In most years around this time, baseball media is lamenting the slow pace of the free agent market, wondering when all the free agents will sign. In a world where the winter meetings mean far less than they did in decades past, free agency can drag on right up to the start of spring training, with some players even still looking for teams after pitchers and catchers report.
The lockout this year has put the hot stove into the deep freeze, but not before a flurry of signings before the last collective bargaining agreement expired. All of that action, headlined by Max Scherzer joining the Mets, led ESPN, The Athletic, and even MLB’s own website to wonder if baseball should implement a signing deadline to make that kind of action a regular thing.
The answer is no, although for the league’s house organ it might be yes. A signing deadline in baseball would benefit only management, allowing teams to pressure players into taking whatever is on offer because of an approaching deadline. “Sign now, or you can’t play until May” is how Tim Raines lost a month of his Hall of Fame career during the collusion era, as he couldn’t get a fair offer outside of Montreal but could not return to the Expos until the second month of the season under the rules of the time.
But why is free agency so much faster in the NBA and NHL? It’s because those leagues have salary caps. Under their systems, players are better off signing quickly because the longer you go into the offseason, the fewer teams have space available to make signings, while the teams are incentivized to act quickly because they know that talent won’t last long on the market. Where baseball is stuck is that the money is always there on the teams’ side, the other possible destinations are always there on the players’ side, and everyone winds up playing a waiting game.
If the tone of it all were different — we’ve got a couple of players signing almost every day instead of ugh, this is dragging on forever — it might not seem like the offseason pace was such a bad thing for baseball. But no small part of the reason that the tone toward baseball’s slow and steady trickle of news is that tone being set by the baseball media, whose members, rather understandably, would like some more time off during the winter instead of having to keep their phones constantly at hand because you never know when a big deal might break.
And the baseball writers, surely, can see their brethren in the other sports.
Most notably, there’s longtime TSN hockey insider Bob McKenzie, the man who was hockey’s Woj before Woj was the basketball Woj. The go-to reporter for scoops also has more personality and humanity about him than all the rest of the scoopocracy combined, and over the years, NHL free agency’s predictable climax within 48 hours of opening on Canada Day led to McKenzie developing an alter ego, Bobby Margarita. Goodbye anchor desk, hello cottage season and summer vacation… and sunglasses.
Now, Bobby Margarita isn’t just a persona, but a beverage. McKenzie, now in quasi-retirement, has launched a canned ready-to-drink margarita, soon to be available across Canada.
It’s too bad that it’s not on this side of the border, because right now there are a lot of American baseball writers who could use a drink, wishing that their usual slow and steady offseason could return instead of worrying about revenue sharing proposals and service time arguments.
The way for baseball to get the offseason that they’d rather have, to allow everyone in the sport to be their own Bobby Margarita, is to finally institute an actual salary cap that drives teams to be more aggressive in recruiting players before they’re off the market.
Until then, we’re all wasting away again in Manfredville.