Is it a problem that fewer elite players are hitting free agency?

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Ken Rosenthal has a thoughtful piece up today about how fewer elite players are reaching free agency due to the trend of teams offering big extensions. He talked to one unnamed player who was concerned about it:

The player’s point was this: Free agency helped make the players union into a powerhouse. But now, with fewer top players reaching free agency, who is going to drive the top of the market? Shouldn’t players feel a sense of responsibility to those who came before them and those who will follow?

Rosenthal talks to Scott Boras and Mike Weiner about it. Their responses may surprise you. Overall, it’s a pretty fascinating topic. The “to extend or not to extend” question may be the most important and difficult one for teams and players alike these days.

But I don’t think it’s a problem as the unnamed player put it. The idea behind Marvin Miller and Don Fehr’s work in scuttling the reserve clause, obtaining free agency rights for the players and fighting owner malfeasance wasn’t about players making max dollars for the sake of making max dollars. The idea was to give them the right to choose the circumstances of their employment and not be treated like team property for the duration of their careers.

Today, a lot of players are getting locked up to long-term deals before they reach free agency. But they’re doing it by choice and after weighing the risks of not cashing in when the opportunity is presented to them. While, no, it’s not a 100% open market given that the team does control a player for several years, we’ve reached this state of affairs through arms-length negotiation and with the players armed with rights and choices. What they do with those choices may or may not “drive the top of the market” like that unnamed player desires, but that’s not the most important thing and was never truly the point.

Minor League Baseball had its worst attendance in 14 years

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Baseball American reports today that total attendance at minor league baseball games reached a 14-year low in 2018. Total attendance was 40,450,337. That’s a drop of 1,382,027 fans compared to last season.

Around a third of that drop is attributable to fewer scheduled games but, as Baseball America notes, even when you go to average attendance per game, there was a sharp drop off this season. BA suggests that this represents a leveling off after over a decade’s worth of large increases in minor league attendance. Which sound pretty plausible. Overall, attendance numbers are still massively above where they were 15-20 years ago, so this seems more like a correction than a real problem. The BA article goes into some good analysis of the decline.

All of that said, revenues are up for the minors, in large part because of merchandise sales and because minor league ballparks have a lot more amenities and better concessions than they used to have and fans are willing to pay for them.