of taxpayer dollars towards stadiums that they would prefer the public foot the bill for. This is the elitist class presiding over the baseball hierarchy that spent millions successfully lobbying congress to exempt minor league players from federal wage regulations.
The current economic climate in baseball is actively detrimental to the game’s competitive integrity. When a payroll-slashing, 111-loss team makes headlines for historic profit margins, it’s a sign that there is a lack of systemic accountability for ownership groups that elect to sacrifice both winning and ethical behavior for the sake of their wallets. So why are Harper and Machado still on the board? Modern day baseball’s business model has, to some extent, deemed investing in player capital an example of inefficient expenditures.
In the grand scheme of things, there are more noble causes to pursue than advocating for professional athletes to receive their fair share of the revenue stream that they produce. However, the “enemy” of the fan in this instance isn’t the disgruntled free agent requesting a raise at the negotiating table. That distinction belongs to the businesspeople sitting across from them.