There’s a clear argument that the current crop of young talent in Major League Baseball is as prolific the game has seen in decades. With budding stars like Juan Soto, Ronald Acuña, Shohei Ohtani and Walker Buehler joining the likes of Mookie Betts, Francisco Lindor and Christian Yelich, it’s clear MLB has a trove of brand name players.
But how safe are those players from the current landscape of professional baseball?
‘You better be paying attention’
Now in Year 2 of MLB’s free agent freeze out, Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Jake Arrieta wants the game’s next crop of available players to pay attention to what teams are doing on the open market.
All of you 1-3 yr players out there better be paying attention to what’s going on in our game. You’re next. @MLB
— Jake Arrieta (@JArrieta34) January 12, 2019
It’s easy to point at a tweet like this and mention that Arrieta signed a three-year, $75 million deal in 2018, but that would be proving his point. Those are the type of contracts that are disappearing. When Arrieta signed his current deal for an average of $25 million per year, he was 31 years old, and coming off a season that saw him finish with an ERA of 3.53, 1.218 WHIP, 55 walks and 163 strikeouts in 168.1 innings.
In 2018, Patrick Corbin — unquestionably the best starting pitcher in free agency this year — finished with a 3.15 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 48 walks and 246 strikeouts in 200 innings pitched. For his services, the Washington Nationals handed him a six-year deal for $140 million with a yearly average salary of $23.3 million.
A pitcher who is statistically better and younger than Arrieta is making less than him. That’s what Arrieta is afraid of. That’s the warning.
All eyes on 2021
The crisis may be getting worse, too. With short-term deals on the rise, more veteran players will have to jump back into free agency as the next generation prepares to reach for a big payday.
Interesting new world. Of top 37 free agents signed so far, 27 with one- or two-year deals, by my count.
— Tim Brown (@TBrownYahoo) January 11, 2019
But if baseball isn’t spending money on free agents, the increased competition in free agency is only going to drive down the price for players even more dramatically. That’s not to say teams don’t have money to spend, either. They most certainly do. The bulk of them are just refusing to hand out contracts the players deserve — be it because of tanking, a desire to stay under the luxury tax threshold or any number of reasons in between. As Yahoo’s Chris Cwik wrote after Yasmani Grandal’s signing, MLB free agency is broken.
All of it is leading to an impending showdown in December 2021 when the current collective bargaining agreement expires. It looks like Arrieta is trying to get a head start on rallying the next generation of troops to take on that fight.
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