First, a happy note, as new Cubs reliever Brad Brach is stoked to be opening up the 2019 season with a competitive team, something he hasn’t done in several years.
“When you’re losing so many games,” Brach told Jordan Bastian of his time with the Orioles, “it ends up kind of turning into a Spring Training format …. I just never really excel in those roles. So, coming here knowing that you’re expecting to win from Day 1, it’s exciting.”
Dig it. Although it’s easy to poo-poo, Brach wouldn’t be the first pitcher to go from a non-competitive team and find himself reinvigorated with a contender. We saw it just last year with Cole Hamels and Jesse Chavez and Jorge De La Rosa. Heck, it wouldn’t even be the first time it’s happened for Brach in the last 12 months! After struggling mightily with the Orioles, he dominated after a midseason trade to the Braves. Although he came to the Cubs on a very reasonable deal (one year, $4.35 million minimum, club option and separate player option for 2020), there’s no reason to doubt that he’s going to be a good addition to the bullpen this year.
Oh, but about that reasonable deal. Brach was admittedly working against some down numbers coming out of Baltimore and a very crowded relief market, but given the way his results and velocity rebounded in Atlanta, it seems like he should have been able to land a bigger deal much sooner than he ultimately did. Well, he had some comments on that.
"Then you finally get offers and 6 or 7 teams are giving you the same offer. It's just a weird process and nobody's really knows what's going on right now."
— Tony Andracki (@TonyAndracki23) February 15, 2019
Brad Brach on his free-agency experience: "We talked to certain teams and they told us that, 'We have an algorithm and here's where you fall.' … It's just kind of weird that all offers are the same, they come around the same time. Everybody tells you there's an algorithm."
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) February 15, 2019
Of course, we don’t know just how “same” the offers actually were for Brach, but there’s no way MLB execs aren’t reading that quote without tugging at their collar slightly. It’s the kind of experience that reads like some kind of tacit collusion. To be sure, Brach doesn’t seem to be alleging collusion, explicit or otherwise. But his words will absolutely be seized on by angry players and player reps who are already bothered by the way free agency has played out.
To me, I do think it’s possible that the methodologies for evaluating players and projecting future value could be homogenous enough for certain tiers of players that you’d see very similar offers forthcoming for them among teams. Heck, there are certain guys whose contract offers we can pretty reliably project at the outset of the offseason. But, even still, it seems like there should be a little more variation in the way players are valued for a couple reasons Mike Axisa and I hit on informally on Twitter:
I also don't buy that every player is worth the same to every team in terms of what they can actually get out of him – players generate different value in different environments all the time.
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) February 15, 2019
Of course, the response to our points is a really simple economic one: teams will pay for a player only what the market dictates they have to pay in order to get the player. So even if Team A values Player X at $4 million, and Team B values him at $2 million, well then, the player is probably only going to get like $2.25 million.
Where it starts to feel collusive, though, is when players’ agents can’t seem to bridge that gap a little better and get closer to the player’s true value to the team that signs him. How could Team A know how Team B was valuing the player, and thus know how much they needed to bid? Again, it doesn’t have to be a matter of overt collusion, where teams are sharing information in order to artificially drive down free agent prices and save each other money. In fact, I’ll be honest, that strikes me as pretty darn unlikely. But I do totally get why players and agents would be wondering how and why this is happening in this way, if it (apparently) hasn’t happened in the past.
The teams will say it’s just a matter of data and analysis becoming similar among the various clubs. Could be that simple. But in this environment, players are gonna keep asking the questions.