MLB – EARLY 2016-17 OFFSEASON PREVIEW, PART 1
As Old Man Winter is setting up shop in most parts of the country, the 2016-17 MLB offseason is officially underway.
That means while nearly all baseball stadiums are in the process of preparing for hibernation, MLB’s front offices are bustling with early offseason activity.
Lackluster Class of Free Agents
Baseball’s GMs will be busy right away dealing with a severe drought of “impact” free agents this offseason, particularly for starting pitchers.
Many experts have reported on the slim pickings and The Sporting News forewarned yesterday it is possible only 1 player could sign a $100+ million contract this year.
Of course, that would be a stark contrast to last offseason when we saw several elite free agents sign deals that topped $200 million.
Instead, we will likely see an onslaught of trades between teams and possibly a few blockbuster deals between several teams.
All of which falls right into the hands of the White Sox and the Tigers who publicized during the GM Winter Meetings earlier this month their desire to rebuild like the Cubs and raze their rosters.
Essentially, these teams plan to make everyone available for trades including several marketable veterans in their primes like Chris Sale, Justin Verlander and David Robertson and power hitters Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, Justin Upton, Melky Cabrera and Victor Martinez.
Word is the Rays are also a team who will get in on heavy trade action this off season as they arguably have the most valuable starting pitching option in ace Chris Archer. Jon Morosi of MLB.com also reported that Tampa Bay is dangling All Star 3B Evan Longoria to help fill many of their needs along with starting pitchers Drew Smyly and Jake Odorizzi.
Teams with deep farm systems and money to burn like the Red Sox, Dodgers, Rangers and to some extent the Yankees would be the plausible landing places for these pricey veterans.
Another matter of importance during the early off-season and that could hold up free agent trading is the renegotiation of baseball’s next Collective Bargaining Agreement. The current CBA is set to expire Dec. 1.
As we speak, MLB and the MLBPA are working feverishly to get the deal done. There is optimism around the league that a work stoppage can be avoided, but there are apparently some issues that both sides need to confer on.
One is an “international draft” that MLB is pushing for, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney. Under the new terms, baseball would move away from signing international draftees as early as age 16 based on a free market system and go towards a 10 round international draft involving players aged 18 as a minimum.
This new system would apparently help regulate negotiations between the players and teams, which in its current state is vulnerable to corruption and has been rumored to create inequities for young hungry talent abroad that are courted as early as age 10 or 12.
Also, the new terms could help to improve frequent imbalances small-to-mid market teams face who are unwilling (or can’t afford) to pay penalty taxes if they go beyond their allotted “international spending pools” like wealthier teams do on a regular basis.
The likelihood is good that such a matter will be approved since it has the backing of MLB commissioner Rob Manfred who has long been in favor of finding a “good competitive balance” when it comes to acquiring amateur talent.
Another issue the new CBA may address is the reduction of the 162 game season down to 154 and adding more off days.
The players union is particularly keen on this idea because of the extensive travel expected of players in just 183 days (the course of the season). But, owners and television networks may have a problem with losing these extra home games from their schedule due to loss of revenue.
Yet another issue on the CBA table is revenue sharing. Essentially, MLB takes a certain percentage of money from the big market teams and disperses it to the poorest teams for the benefit of creating a competitive balance.
In turn, the smaller market teams are supposed to improve their payrolls and/or use the money to benefit player performance.
This arrangement has been working as intended since it was first instituted in the late 1990s and honed down in 2002, but the wealthier teams have voiced their concern that the small market teams are pocketing some of the money and not spending it on their rosters.
The new CBA will likely help to clarify how the funds are being used which ultimately effects the players directly.
A more interesting issue the players union wants to push through is expanding the 25-man roster to 26.
Obviously, the owners don’t love this idea because it means more costs for them, but by adding just 1 extra player onto the roster could open up a whole new dynamic to teams which I think they should consider.
First, it would give the managers more flexibility with their rosters, particularly if there is no approval of reducing the amount of games played each season. Down the stretch, the demands are high on the players, so using the 15-day DL could be eliminated by adding an extra player.
Also, adding in a utility guy or aging veteran would be more possible. This would be a great way to get one on the bench for morale and guidance.
But, something’s got to give. Either this issue comes in or reducing games does. I have a feeling this one will get more consideration.
Pace of Play
In case you missed it, MLB regressed in 2016 with regards to pace of play. The average length of games increased to 3:04 (+.04). That adds up to about 10.8 hours over the course of the season.
This is a jump from 2015 when new rules were introduced to help cut down game time and they actually did shave about 12 minutes last year.
Also, the number of teams that averaged less than 3 hours in 2016 dwindled from 10 in 2015 to just 2.
The pace got even slower this post-season. While it is expected that games in October should go longer, there was a large jump: The last 27 games averaged 3:24, which is more than any other season in history.
Some of the culprits for slowing down games include instant replay reviews which are taking about 96 seconds each and possibly, an increased use of relievers which data suggests is on the rise. Changing pitchers takes time, but also relievers are slower than starting pitchers.
During the MLB Winter Meetings in December, this matter will be discussed. Commissioner Manfred has already indicated that time management is “going to be a constant, ongoing challenge for us… We lost a little bit of focus on the issue this year.”
Items on the agenda for helping improve pace of games could include limiting mound visits and debuting a 20-second pitch clock which has been experimented with in the minors successfully. Apparently, the average game time in Double and Triple-A ball went down an average of 9 to 15 minutes in 2015 after instituting pitch clocks.
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