A agent with one of baseball’s most powerful agencies believes the glacial pace of the free-agent market may be part of a “coordinated” effort by MLB owners.
With less than two weeks left until pitchers and catchers report to spring training, many of the top players on the market remain unsigned, including 14 of Ben Reiter’s top 20. Fans keep waiting for dominoes to fall, but they just haven’t.
Brodie Van Wagenen, an agent with CAA, released a statement on Friday accusing owners of tightening their purse strings.
The behavior of owners in this year’s free agent market has changed dramatically. It feels coordinated, rightly or wrongly,” Van Wagenen wrote. “Many club presidents and general managers with whom we negotiate are frustrated with the lack of funds to sign the plethora of good players still available, raising further suspicion of institutional influence over the spending. Even the algorithms that have helped determine player salaries in recent years are suggesting dramatically higher values than owners appear willing to spend.”
“A fight is brewing,” Van Wagenen warned. “And it may begin with one, maybe two, and perhaps 1,200 willing to follow. A boycott of spring training may be a starting point, if behavior doesn’t change.”
The lack of spending is especially galling because of the recent windfall each owner received as part of the MLBAM sale. After Disney acquired MLB’s technology arm in 2016 for more than $2.5 billion, all 30 MLB owners stood to receive a check for at least $50 million in the first quarter of 2018.
Owners are not using the sudden influx of cash to increase payroll, however. In fact, an analysis by Fangraphs’ Craig Edwards shows that league-wide payroll could decline for the first time since 2004 after rising at an annual rate of 6% for more than a decade.