Discussions of why Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are still free agents often revolve around the apparent hesitation of contending, deep-pocketed teams such as the Yankees and Dodgers to make major investments in them. However, Justin Verlander asked a different question Monday: Why aren’t “rebuilding" teams looking to lock up the 26-year-old superstars to the 10-year deals they reportedly seek?
Declaring on Twitter that MLB’s “[s]ystem is broken,” Verlander pointed to “100 or so free agents left unsigned,” even as pitchers and catchers are set to report for spring training as early as Tuesday. “They blame ‘rebuilding’ but that’s BS,” the 35-year-old Astros ace said.
“You’re telling me you couldn’t sign Bryce or Manny for 10 years and go from there? Seems like a good place to start a rebuild to me," he added. “26-36 is a great performance window too.”
Verlander was the latest MLB player to decry teams that are using organizational rebuilds to justify staying largely out of the free agent pool and focusing on young players over veterans. While the glacial pace of free agency signings, for a second straight year, also has been attributed to teams trying to avoid the luxury tax and analytics pointing to the downsides of lengthy contracts for older players, some have pointed out that’s only part of the picture.
“It’s tough to kind of pin down just one thing that’s most concerning because it does seem like everything is so interconnected,” Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle told The Washington Post’s Barry Svrluga last month. “When you start to zoom in on one thing, you also realize how it affects so many other aspects of the free agent market and the health of the game.”
Saying that he was “grateful to be on a team that tries to win every year,” Doolittle asked, “What’s going to happen if fans get tired and get fatigued from their team maybe being in rebuild mode for another season? Are fans going to continue to spend their hard-earned money?”
Earlier in January, Doolittle linked to a Forbes article claiming that while gross revenue for MLB in 2018 was a record $10.3 billion, the percentage that went to players dropped to 54.2 percent, the lowest mark since 2012, following declines in each of the previous two years. “I understand it can be difficult to empathize with athletes who make millions to play a kids game but this is troubling and something thing to keep an eye out for in any industry,” Doolittle said in posting the link.
In response Monday to a Twitter user who said that Harper and Machado were “both expecting deals” of more than $300 million, and that “no person deserves that kind of money to play a sport,” Verlander asked, “So then where does the money go if the players (who drive the ticket sales, tv contracts, jersey sales, etc) don’t get it??”
Those comments echoed remarks made last month by Giants third baseman Evan Longoria, who posted to Instagram photos of Harper and Machado, as well as of noted free agent pitchers Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel, and said that it “seems every day now someone is making up a new analytical tool to devalue players, especially free agents. As fans, why should ‘value’ for your team even be a consideration?”
“It’s not your money, it’s money that players have worked their whole lives to get to that level and be deserving of,” Longoria added. “Bottom line, fans should want the best players and product on the field for their team.”
“I’m upset that the best product in some cases isn’t being put on the field. Choices are made not to compete,” Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta said Monday on Twitter. “If a player tanks a game or chooses not to compete they are banned for life. Double standard. Fans are paying the price.”
The Giants were reported by USA Today on Sunday to be gauging Harper’s interest in a “lucrative short-term deal,” with “no desire” to offer a decade-long pact, and some teams may be scared off by the 10-year, $240 million contract signed before the 2012 season by the Angels’ Albert Pujols, who quickly showed that he was not going to come close to living up to it.
A study last month by the website Beyond the Box Score, though, concluded that most of the eight 10-year contracts handed out by MLB teams, to players such as Giancarlo Stanton, Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Joey Votto and Derek Jeter, have “resulted in a surplus [of value] thus far,” with only Pujols’s deal and the second one garnered by Rodriguez standing out as albatrosses. The website also noted that Pujols and Rodriguez were 32 when those contracts began, whereas “[w]hen Machado and Harper start their age-32 seasons, they will already be six years into” their theoretical 10-year deals.
Many fans who replied to Verlander’s tweet said they had little sympathy for Harper’s plight, pointing to reports that he did get a 10-year offer, one said to be worth $300 million from the Nationals last year, and turned it down. Others pointed to what they saw as Machado’s personality flaws, with one Twitter user describing him as “such a lockeroom problem.”
“When did you play with him?” Verlander replied dryly.
To another user’s suggestion Monday that teams declining to spend much on player salaries could offer “cheaper tickets for fans,” the seven-time all-star said, “Sure, but you don’t see the tanking teams with super low payrolls dropping ticket prices dramatically do you?”
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