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Todd Frazier latest victim of stagnant free agent market

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The Mets reportedly just signed third baseman Todd Frazier to a two-year, $17 million contract. At first glance, the contract length and amount seem about right for a player who turns 32 years old in a week and is coming off a season in which he hit .213.

A few months ago at FanGraphs, Dave Cameron estimated Frazier would get a three-year, $42 million contract. He also asked readers what they thought. The average reader thought Frazier would get 3.2 years and $45.9 million. The median was three years and $42 million. So, a pretty good ballpark estimate there. Two years and $17 millions ain’t even close. It’s one thing to be wrong, but for Cameron (now an employee in the Padres’ front office) and the collective FanGraphs readership to miss by this much?

Contrary to what a lot of the traditional states might illustrate, Frazier still has plenty of value. According to Baseball Reference, he was worth 3.4 WAR in each of the last two seasons, and 4.0 back in 2015. He doesn’t steal bases like he used to, but he still plays plus defense and his bat is still a bit above average for his position.

After Mike Moustakas, Frazier was the top third baseman left on the market. The only other player capable of playing third base who has signed a major league contract this offseason was Jose Reyes, also with the Mets, for one year and $2 million*. The other third base-capable players still available are Conor Gillaspie, Yunel Escobar, Eduardo Nunez, Trevor Plouffe, Brandon Phillips, Jhonny Peralta, and Cliff Pennington. Frazier is clearly a superior player to everyone on that list sans Moustakas. One would think the scarcity of quality third baseman would work in Frazier’s favor. Instead, Frazier will earn an average annual value of $8.5 million when he earned $12 million last year, his final year of arbitration eligibility. Typically, players — especially ones of Frazier’s caliber — earn more on an AAV basis in free agency, which is why the owners fought to keep them under team control for the first six years of their major league careers. That is, apparently, no longer the case.

* Update: As reader jdd428 mentions in the comments, the Angels signed Zack Cozart — to date, a career shortstop — to a three-year, $38 million deal as a third baseman. Over the last three years, Frazier has accrued 10.0 WAR to Cozart’s 8.9, per FanGraphs.

We’ve gone over the myriad factors influencing this historically slow offseason. Possible collusion, though there’s been no concrete evidence for that yet. Analytics. A comparatively weak free agent class. Incentives for tanking. Copying the models of the Cubs and Astros. The very owner-friendly collective bargaining agreement.

If the lack of signings this offseason wasn’t it, Frazier’s light two-year, $17 million contract should be the canary in the coal mine for the union and the players it represents. Major League Baseball has set revenue records year over year, exceeding $10 billion last year.  Yet the players’ share of revenues declined 18 percent between 2002 and 2014. The glacial pace of signings this offseason — and the relatively low figures that players like Frazier end up settling for as a result — will only serve to drag that figure down even further. Pitchers and catchers report next week. J.D. Martinez, Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, Eric Hosmer, Moustakas, Alex Cobb, and many others are still teamless and it doesn’t appear that much is going to change in the next week or so.

MLBPA: MLB’s ‘demand for additional concessions was resoundingly rejected’

Rob Manfred and Tony Clark
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On Thursday evening, the Major League Baseball Players Association released a statement regarding ongoing negotiations between the owners and the union. The two sides continue to hash out details concerning a 2020 season. The owners want a shorter season, around 50 games. The union recently proposed a 114-game season that also offered the possibility of salary deferrals.

MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said that the union held a conference call that included the Executive Board and MLBPA player leaders. They “resoundingly rejected” the league’s “demand for additional concessions.”

The full statement:

In this time of unprecedented suffering at home and abroad, Players want nothing more than to get back to work and provide baseball fans with the game we all love. But we cannot do this alone.

Earlier this week, Major League Baseball communicated its intention to schedule a dramatically shortened 2020 season unless Players negotiate salary concessions. The concessions being sought are in addition to billions in Player salary reductions that have already been agreed upon.

This threat came in response to an Association proposal aimed at charting a path forward. Among other things, Players proposed more games, two years of expanded playoffs, salary deferrals in the event of a 2020 playoff cancellation, and the exploration of additional jewel events and broadcast enhancements aimed at creatively bringing our Players to the fans while simultaneously increasing the value of our product. Rather than engage, the league replied it will shorten the season unless Players agree to further salary reductions.

Earlier today we held a conference call of the Association’s Executive Board and several other MLBPA Player leaders. The overwhelming consensus of the Board is that Players are ready to report, ready to get back on the field, and they are willing to do so under unprecedented conditions that could affect the health and safety of not just themselves, but their families as well. The league’s demand for additional concessions was resoundingly rejected.

Important work remains to be done in order to safely resume the season. We stand ready to complete that work and look forward to getting back on the field.

As per the current agreement signed in March, if there is a 2020 season, players will be paid on a prorated basis. Thus, fewer games means the players get paid less and the owners save more. MLB has threatened to unilaterally set a 2020 season in motion if the two sides cannot come to terms. It should come as no surprise that the union has responded strongly on both fronts.

There have been varying reports in recent days over the confidence in a 2020 season happening. The MLBPA’s statement tonight doesn’t move the needle any; it simply affirms that the union remains steadfast in its goal to avoid a second significant cut in salaries.

As I see it, the ball is in the owners’ court. The owners can strongarm the players into a short season, saving money but significantly increasing the odds of a big fight in upcoming collective bargaining agreement negotiations. Or the owners can eat more of a financial loss, agreeing to a longer season than they feel is comfortable. The latter would have the double benefit of not damaging overall perception of the sport and would not disrupt labor peace going forward.

The MLBPA statement included a declaration that the players are “ready to report, ready to get back on the field, and they are willing to do so under unprecedented conditions.” If there is no 2020 season, we will have only the owners to blame, not the players.

Update: Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty, who has been quite vocal on social media about these negotiations, chimed in: