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.

Noah Syndergaard: ‘I feel like I’m going to bet (on) myself in free agency’

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Yankees starter Luis Severino and Phillies starter Aaron Nola both signed contract extensions within the last week. Severino agreed to a four-year, $40 million contract with a 2023 club option. Nola inked a four-year, $45 million deal with a 2023 club option.

While the deals both represented significant raises and longer-term financial security for the right-handed duo, some feel like the players are selling themselves short. It has become a more common practice for players to agree to these types of deals in part due to how stagnant free agency has become. Get the money while you can.

Mets starter Noah Syndergaard is in a similar situation as Severino and Nola were. He and the Mets avoided arbitration last month, agreeing on a $6 million salary for the 2019 season. He has two more years of arbitration eligibility left. A contract extension with the Mets would presumably cover both of those years plus two or three years of what would be free agent years. As Tim Britton of The Athletic reports, however, Syndergaard plans to test free agency when the time comes.

Syndergaard said, “I trust my ability and the talent that I have. So I feel like I’m going to bet (on) myself in free agency and not do what they did. But if it’s fair for both sides and they approach me on it, then maybe we can talk.” He clarified that he would be open to a conversation about an extension, but the Mets thus far haven’t approached him about it. In his words, “There’s been no traction.”

Syndergaard, 26, has been one of baseball’s better starters since debuting in 2015. He owns a career 2.93 ERA with 573 strikeouts and 116 walks in 518 1/3 innings. Among pitchers to have logged at least 400 innings since 2015 and post a lower ERA are Clayton Kershaw (2.22), Jacob deGrom (2.66) and Max Scherzer (2.71). Syndergaard made only seven starts in 2017 yet still ranks seventh among pitchers in total strikeouts since 2015.

If Sydergaard doesn’t end up signing an extension, he will be entering free agency after the 2021 season. The collective bargaining agreement expires in December 2021 and a new one will likely be agreed upon around that time. Syndergaard will hopefully have better prospects entering free agency then than players do now.