Is it time for a free agent signing deadline for MLB?

With spring training games beginning this week – Saturday for the Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium versus Boston – some big-name free agents remain unsigned.

We have seen big names sign big dollar deals before with the season only weeks away. The Phillies signed Bryce Harper to a 13-year deal worth $330 million on March 2, 2019.

This can’t be good for the game or the players, wondering where they will be playing this year as teams are already in camp and games are about to begin.

The management of the sport would like a signing deadline of some sort – a time when free agent signings come to an end. Much like the mid-summer trade deadline. The players association is against this and really against anything that they believe limits the players free market in any way. This would not limit their earning power, but it would limit the time they would have to sign a deal.

As of last night, outfielder Cody Bellinger, infielder Matt Chapman and pitchers Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery, some of the biggest names in this free agent class, were unsigned.

At the outset of free agency, projected whopper deals for these players with Bellinger, their No. 2 free agent behind Shohei Ohtani, getting a projected 12 years for $264 million. The prediction was that Snell, the No. 4 ranked free agent, would get seven years and $200 million. Montgomery, No. 6, was projected to receive six years for $150 million, and Chapman was too. He is the No. 7 free agent.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said this last week: "We would prefer to have a free agent signing period, ideally probably in December with a deadline that drove people to make their deals, get things settled. We actually made proposals to that effect, to the MLBPA. They were not warmly received," he said, presumably speaking about a 2019 proposal.

"One of the tactics that's available to player representatives is to stretch out the negotiation in the belief that they're going to get a better deal," Manfred said. "That's part of the system right now. There's not a lot we can do about it. But certainly, from an aspirational perspective, we'd rather have two weeks of flurried activity in December, preferably around the winter meetings."

A deadline makes sense to me. Teams have deadlines to set rosters before the Rule 5 draft, a trading deadline and other dates on the calendar that mark a deadline of sorts.

Imagine the possibility for MLB Network to host a show the night of such a deadline as several huge deals are finalized and announced in the final hours.

One question from the players side is what happens to those signing smaller-dollar deals? Does that deadline end their job search? Do they just not play that season?

A workaround here could be to allow teams to continue to sign minor league contracts and/or to have a dollar amount that a deal could not top, say $5 or $10 million. This would make for a finite date by which the top free agents would have deals. The players and fans would know where they are going.

Negotiate all you want up to a certain date and put an end to all this speculation and uncertainty.

By the way, the big four players still looking for a deal are all Scott Boras clients and that is likely not a coincidence. Some in baseball circles no doubt are not unhappy that Boras may have to squirm a bit right now as he tries to get the best deals for his clients.

While Jose Altuve and Bobby Witt Jr. have signed big dollar extensions this month, the last big free agent signing was when Houston got reliever Josh Hader on Jan. 19 for five years and $95 million.

These big four players still out there just don't seem like a good idea. It's time to begin to put the focus on the field and the players, not on the agents. 

Right now, the players seem to have little appetite for a signing deadline. But they also can't be thrilled that some of the biggest names in the sport don't yet know where they will play this year. 


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