NBA free agency makes MLB free agency look bad by comparison

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Free agency kicked off in the NBA yesterday, resulting in a flurry of immediate signings, deals that were made well in advance of Sunday. The action included Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving each signing four-year deals with the Brooklyn Nets for $164 million and $142 million, respectively. Kemba Walker went to the Boston Celtics on a four-year, $141 million deal. Jimmy Butler went to the Heat as part of a sign-and-trade with Sixers and Mavericks, inking a four-year, $142 million pact. The list goes on.

FiveThirtyEight’s Travis Sawchik posted some interesting bits of trivia, comparing NBA’s free agency to MLB’s. The nuts and bolts of it:

  • NBA’s one day of free agency guaranteed more money ($2.79 billion) than MLB players got over the entire offseason ($1.88 billion). It’s true even if you include the June signings of Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel
  • There were 11 deals of $100 million or more yesterday compared to just three during MLB’s offseason (Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Patrick Corbin)

There are myriad differences between the NBA and MLB, of course. The rosters are smaller, star players have a much greater impact, the collective bargaining agreements are different, etc. The list goes on for miles. As a baseball fan, however, I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of sadness realizing that MLB’s offseason doesn’t have anywhere near the anticipation and action.

MLB’s offseason goes something like this:

  • World Series ends
  • Teams decide whether or not to extend qualifying offers
  • Teams decide whether or not to accept qualifying offers
  • Front office executives and the media descend on a central location to hobknob (deals aren’t made at the winter meetings with anywhere near the frequency they used to)
  • Rule 5 draft
  • Teams and arbitration-eligible players exchange figures; those who can’t come to an agreement go to salary arbitration
  • Spring training

Somewhere in between all of that, most of the free agents end up signing. But as we’ve noted here in recent years, those signings have been happening later and later. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, two of the best players in the sport, didn’t sign until late February, spending about four months as unsigned free agents. And, as noted above, Keuchel (a former Cy Young Award winner) and Kimbrel (one of the greatest closers of all time) didn’t sign until June, going teamless for over seven months. Could you imagine Kawhi Leonard or Kyrie Irving not getting signed until September? What if Khris Middleton or Kristaps Porzingis didn’t get signed until January?

It doesn’t have to be this way. MLB free agency can bring just as much hype, action, and money. There’s no easy fix now, but when the union and owners begin negotiating the next CBA, the owners will have to be less short-sighted and miserly, and the union will have to stand firm in its unwillingness to sacrifice leverage as it had done in previous negotiations. While an action-packed opening day to free agency will ultimately be more costly up front to team owners, it will pay dividends down the road by keeping fans invested during the offseason and creating attachments to star players.