The 2017-18 offseason, despite the blockbuster trade that sent Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees, has been mostly notable for the plodding pace of the free agent market. We're coming up on February, and almost every free agent of note remains unsigned. That's a highly unusual state of affairs.
Why this is happening isn't a simple matter. Teams are disinclined these days to pay big money for free agents who may be in their decline years. There's a homogeneity to the way front offices value talent. The competitive balance tax threshold is a factor for some teams. A number of teams are in various stages of rebuilding. Teams have thus far looked to the trade market first to address roster holes. Teams don't necessarily need to sell a lot of tickets to make money in this, the era of the colossal media contract. And so on. Rather than one single thing suffocating the market, it's probably a mix of all those things.
Whatever the reasons, the players are losing patience. We've heard rumors of dissatisfaction with MLBPA head Tony Clark. We've heard the "collusion" word floated. Jeff Passan recently reported that some unsigned free agents may in essence hold their own spring training camps. Now Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen has dropped the big one.
Via Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times, here's what Jansen said at Fan Fest at Dodger Stadium in response to the slow free agent market and the notion that an inordinate number of teams are "tanking" ...
"That is something we might have to address, so you don't have a lot of Miami Marlins doing this. Maybe it's an adjustment for us, as the players' union. Maybe we have to go on strike, to be honest with you. That's how I feel about it."
As Shaikin's story points out, Jansen went on to soften this declaration just a bit, but he hardly walked it back entirely. It's worth noting that Jansen's in the second year of a five-year, $80 million contract, so he's not exactly floating the idea of a strike out of self-interest. This is more about what he sees happening to his union brethren.
A strike, of course, would be the most extreme measure on the part of the players, and it's highly unlikely things will come to that. In a sense, it's the lack of leadership within the MLBPA and the extent to which the players have lost recent collective bargaining agreement (CBA) negotiations that have led them to this place.
Taking the long view, though, MLB would be well served to establish some structural disincentives to tanking. It's a rational response on the part of teams who don't see themselves as contenders, and it's reinforced by the fact that the last two World Series champions -- the Cubs and Astros -- benefitted from tanking in the years leading up to their resurgences.
MLB needs to find ways to make that less appealing to teams. Because if they don't, Jansen and the players might do something drastic at some point.
(Wink of CBS eye: Hardball Talk)