If Major League Baseball and the players’ union can’t agree to a new collective bargaining agreement by midnight Thursday, there will be a delayed start to free agency. Though a couple of moves have been made –– most notably, the New York Mets’ decision to extend outfielder Yoenis Cespedes –– the majority of teams and players are waiting to see a deal signed before they move forward with their offseason.
Even if there is a lockout, it will likely be short-lived. MLB has enjoyed labor peace since 1994 and negotiations are reportedly moving in the right direction. That’s a good thing, because in many respects, the hot stove is more entertaining than the regular season. Baseball may be lagging behind the NFL and NBA in popularity these days, but its offseason is the best around –– for a numbers of reasons:
1) Contracts are easy to understand: NFL free agency begins with a flurry of activity and dominates the abyss of the sports calendar. But for those who aren’t capologists, it’s difficult to make sense of contracts that are littered with obscure clauses. Often times, player contracts are intentionally misleading, with teams aiming to skirt around the salary cap and agents looking to pump up the value of their clients.
One of the classic examples of this phenomenon is the extension Andy Dalton signed with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2014. It was first reported as a six-year, $115 million deal. But in actuality, it’s a two-year deal with several one-year team options after that. Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio broke it all down:
“Dalton receives a signing bonus of $12 million and a roster bonus in three days of $5 million. That’s a total of $17 million out of the gates. Coupled with his $986,000 base salary (which isn’t guaranteed as a legal matter but it is as a practical matter), Dalton will make $18 million in the first year of the deal.
“Then, on the third day of the 2015 league year in March, Dalton earns a $4 million roster bonus. He also has a $3 million non-guaranteed base salary in 2015. That’s $25 million over two years.”
Got it? No? Of course not. If any laymen pretends to fully understand any major NFL free agent contract, they’re lying.
Meanwhile, since contracts are guaranteed in baseball, there’s little room for maneuvering. That means when a player signs a deal for, let’s say, six years and $115 million, that means he’ll be paid $115 million over six years. You can follow free agency without feeling like you’re flunking out of math class all over again.
2) Trades make sense: In baseball, players are traded for players. Sometimes major leaguers are dealt for minor leaguers, but humans are exchanged for humans. This is a big departure from NBA, where expiring contracts –– IE: glorified pieces of paper –– are often the most valuable chip on the market.
In MLB, the desire to dump salary is rarely the pure motivation behind any trade. Teams are almost always looking to receive value in return. That’s not the case in the NBA. It usually works that way in the NFL, though future draft picks are often a more desirable commodity than established players. The salary cap also limits the amount of trades that are made.
All of these factors detract from the fun of following the NBA and NFL offseason. Conjuring up deals in the NBA is so difficult, you need a trade machine to make sure all the requirements –– such as making sure salaries match up –– are met. With MLB, you can actually look at teams and figure out deals based upon their needs. Following the rumor mill isn’t a strenuous mental exercise.
3) Longer is better: When it comes to ranking free agency periods, time matters. The NFL and NBA bombards its fans with news in the opening days of free agency, but then most of the action tails off. That’s not the case in MLB.
The most popular time for player movement is the Winter Meetings, but teams continue to make blockbuster free agent signings or trades well into the winter. High-powered agent Scott Boras, for example, is notorious for advising his clients to stay on the market until well past the new year.
NFL and NBA free agency abandons you after a week of ecstasy. MLB free agency stays with you throughout the doldrums of winter.