What was once viewed as a tantalizing 2018-19 MLB free agency class has instead unfolded another year with more sizzle than substance. A lack of spending last winter was explained by teams such as the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees wishing to remain below the luxury tax threshold and reset their penalties.
Pitchers and catchers reported for Spring Training with Bryce Harper and Manny Machado still unsigned. Interest has seemingly picked up over recent days, but position players are now in camp and the two superstars remain without a team.
So too are the likes of Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel. With camps now open, several players have voiced their concern and displeasure with a second consecutive year of slow movement in free agency.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred put the bulk of that on players and their representatives, which drew a critical response from MLB Players Association executive director Tony Clark.
“Commissioner Manfred’s latest comments and his attempts to shift blame and distract from the main issues are unconstructive and misleading at best. Players’ eyes don’t deceive them, nor do fans,” he said in a released statement.
“As Players report to spring training and see respected veterans and valued teammates on the sidelines, they are rightfully frustrated by a two-year attack on free agency. Players commit to compete every pitch of every at-bat, and every inning of every game. Yet we’re operating in an environment in which an increasing number of clubs appear to be making little effort to improve their rosters, compete for a championship or justify the price of a ticket.
“Players have made a sincere attempt to engage with clubs on their proposals to improve pace of play and enhance the game’s appeal to fans. At the same time, we have presented wide-ranging ideas that value substance over seconds and ensure the best Players are on the field every day. We believe these substantive changes are imperative now — not in 2022 or 2025, but in 2019.
“We look forward to continuing to engage with MLB on changes that address substantive issues — to the benefit of fans, Players, the 30 clubs and the game of baseball as a whole.”
The Dodgers have seemingly struck a balance between spending and remaining mindful of the luxury tax threshold, signing Clayton Kershaw to an extension, re-signing David Freese and inking A.J. Pollock. Of course, they were expected to be players for Harper.
Freese explained watching how free agency unfolded after the 2017 season influenced him to work with the Dodgers on a new contract rather than reach the open market with the sole focus of finding a lucrative deal.
With tensions continuing to rise, there are early warning signs of a potential labor stoppage when the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires in December 2021.