1) Develop internally.
3) Free Agent acquisition.
In my chats for Sports Management Worldwide’s Baseball GM Course (those interested in the details of the course may wish to read Ray Mileur’s 4-Part Series on Scouts.com starting today with Part 1), I often explain that the three above points, in that order, is the direction that nearly all clubs – minus those few high-revenue clubs such as the Yankees, or Red Sox – are taking when it comes to developing their rosters. It is that ordering that is in play from Cleveland to Washington. Oakland to Minnesota, and points in-between.
The other point I make often is that clubs are wrapping up contracts more often now – signing players to extensions, which in turn lowers the number of players in the free agency pool. The lower the number of players, the higher the demand, the higher the salaries and contract lengths that are offered players.
When you throw in that this year’s free agent crop is thin to begin with... well, it’s not a stretch to say that we’re all but certain to be on the edge of another off-season of free spending.
What’s thin? Depends on how you view them.
Consider these free agent pitchers:
- Tom Glavine
- Kenny Rogers
- Curt Schilling
- David Wells
What’s the common thread between these four pitchers? All are over 40 (Schilling will turn 41 on Nov 14th).
And below the over-40 level, there’s Livan Hernandez (32), Bartolo Colon (34), and Jeff Weaver (31). Oh, and add in one retiree: Keith Foulke wants back in the game.
Not exactly a bumper-crop that you can use for building beyond a year, maybe two, at the most. Josh Fogg suddenly looks like at least one that will stand out as a pitcher that some teams may see as worth throwing a large sum of cash at.
Position players? Well, there’s Alex Rodriguez, of course, but then there will only be a handful of markets that can really offer up the salary figures Scott Boras is traipsing out there. That means that the likes of Torii Hunter, Andruw Jones, Mike Lowell, Aaron Rowland, and Barry Bonds are out there. But, is this really deep? That’s what the GM’s will be talking about as their yearly meetings kick off this week.
Take this in, as well: players not up for free agency will be hitting the trading block, and I suspect in large numbers. While activity may take time to heat up due to the heavy turnover at the GM positions this year, the thin free agent pool means trade, not purchase, will be the order of the day for most clubs.
Who are the likely suspects? Johan Santana, Dontrelle Willis, Miguel Cabrera, or as Ken Davidoff of Newsday suggests, how about Ben Sheets to name a few?
What has happened over the years is a case of viewing free agency as an inefficient avenue in which to build contenders. It’s a pool best dipped into only when you are a piece or two away from the "Promise Land" of running deep into the post season, and you have positioned your total player payroll structure as such as to minimize the risk of making the massive capital investment in star free agent players.
So back to the top, the emphasis is truly about getting as much traction as you can out of your farm system. That gives you the means to do #2, and then if you have some loose pocket change, you go after a free agent. Maybe “pocket change” isn’t the right word again this off-season. Watch. It will be wads, and wads of cold, hard, cash. Get the neck brace ready. You’re going to be getting a dose of whiplash from doing double-takes at the contract figures offered up this off-season. The fun is about to begin.
Maury Brown is the founder and president of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football and The Biz of Basketball (The Biz of Hockey will be launching shortly). He is also an author for Baseball Prospectus.and is an available writer for other media outlets.
He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted here.