Once more, with feeling: For a second straight offseason, the free agent market has developed at an agonizingly slow pace. This winter it's to the extent that generational free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are still unsigned in mid-February. This is all to the mounting frustration of players. Those like Harper, Machado, Dallas Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel, and Marwin Gonzalez who have been frozen out to date have been understandably quiet on the topic, but an increasing number of veterans are speaking up.
To summarize, Wainwright expects a players' strike unless things change, and he's even worried about the possibility of a mid-season walkout. If you're a fan, that's a troubling prospect.
There's no one reason for the free agent slowdown (), but blaming the owners for most of what's going on is certainly defensible. If you're player, for instance, it's hard not to be vexed by this sort of thing:
Brad Brach on his free-agency experience: "We talked to certain teams and they told us that, 'We have an algorithm and here's where you fall.' ... It's just kind of weird that all offers are the same, they come around the same time. Everybody tells you there's an algorithm."— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) February 15, 2019
From the players' standpoint, they're already used up a number of potential bargaining chips -- they've already acquiesced on cost-saving changes to the June draft and the international free agent market -- but they still have their own labor to use as a cudgel. Needless to say, a walkout during the season would be at a point of high leverage. If they did so, the players would likely press for measures against "tanking" and changes to the pre-arbitration salary structure -- i.e., things they should have angled for when the most recent collective bargaining agreement was being hammered out.
Whatever the specifics, consider this to be a subplot to monitor closely as the season approaches.