Matt Klentak and Aaron Nola met with the media in Clearwater on Thursday to discuss the new four-year, $45-million deal that the Phillies and Nola agreed to on Wednesday. Both sides said all the right things and pulled out the cliches appropriate with such an occasion.
Following that, Klentak fielded questions on other issues. In other words, he talked about Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. The final question of the press conference focused on whether it would be nice to have all of the free agents signed and have absolute answers – especially on guys like Harper and Machado – and whether or not they will be Phillies in 2019 and whether there should be a signing deadline instituted for free agents.
Read carefully how Klentak responded to the question:
“I look at the NBA and the NFL, for example, and their free agency lasts all of 48 hours and then, what else do they do with the offseason? From a personal level, that would be great. I think, in a lot of respects, it would lead to a lot of deals, because you’re going to get your money, it’s going to be in a certain window and you’ve got to do it or else you miss out. The big difference is that in the NBA and the NFL, they have hard salary caps and in baseball, we don’t have that. As long as there is no limit on the amount of spending that can take place, I don’t know that having a deadline is really going to work. I know that there’s a lot being written right now, from both perspectives – from the league and from the player’s perspective – about this CBA and I have all the faith in the world that the really bright, working people at the league and the bright working people at the union will get together to figure out what changes may be necessary for the good of our sport. That is really the bottom line for fans, for front office people, for players, for everybody, is that we want to do what’s right for the good of the sport. Nobody wins when there’s a labor dispute. We want to do what’s right for the game of baseball.”
Klentak basically pointed out that a signing deadline, combined with a hard salary cap, has worked – at least from a front office view – in both the NBA and the NFL. He also pointed out that a signing deadline without a salary cap doesn’t seem to be a successful formula. He’s right. The formula works in the other leagues and you can’t have a signing deadline without a cap. Why? Because teams with larger amounts of money to spend – which this offseason would have included the Phillies – could simply offer huge contracts and get the biggest stars, because the players would have to take offers that are out there and teams would have to put their best offer out there for them to take and not gamble that the market might fall and they can sign them cheaper.
In some sense though, there needs to be a third component; a salary minimum. Teams can’t be allowed to not spend money. As Corey Seidman pointed out in a Tweet, teams have just stopped spending money. It’s also ridiculous that overall team payroll dropped in 2018 for the first time since 2010.
And it’s pretty ridiculous that 40% of the league is running a payroll under $100 million. 20% of teams are under $80M.https://t.co/9Qc8MOcX6U
— Corey Seidman (@CSeidmanNBCS) February 13, 2019
Condensing free agency might also lead to more trades. For instance, let’s assume that the Phillies had signed Manny Machado early on. He would play third base, making Maikel Franco expendable. The San Diego Padres were ready, set and willing to deal for Franco, but the Phillies couldn’t pull the trigger because signing Machado wasn’t – and still isn’t – guaranteed. It got to the point where the Padres themselves met with Machado because his perceived price, in terms of both years and money, had dropped to where San Diego just might be able to make the numbers work. Had Harper signed with the Phillies early on, would they have signed Andrew McCutchen? If they did sign both players, would they have sought to trade Aaron Altherr and/or Nick Williams? That’s just one team and the impact that a shortened free agency period could have had on them.
A salary cap has worked in other sports and could work in baseball as well. If MLB did adopt a cap though, let’s hope that it’s not complicated like in the other sports. Make it simple and hard; whatever a team is paying in player salaries – including to players who were dealt to other teams – counts toward the cap. Deal with player incentives in a similar way, by putting a cap on them. Teams can only offer a certain dollar amount in potential incentives being reached. That way, they can’t low-ball the contract and fill it with easily reachable incentives that give the player more money.
You could argue that a limited free agency period doesn’t add as much intrigue to the offseason. This year’s “intrigue” was fun for a while, maybe until about Christmas, but then it just became boring. We’ve spent the offseason basically talking about two players and maybe five or six teams. Ooooh! Aaaah!