What I hate about the game today is probably not what Curt Flood invisioned happening. He just wanted a way for players to get more money, and was the player that got the ball rolling on the way to securing free agency in baseball. But what’s happened now is that salaries are way out of control, although that’s not the main issue. The main issue to me is the overturn of players. Maybe I’m old-fashioned in this thought, but to me, remaining with teams for the majority of your career or even for the entirety of it is important to me.
I’ve always thought that perhaps baseball should look into implementing restrictive free agency on players going into years seven to ten in the major leagues. What restrictive free agency means is that a player can negotiate with any team, but once he reaches a deal with another team, the team he is currently on can match that deal in terms of money and years, the exact contract, and the player would have to return to the team. This is such in hockey and football. Not only would the market still remain decidedly similar, giving the player the same amount of money, but then that said player would be able to return to the team he originally was from. This would bring us a step back in the right direction in retaining players and stop the musical chairs of free agency that occurs every season.
Basically, right now, a team has control of a player for six years. Three years is an automatic resigning without arbitration, the next three years is automatic arbitration unless the team declines it. After six years, the player, if he has not already signed a contract for longer years, becomes a free agent. Under my proposal, the player would have restricted free agency until he reached ten years in the major leagues. So it is possible that a team could retain a player for ten years without losing him to unrestricted free agency. This also might be a bonus to the player, because after ten years (the “ten-five” 10/5 rule) in the majors and five with the same team, they get an automatic no-trade clause if they remain with the team. So by resigning with the team once they hit unrestricted free agency, they don’t have to demand a no-trade clause from their team because they would already get it.
Why has this not happened yet? Probably because the Player’s Union in baseball is the most powerful union on earth, and quite frankly, they’d prefer unrestricted free agency to adding on restricted free agency. While one could argue that the market would not depress at all, it’s possible it would. Players could argue that teams would be less apt to offer larger dollars because of the possibility of the original team declining to pay him that amount, at which point that offering team would be stuck with a contract. I don’t think that matters much, because restricted or unrestricted free agency, either way, the teams will be wary of offering large bucks. If Carlos Beltran was a restricted free agent (as he would have been) and the Mets came to an agreement with him for large amounts of money and the Houston Astros decided to match it, it’s not like Beltran would have lost out money-wise and the Mets would not lose any money. Honestly, it’s a win-win-win. It’s a win for the player because contracts are not depressed at all. It’s a win for the club because they can potentially retain star free agents. It’s a win for the fans to see a higher percentage of players remain.
So why has this not happened? Quite frankly, I have heard nothing about this coming up in talks between the commissioner’s office and the Union, so one has to assume that if there was such a possibility being broached, then it was quickly denied (and rightfully so) by the Player’s Union. The way the Collective Bargaining Agreement works is ‘quid pro quo’. In exchage for a steroid policy (since strengthened) the Commissioner’s Office agreed to drop the talk of contraction until the next CBA talks came around. Well, what about asking for restrictive free agency in exchange for staving off contraction yet even more? And if that’s not enough for the Player’s Union, bump the minimum salary to $350,000, or $400,000. That’s imminent, anyways.
Maybe that won’t work, so what about franchising a player?
First, what is franchising a player?
The term “franchise player” is one used in the context of the NFL. In 1993, the NFL and the NFL Players’ Association concluded a collective bargaining agreement that first used that term.
The 1993 CBA creates categories unrestrictive free agency, restrictive free agency for players who have played for a certain number of seasons.
To prevent a situation whereby the very best players could be bought by other teams, The “franchise player” was created. Regardless of player’s status as an unrestrictive free agent (which applies after four years of playing) each team can designate a franchise player for each season. The player may then only negotiate with the club for that season and the club must pay him the average of the five largest prior year salaries for players at that position he played the most games, or a salary of 120 percent of his prior year salary, whichever is greater.
This might work better than restricted free agency (although it would not be preferred by me over restricted free agency) because now it is only one person who has to stay with the team, and not only that, but he is paid rather an exorbitant amount. The only problem here is that franchising a player always results in whining by the player. Can you imagine Pedro Martinez about to bolt to the Mets, but wait, here are the Red Sox, franchising Pedro for a year! Since you can continually franchise Pedro, instead of signing him to a four year deal, you can continually sign him to one-year contracts. The only problem is that last year, Pedro was the highest-paid pitcher, so he would have been paid 120% of what he had made. Nonetheless, we would have had him for one more year. And if we know Pedro, we know he wouldn’t have been happy about that!
Either way, in my opinion, free agency is one of the weaknesses of the game. Before free agency, and even slightly after, remaining with your team was the norm. What with the money explosion in the mid-late ’90s, now people leave for other teams with regularity – too much regularity. While I do not want baseball to become like the NFL with their parity and no guaranteed contracts and salary cap (that’s right, no salary cap – I love it the way it is) I do think the NFL has the right concept in restricted free agency and being able to franchise a player. While having both of these options for the MLB might be good, I think that would be pushing the Player’s Union. When the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires after 2006, I think baseball should put out feelers for restricted free agency, giving concessions elsewhere to make it work. As I said before, it’s a win-win-win situation. One thing is for sure, though. When Roberto Alomar retires and goes into the Hall of Fame, it’s going to be a shame to see “San Diego Padres, Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians, New York Mets, Chicago White Sox, Arizona Diamondbacks, Tampa Bay Devil Rays” on his plaque, and that’s not even counting later teams he could play for, considering he is only 36 (and will enter the season at 37). When players like Cal Ripken, Jr. start becoming rare (he spent his entire career with the Orioles) then you know something is wrong.