I saw this headline and although you really can’t get into it too deeply right now – we know so little! – I do think it’s worth sharing and offering a general comment.
Scott Boras: Why Kris Bryant's free agency won't be impacted by economic crisis | NBC Sports Chicago https://t.co/8ghnjqaVxy
— Gordon Wittenmyer (@GDubCub) May 15, 2020
Hey, for Bryant’s sake, I hope Boras is right. And I’ll reiterate that we know virtually nothing about what the landscape will look like THIS offseason, much less NEXT offseason. Obviously there is going to be pain spread out. But maybe it won’t really be that bad …
That said, I’d be shocked if this year doesn’t prove to be a fundamentally transformative event for future free agents, and maybe even future arbitration players, at least for the next couple years.
Even if a season goes off this year, the reality is that MLB owners, in the aggregate, are going to make dramatically less this year than expected. There are anonymously-sourced reports that teams will be losing $100 to $150 million this year, whether there is a season or not. We can debate the particulars, of course, and the players are seeking the owners’ books to answer that question. But I do buy, in general, owners are going to make so much less – or even lose money – than they were previously projecting.
Moreover, when this offseason plays out, do you really think we’re going to know for sure what revenues will look like in 2021? I am guessing that most teams will be projecting worst-case scenario revenues in 2021 (huge hits to gate receipts and associated revenue, even if a vaccine becomes available). Combine that concern with the damage this year, and you could have multiple years of dozens of clubs practicing extreme austerity.
So, then, you’re going to have a huge volume of teams – and possibly all of them – extraordinarily reluctant to make significant financial commitments this offseason. So much so that not only might we see elite free agents like Mookie Betts have to settle for relatively small one-year deals to try again next year, we might see a shocking number of high-profile non-tenders.
Do I think a star like Kris Bryant would be non-tendered this offseason? No, and nor should he be. But I want to make sure people really see the *potential* gravity of the financial disruption to the game created by this virus. Committing $10 to $25 million for any player in arbitration when you have the option not to is going to be a very carefully considered proposition for any team. My read on the situation is that many teams will decide to cut as many dollars from the books as possible this offseason. Like, I think that’s going to be the primary focus for a number of clubs: how can we get rid of as many contracts as possible for 2021? That will mean a lot more non-tenders, and a lot fewer big-dollar, multi-year contracts for free agents.
(For what it’s worth, let me add the obvious: if you’re curious about the trade value of Bryant’s final remaining year of team control, it may have just gone to zero, not only because of his anticipated cost but also because of the now-anticipated further exploding value of prospects. The service time grievance decision and then the pandemic. Trading Bryant was just never meant to be. (And, hey, hopefully he dominates as a Cub for the next two years, and we’ll look back and say thank goodness it played out like that!))
It’s still too early to say what this would all mean for the Cubs, because we don’t know how deep their losses this year will be or what the projections for revenue next year will look like. You’ve got the Marquee launch to consider. You’ve got luxury tax issues. You’ve got a CBA expiring after next year. And you’ve got a boatload of impending free agents after next year. It’s all simply way too convoluted to predict anything with confidence at this point.
That is to say, the range of plausible outcomes with respect to Kris Bryant’s free agency after 2021 are so vast that, while I expect his agent to say what he said, no one can really know. It goes from as nuts low as “Bryant surprisingly is a free agent THIS offseason and has to sign for chump change on a one-year deal” to a nuts high as “actually, everything was much better than expected this year, the revenues all came back next year, and he’s still looking at $200+ million after 2021.” And everything in between is possible.
Like I said, my main point here is only to tee up the possible ways this pandemic and its fallout is going to be so transformative to rosters and free agency and contracts and extensions. The next few years of player transactions might look completely foreign to us before resuming some normal level after that.
For what it’s worth, I will conclude with some of Boras’s optimistic (and interested) take on the markets going forward:
“What it’s going to impact is that there’s going to be major markets who obviously didn’t make money but didn’t lose, and so they’re going to turn around and want to make money next year,” Boras told NBCS, “and they figure their chances for winning a world championship are greater because there may be a lot of clubs that are less likely to invest in major free agents for a year or two.”
“For the players who are the great players — because there’s always only a few great players — I don’t think it’s going to have anywhere near the impact,” Boras said, “because those great players are somebody you would sign for 10 years, and you can defer the cost. You just backload the contracts. You can do things with long-term contracts; you could wait for better times but still get the player for today.
“By the way, if I don’t sign that player, and I wait to sign that same star player when I do have the money in 2023, he’s going to cost me more.”
Of course, even if things did play out like that for major free agents, you can imagine what would happen to the rest of free agency: it will get crushed even more than it has the last few iced out winters.