We don't know if the owners of Major League Baseball are colluding to lower the price of free agents by waiting players out until they're desperate enough to sign for less than they want or are worth. The fact it feels like that could be happening, though, is a bad sign for MLB's owners, and for those free agents in question.
Maybe there is no collusion, not even a little bit, and what we have here is a mix of the market being delayed by the Giancarlo Stanton trade saga, as well as the Shohei Ohtani posting saga. That was a more believable excuse a month ago, when neither had a new team and the winter meetings were yet to occur. After they were relocated, we got a quiet winter meetings followed by a few reliever signings and a trade here and there. Every one of the most significant starting pitcher or position player free agents outside of Ohtani, a special case, is still a free agent. It's Jan. 2.
So, maybe there was a delay because of that at first, but what's the excuse now? The fake salary cap put in place by the new collective bargaining agreement negotiated at the end of 2016 is to blame, but that mostly just suggests that what we're seeing is a form of legal collusion, where the owners managed to put one over the Players Union by making it seem as if the savings from the international and amateur markets would come back to veteran MLB players.
That's worked so far if you're a relief pitcher free agent, but it's also possible MLB teams are spending heavily on them because it's all relative, and shoring up the bullpen is cheaper than adding a major free agent elsewhere.
Speaking of legal forms of collusion, how about every owner in MLB being fully aware of the Marlins' plan to tear it all down with a holiday BOGO sale, and then waiting around in the hopes they get Stanton, or Dee Gordon, Marcell Ozuna, or still-a-Marlin-for-now Christian Yelich, and so on? If you believe the story that Rob Manfred is desperate to refute, the Marlins' new owners, as is customary for new ownership groups, had to submit their plan for the Fish before they were accepted as the new owners.
That means everyone knew the teardown was coming, that the Marlins never had any real leverage in trade talks, and that the market could be put on hold until Miami had made all the moves they had to in order to get to the place outlined by their ownership plan. Look around for a second: notice there are still Marlins to be traded, and the market hasn't picked up yet?
Maybe we're reading too far into this, and the market delay plus the holidays means January is going to be a huge month for free agents that makes us forget about this as of now interminable run of nothingness. Given all of the by-the-book ways ownership is holding back free agents, though, there doesn't even need to be something illegally untoward going on here for the c word to be invoked. And until J.D. Martinez, Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, and the rest of the gang get theirs, expect to keep hearing it used.
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