HOW TO FIX THE CBA AND CREATE A FAIR ENVIRONMENT FOR PLAYERS AND TEAMS

For the second year in a row, teams seem to have little interest to splurge in free agency, with the luxury tax becoming a salary cap. The players are upset and the next CBA is likely to be a major storyline because of it. The current CBA expires after the 2021 season and the owners and the players will sit down to work out a new deal. The owners want to spend less on players, the players want to be paid more. That has been the core of what each side has wanted since the game’s beginnings. The current system is broken and I propose a fair resolution centered around a basic premise that I think most people will agree with: the players should be paid fairly for their production.

The current system is unfair. Players get called up from the Minor Leagues and receive minimum salaries for their first two seasons. They then receive salaries decided by arbitration for the next four. Those salaries are typically significantly lower than what the player would earn on the free agent market. Players can have MVP quality seasons and earn a minimum salary for their accomplishments. Mike Trout received $492,500 for his 10.5 WAR in 2012 and $510,000 for his 9 WAR in 2013; Aaron Judge received $544,500 for his 8.1 WAR in 2017; Bryce Harper received $2.5 million for his 10 WAR in 2015; Mookie Betts received $566,000 for his 9.7 WAR in 2016; Kris Bryant received $652,000 for his 7.4 WAR in 2016…

On the other hand, when players enter the free agent market, they can sign contracts that end up crippling teams financially. Albert Pujols received $25 million for his 1.3 WAR in 2017 and $26 million for his -1.8 WAR in 2017; Jacoby Ellsbury received $21 million for his 1.7 WAR in 2017 (he received the same amount in 2018 for not playing at all); Chris Davis received $23 million for his -2.8 WAR in 2018; Homer Bailey received $21 million for his -1.5 WAR in 2018; Jason Heyward received $28 million for his 1.6 WAR in 2018…

The system is clearly broken, but it seems almost impossible to come up with a solution that both sides could agree on. The obvious solution for the players would be an ability to become free agents earlier, but that would mean that teams would have even less control over their players, a proposition that seems to be a non-starter for owners. Another possibility could be players having their salaries decided through arbitration starting from their first season, but players would still be underpaid until at best their final pre-free agency season.

The owners can try to limit free agent salaries through instituting a salary cap, and they already did something similar with the luxury tax. However, that doesn’t stop teams from giving out bad contracts. Can teams really be blamed for wanting to be careful with their investments? What about the opt-outs that star players are now insisting on to be put into their contracts? This means that players can end their contracts after a good season and either leave the team or force them to pay them more money.

It all comes down to a very simple solution: players should be paid for how they perform. It’s fair for both sides. Arbitration pays for production already, so why not pay based on WAR? It’s more accurate then focusing on arbitrary statistics such as saves. The two sides decide on how much 1 WAR is worth and then players are paid based on their production for their 6 seasons of team control, with a minimum salary for players who accumulate 0 and negative WAR. The players are no longer underpaid and that should satisfy the player’s union. They might have an issue with minimum salaries for bad seasons, but the trade-off should be enough. That said, the owners are unlikely to accept a system where they can no longer save money on players before they hit free agency. I have a solution for this however: an improved free agency system.

The players receive a major benefit by being paid fairly pre-free agency. As a result, they have to give something back in return. What should that be? First, no more opt-outs in contracts. I think that it’s a small price to pay, as players don’t always use opt-outs and presumably are prepared for the possibility of honoring their contract, if they decide not to. Another improvement is giving players an interesting option: they either sign a regular free agent contract or a contract based on value (where they’re paid for a few years with a high AAV and the latter years are based on WAR or the whole contract is based on WAR). More importantly, if a player has two consecutive seasons of low WAR (depending on position) and in a contract that’s for 5 years or longer, the team has a right to void it. That is reasonable in my opinion.

I think that this is a fair trade-off: players are paid fairly pre-free agency and owners receive benefits to make investments in players on the free agent market more appealing. The player’s union might say that assigning monetary value to WAR might limit how much the players can earn, but a provision could be made to decide the monetary value of WAR every couple of years.

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11 comments

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  • I have thought of this many times given how the sea saw of pay isn’t fair to either side. The revenue from the game comes from fans in seats or cable subscriptions and most of those people don’t earn more than enough to pay for the pleasure to watch baseballers who cry about market forces and for once owners are being fiscally responsible.

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  • I like the make-every-year (or at least the first 6) all “arbitration” years with players being paid for performance. You could also make sure they’re not “underpaid” by pegging the total “performance pay pool” to a number… like a set % of the total salary cap. I have no idea what % of the current total MLB payroll falls under the “first six” and what falls under “free agent” but that percentage can be fixed and then at the end of the year, the value of each WAR can be determined.

    I also think teams should get a “discount” for keeping their own guys. Something like only 75% of the contract counts against the cap.

    Or even more outside the box… 75% of a re-signing player’s salary is paid by the team and the 25% is paid through revenue sharing. A guy like Josh Harrison for the Pirates… they turned down their $10.5M option on him. But what if they were only on the hook for $7.5M of it, with the rest being kicked in from MLB revenue sharing? Maybe they keep him. These small-market teams would be able to keep more of their guys – making them more competitive, and then, more profitable.

    It would also reduce the trade-deadline expiring-contract rental deals… which are sort of exciting, but also rub me the wrong way…

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    • I like your ideas. I think that some type of protection for players to avoid being underpaid, makes perfect sense and I’m glad that you agree with me on the paying for performance idea. A discount for keeping players is an intriguing idea, maybe a franchise player tag like in the NFL? Your 25% idea works too. I do think that incentives need to be added to help small market teams keep their players, because right now it’s ridiculous when we know in advance that if a good player from a small market team hits free agency, that he’s not re-signing for a fact. Why do those deadline deals rub you the wrong way?

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      • First, I guess I’m glad that small market teams can get something for their players right before they leave via free agency, leaving them with nothing.

        That said… I don’t like how much the contending teams are reshaped every year. They play 4 months of baseball and THEN, there’s a big scramble at the trade deadline where bad teams get worse and good teams get better. The best players (on expiring deals) get traded to the best teams and it’s a whole new season. It just seems anti-competitive… so many stars joining the best teams for 2 months. It’s like the NBA those last two months of the season – every team is either a superteam or tanking. You can have the best team in MLB for 4 months, and then if you sit still at the deadline, you’re now the 4th best team.

        Boston traded for World Series MVP Steve Pearce and perhaps their best postseason pitcher, Nathan Eovaldi, on expiring deals. The Dodgers reshaped their infield with Manny Ramirez and Brian Dozier, also on rental deals. The Yankees went and got Zach Britton, the Nats gave away several of their guys whose contracts were ending. If you’re one of the best teams those first four months, it’s almost a given that you’ll be trading for a guy who will be one of your best players for 2 months and the playoffs, and then he’ll be gone.

        2016 really irks me… The Yankees were having a down year, so they lend Chapman to the Cubs in 2016 in exchange for Gleyber Torres. Good for the Cubs for winning and for Chapman playing a key role. But geez, his Cubs career was so short, just a hired gun for 2 months to win a World Series… and then back to where he came from. If you’re asked, “Was Chapman ever a Chicago Cub?” The answer is, “Not really, though they borrowed him from the Yankees for a few months so they could win a World Series in 2016.”

        Under the current rules, the Marlins should be signing the biggest free agent closers. “If you want to win a World Series, sign with us. You won’t win one here, but you know that we’ll be shipping you to a contender after 4 months.”

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      • I don’t like these roster shake-ups either. My concern is how do we keep such drastic changes from happening? I also don’t like the word “rental”, how is the player getting “rented” when he’s a part of the team for half a season?! The Torres trade was a steal for the Yankees, as Chapman almost cost the Cubs the World Series in game 7. Can you imagine an infield of Rizzo, Baez, Torres and Bryant?!

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