Never shy about speaking his mind, Phillies reliever Pat Neshek sounded off Wednesday on the declining player salaries and glacial pace of MLB free agency, a new norm that no baseball player and few fans can get behind.
It's Feb. 13, the first official day of workouts for pitchers and catchers. And yet Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel — four of the top five free agents on the market — remain unsigned.
So do Marwin Gonzalez, Gio Gonzalez, Carlos Gonzalez, Mike Moustakas, Adam Jones and Bud Norris, all useful players in their own right.
"It's sad to see. It stinks," Neshek told NBC Sports Philadelphia's John Clark. "They want to go cheaper, the front offices. I think we signed a bad CBA, personally."
That CBA went through ahead of the 2017 season and runs through the end of the 2021 season.
The previous year, in the free-agent period leading into 2016, there were 13 players who signed contracts of at least $70 million. Revisiting those deals, 12 of them now look bad. You can see why front offices have become more risk-averse.
Spending is cyclical, but it just doesn't seem like the Jason Heywards of the world will ever again be finding contracts worth $184 million. Pitchers the caliber of Ian Kennedy will have trouble getting $70 million over five years.
It's frustrating for players to see salaries moving in reverse. A lot of this is caused by front-office groupthink around the league.
"When the revenues are going up and the portion that's being paid to the players is consistently declining, there's going to be an issue," Neshek said. "It's going to get pretty ugly. The smart front offices, a lot of those guys might not have jobs anymore because we're not going to have baseball. It's a respect issue."
The other major factor in all of this is the sheer number of teams that would rather be frugal and try to luck their way into a playoff berth rather than spend themselves into realistic contention.
The league-average 40-man roster payroll is $121 million. But there are a whopping 12 teams spending less than $100 million on their 40-man roster: the Rangers, Tigers, Twins, White Sox, Royals, Athletics, Orioles, Blue Jays, Padres, Marlins, Pirates and Rays.
Those last six teams are spending less than $80 million.
There just aren't enough teams that care about winning in 2019. The supply of free agents capable of helping you win hasn't decreased. The demand sure has.
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