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Does free agency promote inequality?


After Jayson Werth signed a seven-year $126 million deal with the Nationals I thought about how much free agency has changed baseball. The question is whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing. The answer is really that it depends on what perspective you look at it from.

For players: This is a no-brainer, it’s obviously a great thing for players that there is free agency in baseball.

Due to free agency salaries have skyrocketed. With free agency, players are able to hit the open market at the end of their contacts and start bidding wars between teams who want their services. Through this bidding war it’s inevitable that players are paid more, and in many cases are overpaid.

A prime example of this is Daisuke Matsuzaka, with the Red Sox winning a bidding war to negotiate a contract with him; 10 years ago nobody would’ve expected a team to pony up $50 million to negotiate a contract with a player who had not pitched in a major league game before. On top of the money spent to negotiate the contract, the Red Sox spent in excess of $50 million on Matsuzaka’s contract. The net result: a 46-27 record with a 4.18 ERA with an average of six innings per start, not good value for the buck.

For teams: This varies depending on the team.

For the teams with the money, free agency enables them to take talent away from the teams that aren’t as well off financially. The prime examples of the teams who have money are the Yankees and the Red Sox.

With this money, the more financially “well off” teams can buy the talent they want because they have more money than the other teams which means that they are able to spend more money for the talent. Spending $16 million a season on a player when your budget is $170 million isn’t a big of a deal as spending $16 million a season on a player when your budget is $60 million.

On the other hand, teams that don’t have as much money such as the Pirates and the Royals can’t sign the top-level free agents because they don’t have the money to give them and at the same time can’t keep the talent they do have. Knowing this, the poorer teams trade their best players who they know they won’t be able to afford in free agency for prospects and cheaper players; this is a never-ending cycle. The respective teams from 2000-2010:

Yankees: Averaged 96.3 wins, 10 playoff appearances, 2 World Series titles

Red Sox: Averaged 91.7 wins, 6 playoff appearances, 2 World Series titles

Royals: Averaged 69.9 wins, 0 playoff appearances, 1 winning season

Pirates: Averaged 67.1 wins, 0 playoff appearances, 0 winning seasons

The fans: With free agency putting more money into the players’ pockets, the owners of the teams want to afford the massive increase in salary.

How do the owners do this? They charge more money for tickets. As a result of free agency in baseball, the overall ticket prices have skyrocketed making it very difficult for many people to afford to go to games anymore. However, attendance for baseball games is higher than it has ever been before, so that means that enough people are willing to spend more money to go baseball games.

Free agency in baseball has just widened the divide between the “have” and the “have nots.” When teams with lesser payrolls try to make a big splash in the free agency, they better make the right choice or they’ll dig themselves in a deep hole. This is another great difference between the “haves” and the “have nots;” the “haves” can afford to make poor choices in free agency while the “have nots” simply cannot.