In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, there were three big factors in Major League Baseball: offensive production, big names hitting the free agent market every year, and the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox spending more money than imaginable to win championships. Nowadays, there are three new big factors in Major League Baseball: pitching dominance, long term deals/extensions preventing big names from hitting the free agent market, and small market teams making it far into the post season. Many fans of the sport have become extremely upset over these new factors, and for good reason too! Lack of offense means less attraction to the sport, and few big names hitting the free agent market leads to less offseason interest. The only thing that has proven to be a positive factor is the disappearance of buying championships, but even that is bound to eventually make a comeback! However, it is important to note that Major League Baseball works like a pendulum, everything may seem to be going in one direction now, but it is only a matter of time before everything completely changes.
Lack of offense: One of the biggest concerns in all of baseball right now is the lack of offensive production by the players. Production is at the lowest it has been since the 1968 season, which was when the MLB lowered the mound from 15 inches to 10 in order to give batters more of an edge. Talk has been made about introducing a designated hitter into the National League, but that seems to be gaining no traction within the commissioner’s office. Many fans cannot even fathom where this sudden loss of offense came from, but the answer to that is one that will make those people shake their heads and wonder how they missed it. The answer: because in 1990’s and early 2000’s, there was too much offensive production. That’s right! The large amount of offense from about a decade and a half ago is the reason for the little amount of offense in today’s game. Why? Well, during that time period, there was a need for pitching. Therefore, parents began to teach their children to pitch, and these kids were marveled by coaches and scouts. If you think about it, many of the most dominant pitchers in baseball today are in their 20’s. It can be assumed that these players started playing around the age of five or seven, which in turn means that it took them about 15 years to get to the big leagues (putting them in their 20’s). Now, there is a call for greater offense to hit these young pitchers, so parents will focus more on teaching their children to hit. If these kids are about five or seven now, when they reach the big leagues in 15 or so years, they will provide a major increase in offensive production. Yes, it is upsetting that it will take so long for offense to come back in the game; but when it does, there will be a plethora of it. At that point, we will all be idolizing pitching again, which is why in 30 years, we will be right back where we are now.
Free agency: Ok, I know what you are thinking: in what way is free agency a problem in today’s game? This year, there are many big names, and that has been the case for a long time. To that, I happily say: Correct, but not for long! Youth is the prized possession in baseball, and every team has been, or is in the stage of, building up their farm system. Older players are traded in return for prospects, and it has become difficult for some free agents to find places to sign, especially if they are 33 or older. When these prospects are brought up, they are quickly signed to long-term deals, and become tied up with their organization for a majority of their careers. When these contracts are over, teams will have no problem letting the player go, and bringing up someone else to fill the void. This can even be seen today: When was the last time a big-name free agent resigned with their team? Instead, teams like the Kansas City Royals, Houston Astros, etc. have let these players sign bad contracts with big market teams, and have used their farm system to take the players’ places. So when does the pendulum kick in? Well, it is only a matter of time until more players pick up on this and demand change. Take Giancarlo Stanton for example. Stanton signed a $300 million contract extension with the Miami Marlins last offseason, but he is not going to make a majority of the money until 2018, a year in which he will make $25 million. After that, he will make more and more money until a $32 million peek from 2023-2025, and while this may seem like a large amount of money for a baseball player right now, it probably will not be by those years. Every year, contracts get more and more expensive, so it is reasonable to think that in less than 10 years, the average salary for a player will be in the high $20 million to mid $30 million. What does this have to do with the pendulum though? Well, players will begin to figure out what teams are doing, and will not sign such long-term contracts. This will lead to too many players needed to be brought up through the farm system at once, and teams will become desperate to sign free agents. This may already be happening with Jose Fernandez and the Miami Marlins, and it is only a matter of time before big names hit the market once again.
Buying championships: I’ll try and keep this one short and sweet, mostly because this example goes hand-in-hand with free agency. The days of the big market teams dominating the postseason are over. This past postseason, there were only four teams who were in the top 10 in payroll, and none of them made it to the World Series. Instead, it was the Mets (21 overall) and Royals (16 overall), both of whom fell within the bottom half of 2015 payroll. So what happened? Well, the teams who have been finding the most success recently are ones who have rebuilt their farm systems over the past few years. They have developed the talent to win ballgames instead of going out and spending their money on ugly contracts. However, when the free agency revolution begins, baseball will once again become a sport filled with successful teams who hold big payrolls.
Baseball can be a tricky sport to follow. A majority of fans want to see offense and big names hitting the free agent market, but that is not going to happen for a while. The pendulum is on its way up, and will not reach its peak for probably a good three years or so. However, when it comes back down and changes sides, offensive production in the game will be a promising all-time high, and free agents may be some of the greatest players of all time.