A Tale of Two Free Agencies


Max Jaffe

Harry Markov ’19, thinks recent trends in free agency will propel the NBA past the MLB in youth popularity.

Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association are two of the most popular sports leagues in the United States and the world, but recently, their labor relations are heading in opposite directions. Baseball, which has not seen a strike since the 1994 season, seems to be heading towards a situation whereone when the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) expires after the 2021 season. Basketball on the other hand, is barreling in the direction of another exciting offseason after one of the most high spending on record last year.

Baseball incurred its second straight offseason where many star players remained unsigned for months. For context, the MLB offseason starts the first week of November, yet the two greatest stars of the free agency class, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, did not sign until the end of February, when Spring Training had already started. Granted, they signed for a combined 630 million dollars, more than any NBA player could dream of due to contract length, but the rest of the offseason class didn’t make out as well. Many former star veterans, such as Jose Bautista and Matt Holliday, remain without a team and may be forced into retirement. Even players who years ago may have controlled rather lucrative contracts are now signing minor league deals or deals for the Major League minimum. Two of the three biggest pitchers available on the market, Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel, who were projected to sign for a combined one hundred fifty million dollars, still do not have a team over a monthtwo weeks into the season.

“Baseball is decreasing especially among younger viewing audiences, while the NBA is becoming more and more popular.”

Last year, NBA teams spent over 1.75 billion dollars in free agency, most of that within the first week. The year before, nearly two and a half billion was doled out. With stars like Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler and others who will likely receive a max contract, another big offseason seems to be on the horizon. Although players are incentivized to stay with their current team via a super-max contract, players really hold all the cards and will sign with whichever team they prefer. They can stay where they are now and sign a super-max worth upwards of forty million a year, or they could choose to join together and form a super team and still be paid in the upper thirty millions.

Harry Markov ’19 believes these new trends will hurt baseball while more fans flock to the NBA: “Currently, MLB free agency keeps good teams good and makes it harder for worse teams to acquire players. In the NBA it’s more exciting, and you see really big name players sign and it shifts the dynamics of the whole league.”

However, it seems a new trend may be emerging in baseball. Throughout spring training and into the first few weeks of the season, waves of young superstars have been signing extensions with their current teams. Mike Trout, Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, Chris Sale, Jacob deGrom, Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, Luis Severino, Aaron Hicks, Blake Snell, Aaron Nola and others signed extensions ranging from four to twelve years in Trout’s case. Trout became the first player in American sports to break the four hundred million dollar barrier, and combined with others, over two billion dollars has been doled out in the last couple months to players that weren’t even free agents.

This new trend may prove well for baseball, as fanbases who’ve become attached to players will get to see them play out possibly the rest of their careers with that team. “Baseball is decreasing especially among younger viewing audiences, while the NBA is becoming more and more popular,” Markov continued. While it is yet to be seen how this new wave of extensions will effect all this, fans can look forward to more baseball players signing extensions throughout the season, and another exciting summer of NBA free agency.