One year you’re a contender, trading punches with the top-ranked heavyweights of the day. Next year a haymaker sends you reeling to the canvas. Such is the embattled nature of free agency in the ultra-modern era of Major League Baseball.
It wasn’t always this way.
Prior to the Seitz Decision, which shattered the chains of the archaic reserve clause, teams were built with longevity in mind, nurtured and sustained by home-grown talent. From one year to the next, fans could count on seeing their favorite stars giving it their all for the hometown team. But with the advent of free agency, all that changed.
In today’s game, players migrate from one team to the next, competing for top dollar. Only rarely does an athlete spend his entire career with a single team.
In the continually evolving world of Major League Baseball, not all teams are created equal. As you know, the sport is comprised of big market clubs with overflowing bank accounts, and cash-strapped small market clubs that struggle to compete. When it comes to free agency it often seems that the cash-poor clubs are little more than a farm system for the wealthy. When the day comes, their top players become free agents, the small market teams rarely have the funds to re-sign them.
Glancing over this year’s list of free agents, two small market clubs are expected to be hit hard.
Looking back to opening day of the 2017 free agent season, the Colorado Rockies stood to lose the services of their closer, Greg Holland, formerly of the Kansas City Royals; Carlos Gonzalez, their most productive power hitter, and Jonathan Lucroy, a veteran catcher whose talents are well known to Milwaukee Brewers fans.
Since that time, Colorado signed All-Star closer Wade Davis, another ex-Royal who was a key cog in the club’s 2015 World Series Championship. Obtained from the Chicago Cubs, last year Davis notched 32 saves to go along with a 2.30 ERA. He reportedly inked a deal for three years at $52 million. As of Monday, both Gonzalez and Lucroy were still available.
Without a doubt, no small market club stands to lose more to free agency this year than the Kansas City Royals. Looking to exit K.C. are longtime Royals Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar. They are all All-Stars who comprised the core of Kansas City’s short-lived dynasty. Lacking sufficient funds, there is little hope that the Royals will be able to secure their falling stars. If, as expected, they all depart, 2018 will be tough to bear for Royals fans.
While big-market clubs also feel the blows of free agency, they are in a much better position to weather the storm. Thanks to an abundance of ready cash, for every star lost, another is found.
It’s often said of free agency; “What is good for the players is bad for the fans.” But what about the game? If small market clubs are continually made to suffer, how is that good for anyone? Does the brain trust of MLB have an answer for that?