*Jeff Passan has a powerful column on how baseball's economic system might actually be broken. Passan:
What's clear is the free-agent impasse represents a reckoning long in the making - one that marries shifting power in labor relations, the emergence of analytics and cookie-cutter front offices, and the willingness to treat competitiveness as an option, not a priority. Combined, they pose the greatest threat to a quarter century of labor peace and have people at the highest level of the sport asking whether a game-changing overhaul in how baseball operates isn't just necessary but inevitable.
It's a really good column. I have some thoughts on this, and on tanking. We have written numerous posts taking writers to task (those are four separate links) for implying that losing now to rebuild your organization as you go is a 100% surefire way to win a World Series. That the Cubs and Astros have done it in consecutive years only reinforces the idea that it will work. It doesn't. Mark Appel and Brady Aiken aren't getting a ring in April. When the Astros didn't sign Brady Aiken in 2014 no one was twirling their mustache and thinking "Now Houston can go get Alex Bregman with the #2 overall pick next year and be set up perfectly to win the World Series in 2017!"
The economy works in cycles. There were panics/recessions/depressions in 1819, 1837, 1857, 1873, 1893, 1907, 1929 (of course), 1979, and 2008. I'm sure I'm missing a few in there. But, for the most part, every 20 years or so you can expect the economy to hit a road block. Maybe baseball teams operate the same way. The window doesn't stay open forever. You hit on some key players, go for it with your guys, and maybe you win. Most of the time you don't. If you don't, and it looks like your team is, ahem, in a recession of wins, you hunker down and get your house straightened out. Got an older guy making some money that could help a team whose window is open a little wider than your own? Trade him for prospects, who are cheaper.
The Nationals have had Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Bryce Harper and have lost in the NLDS in four of the last six years, three of those in a deciding Game 5. The Rangers' window was wide open for a few years and they're feeling the effects of trying to keep it open a little longer. In the 2015 offseason the Padres added James Shields, Craig Kimbrel, Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, and Wil Myers in an attempt to force their window open. Three years later they're one of the starring roles in the new episode of Who Is Ruining Baseball This Time? The quickest way to get better is to rebuild your club from the ground up. I mentioned on the latest episode of Lima Time Time that the Pirates could have held on to Gerrit Cole for another couple of years and then received draft picks that wouldn't pay off for a minimum of three years after that. That's five years total, at least. They traded Cole for three players who should be on their Opening Day roster in two and a half months. The Pirates' window is closing and, while they're drawing the shades, they're trying to get to where it opens again sooner than later. Every team has a window and, no, they don't all line up together. It wasn't long ago that the A's were considered the model organization after whom the Astros should pattern their rebuild.
Scott Boras plays a large role in this saga, as well, as the agent who represents a large number of the clients who are currently log-jammed. Is it collusion if 30 owners pass on giving 30-year old J.D. Martinez a $200m deal? Is it collusion if 30 teams are wary of giving almost-32-year old 1.9 bWAR Jake Arrieta, who has thrown 200IP in a season just once (caveat: he did reach 197.1IP in 2016) a huge contract? Yu Darvish is still a free agent, though we don't know what his price is. It's high enough that the Astros traded four players to get Gerrit Cole for $6.75m this year. Being smart with your money isn't collusion. As for "cookie-cutter front offices," I guess it's a shame that there isn't a team - other than the Pirates - that we can laugh at and yell "What are you doing?" when they give Jake Arrieta 40 years and $600m.
Or maybe teams, you know, plan ahead a little bit. Next year's monster free agent class includes Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, potentially Clayton Kershaw, Dallas Keuchel, Elvis Andrus, Jose Iglesias, Charlie Blackmon, and Zach Britton. Should any of those players ring your bell, why are you going to hamstring your payroll by blowing your roll on Jake Arrieta?
But still, please do read Passan's column. As I said, it's very good, and maybe the owners - who have long held all the power, anyway - are forcing baseball's economics to a breaking point, for better or for worse. And maybe the Pirates don't deserve the benefit of the doubt (see previous link). Luhnow and Crane were pretty clear that they were going to strip the organization down and then spend when the time was right. When the "time was right" they added Josh Reddick, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Justin Verlander, and Gerrit Cole. Each team's fans have a different perspective. If I'm a Padres, Reds, Braves, etc. fan, I'm pretty excited after what the Cubs and Astros have done in the last two baseball seasons. But that success certainly isn't guaranteed.
*Julia Morales was in Hawaii when the Ballistic Missile False Alarm Incident (name of my new band) happened.
*Jeff Sullivan: Colin Moran looks dramatically different.
*FanRag's Jon Bernhardt wonders if the Astros/Yankees is the AL's best rivalry.
*The Seattle Times' Matt Calkins looks at what has to happen for the Mariners to make the playoffs.