As late as March 1, scores of free agents were still unsigned as front offices divest from players who are 30 or older — All-Star outfielder Adam Jones is 33, Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel is 31, closer Craig Kimbrel is 30. At the same time, teams manipulate the service time of big-league-ready young players such as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. by leaving them in the minors. Teams do this assured in the knowledge that while these veteran and rookie players could obviously help a team, the public condones the anti-labor practice of tanking. Many teams simply aren’t trying to win, and fans don’t care.
But today’s player, across sports, was born into a country that has demonized labor so thoroughly that some of them do not even believe philosophically in the principles of unions and more quickly turn on one another. It should forever be remembered that when the owners squeezed veterans in the NBA and NFL, the players responded by attacking younger players, advocating for a rookie wage scale.
Baseball’s ownership is now reaching a brazen point. The new generation of Ivy League GMs, with their own metrics and measures for paying players (how is it not collusion if everyone is seemingly using the same methodology?), have crossed two lines:The first is their philosophy of no longer paying players for what they’ve done, only for what they are projected to do. The second is controlling players for six full years and then refusing to pay them once they reach their free agent seventh. The modern player, richer than ever, is faced with a question: Is a punitive free agent market, and a culture that threatens any player over 30, enough to shut down the game?
So far, the players aren’t looking like Curt Flood, while the owners are looking like Charles Comiskey (the reason the Black Sox threw the Series was because their owner was such a cheap man). The players seem to be opting for the security of multi-year contracts, which is rational seeing what’s happened to the stars who’ve hit free agency and received no offers at all.