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Monday, October 25, 2021

MLB sees a cold stove this offseason

Uncertainties surrounding Major League Baseball’s future is just one of the many factors of this slow offseason

What was once an exciting time for fans of Major League Baseball (MLB), the offseason has become a drag. With elite talents hitting the free agent market more often in baseball than any other sports, the “hot stove” would come at a perfect time and create levels of excitement for the upcoming season. But, as has been with recent years, the hot stove has been turned off and has become ice cold.

Although it’s been years in the making, many are still surprised to see major free agents in baseball moving closer to signing in February than in November or December. Teams have been more reluctant to spend less compared to the beginning of the century, where major contracts were being given out left and right. Now, amid an ongoing pandemic and some teams experiencing losses of over $100 million compared to previous years, it’s no wonder the league’s top stars haven’t gotten paid.

Coming into the offseason, Trevor Bauer, George Springer, J.T. Realmuto, D.J. LeMahieu and Marcell Ozuna were the top players available. The only one to sign was LeMehieu, who inked a six-year $90 million contract to stay with the New York Yankees. The rest await the slow moving market, not knowing if they will get the value they would have in previous years. As a result, we have begun to see some moves that we would otherwise not see in the past. 

Trades like those for former Cy Young winner Blake Snell, runner-up Yu Darvish and former All-Star Josh Bell have been the highlight of the offseason so far. The common theme with them and players being traded is control. Having the control based on their contract seems to be what teams have been chasing, as the financial uncertainty would rather have them going after cost-efficient players. On the other hand, the teams trading these stars signal that they are in fact trying to cost-cut. The pandemic has hit some owners hard, and saving any money they can has been the focus of a lot of these clubs. Players of their caliber are rarely available by trade and usually reach the end of their contract, which is why it is not normal to see these moves. 

It is unknown whether fans will be allowed into the stands, and to what capacity. As we saw in the National League Championship Series and the World Series, it is possible to hold a percentage of fans at a stadium. However, given that the state of the country is uncertain at the moment, there is no assurance that teams will have any fans once again. With fan attendance being a major factor of the revenue and a projected $640,000 being lost each empty game, owners are left in a situation where only a few are willing to host a contending team this upcoming year. 

The frustration is not only from the fans perspective, but also the players’ whose livelihood depends on it. 

“MLB offseason [has] become the worst in terms of action and keeping fans excited,” said Chicago Cubs free agent infielder Jason Kipnis. “Also, when the hell are we starting this year? Feb? March? It’d be nice to let us know maybe.”

As MLB continues to struggle in growing their audience, their upcoming TV deal has come at an unsuitable time. With some teams altering their video markets and simultaneously facing the pandemic, the deal could be substantially less than projected, contributing to the financial losses the league may face. With a TV deal supplying a large portion of a league’s revenue, the impacts may not only be felt this year, but also possibly further in the future.

“There are still lots of free agents of varying skill levels floating on the open market,” said Jon Erikkla of Fansided. “Every fan will see in due course where their club’s ownership falls on the spectrum. We know the teams who have already struck their moves and are building for today. We have serious suspicions about who will be saving for a rainy day and putting off competing.” 

Again, this is not a new issue. Free agency had been slowly progressing toward  where it is today. The pandemic, however, has sped up that process, bringing us to the current conditions. The reluctance to spend is a result of the unknown that awaits the owners of baseball clubs. It is quite possible that fans may be allowed to a certain capacity this year, but the question is how much. With no answer coming soon and the new season set to start soon, we may begin to see penny-pinching changes that will last a couple of years and affect free agency. 
Written by: Omar Navarro — sports@theaggie.org

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