In today's article published by The Athletic [Paywall], former Major League Baseball player Dale Murphy lists four significant suggestions for resuscitating MLB's free agency and addressing the tanking epidemic in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, the current of which ends in 2021. The following are excerpts from the linked article quoted in italics along with commentary below:
1. Introduce A Spending Floor:
"Owners should be required to spend a certain percentage of revenue on players. I’ll leave the exact number to the financial gurus, but whether it’s 45 percent or 48 percent or something else entirely, players should be guaranteed a certain piece of the pie, not only to ensure equity but also to prevent the free-agency freeze we’ve felt the last couple of offseasons."
There has been a lot of discussion among fans whether or not a salary floor or some other instrument to compel teams to spend is warranted, though that is usually in the context of perennially parsimonious teams like Tampa Bay and Miami. With an exceptionally large number of teams in a race to the bottom—and in the process shedding as much salary as possible without taking on any significant payroll obligations—the suggestion seems much more prescient than prior. These miserly practices threaten to kill off fanbases to the pathetic levels of the two franchises mentioned above by giving fans absolutely no incentive to follow their club. Forcing teams to invest in established veterans at a pay grade they have earned will very likely result in an improved product on the field across the board. To this end, Murphy suggests that Tony Clark and the union fight tooth-and-nail for 50 percent of revenue shared, or as close to that number as possible.
2. Reinvent Free Agency:
"Baseball should implement some sort of free-agency window, ideally the week before, or after, the Super Bowl. That would allow MLB to take center stage and still give pitchers and catchers time to report to spring training by mid-February."
Murphy cites the NBA's model for free agency as a gold standard that should be emulated. He notes that the lack of urgency in the market is what has turned the hot stove into a cold plate; once upon a time the Baseball Winter Meetings would toss some logs into the fire to keep things warm, but it has been nothing but chilly the past couple of seasons. Turning free agency into something of a sport of its own by adding a clock to the process seems like a sure way to spark contract signings and generate excitement.
3. Change The Draft Order:
"Instead of rewarding teams that finish last, I’d rather reward teams that barely miss the playoffs and work back from there. That would give teams a vested interest in winning every game."
This has been mentioned a few times in the comments section here on Bless You Boys, and for good reason. In short, it would solve multiple problems in one fell swoop: it would disincentivize tanking by removing the reward for accumulating the most losses; it would incentivize teams to play more meaningful games in August and September, making for a much more exciting culmination to a long season; it could potentially add another level of excitement to the summer trade deadlines. This might be the most unorthodox suggestion on the list—especially given that all of the other major North American professional sports generally use the same current model for their amateur drafts—but one that does not directly affect the owners' bottom line.
4. Give Fans A Break:
"Sometimes I wonder if baseball has gotten complacent with signing fat TV contracts and forgotten about its most important resource: its fans. So, how about this: If your team has been eliminated from the playoffs — or is, say, at least 15 games out after Aug. 1 — owners should cut ticket prices in half. Think of it as a more dramatic version of dynamic pricing."
Murphy notes that attendance across all MLB teams dropped below 70 million for the first time in 15 years. Clearly there's a problem, and the cause of this problem is likely multifaceted. Basically, his idea here is to stop gouging fans at the gates—especially teams that are not putting a quality product on the field—and getting more people in the stadiums. A large percentage of people who fall in love with the sport are enamored by the experience of being at a baseball park, whether it's the sunshine and scent of fresh grass in the outdoor venues, or the fan experience provided by the franchise in the better-run indoor venues, regardless of the level of play. Those experiences are much more addictive than staring at a screen and following box scores, and a much better activity for family and friends to bond over. Given that the money generated by ticket sales pales in comparison to TV contracts and other revenue streams, it would behoove teams who have fallen out of contention to take a small loss to invest in its fan base. Not to mention, an empty stadium can be demoralizing to players; keeping butts in the seats could benefit the trade values of current team members and potentially make the team more appealing to free agents down the road.
While these suggestions are not the only avenues for fixing baseball's current woes, they represent the most reasonable and straight-forward options on the table so far; coming from a well-revered former player, they certainly should be taken strongly into consideration. Hopefully, whether it's through Mr. Murphy's vision or another's, baseball free agency dilemma and tanking scourge are solved sooner than later, or else a work stoppage could be in the near future.
Please feel free to post your suggestions and/or critiques for fixing tanking and free agency in the comments section below!
[Edit: The article originally incorrectly stated that nearly one third of MLB teams were tanking, which has been amended to better represent the issue, as well as stating that Dale Murphy is a member of the Hall of Fame, which much to the chagrin of Braves fans, is not true and has been appropriately corrected.]