MLB and the Players Association had their first meeting of the year on Thursday, after more than five weeks of inactivity.
During the gathering, MLB owners presented some core economic proposals to the players, and one of the main topics in the table was what to do with free agency.
Players don’t like the fact that they have to wait six full years of service time in order to negotiate with all 30 teams.
Minor leaguers are often called up for the first time when they are around 23 or 24: some of them are younger when they get the call, but others have to wait even longer.
This means they have to wait until they are 30, 31 or even 32, past their primes, to opt for a big payout.
The Current Service Time Structure Is Just Not Fair
The worst thing of all is that teams often use age as an argument against giving the player more money in negotiations.
Late bloomers who aren’t brought up to the bigs until they are 27, 28, or even 30, also have to wait longer.
New York Yankees’ slugger Luke Voit, for example, will be 31 when the 2022 season starts, and won’t hit free agency until he is 34.
Is it fair for a player like Voit, a not-so-athletic slugger who plays first base, to enter the market at 34, when he is well past his prime?
Not to mention that, due to service time clock manipulations, teams often extend their “control” years over a player to seven.
Fans are more familiar with MLB service time clocks.
Players earn the right to arbitration after 3 years of MLB service and the right to free agency after 6 years.
Though in practical terms, teams control players through seven MLB seasons, not six, based on initial callup date.
— Matt Eddy (@MattEddyBA) November 20, 2021
Well, one of the takeaways of the first day of negotiations in the new year was MLB’s reluctance to modify the service time structure.
Most specifically, the league appears “dead set” in favor of keeping service time years until reaching free agency in six, and don’t want to lower that number.
Not even to five years, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network.
MLB remans dead set against lowering free agency from 6 years to 5. Part of the concern stems from the history of the big stars jumping from smaller markets to big markets when they hit free agency and belief this would hurt competitive balance.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) January 13, 2022
Heyman explained that MLB’s reasoning is that there is a history of stars going from smaller markets to big markets when they hit the market.
They think this would alter the competitive balance.
Every Team Has The Ability To Spend
The “hurting competitive balance” argument would be more credible if we didn’t see the Tampa Bay Rays hand a mammoth contract extension to shortstop Wander Franco, or when we see the Cleveland Guardians make another extension offer to starter Shane Bieber.
Major league teams, owners specifically, have the funds to be competitive: in some specific cases, they just choose not to spend them, and that is a bigger problem than thinking lowering the service time years until free agency to five affects the competitive balance.
MLB appears dead set against decreasing free agency from six years to five, but players appear unwilling to sign a new agreement with six years.
The situation could get hairy at this point if the goal is starting the season on time: Spring training starts in mid-February, and the first games, by the current schedule, will be played on February 26.
If there isn’t a quick resolution, that date is looking more and more unlikely by the day.
It’s safe to say that the first day of negotiations didn’t go well.
Nobody expected a new CBA agreement to be signed on Thursday, but both sides still appear to have a lot of resentment and a deal isn’t close.