Are international free agents changing the future of MLB?


Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

International free agents have been a staple in the MLB for years, but as of late, they’ve turned into some of the most highly sought after free agents period. With pitchers like Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka getting $100+ Million deals without even stepping on a baseball field it’s only starting to raise the standard for how much these elite players should be receiving.

Tanaka and Darvish aren’t the only ones getting paid either. Players like Jose Abreu (Chicago White Sox, 6-years, $68 million) Yasiel Puig (Los Angeles Dodgers, 7-years, $42 million) and Yoenis Cespedes (Oakland Athletics, 4-year, $36 million) are also getting huge contracts before stepping on MLB turf.

Now there’s no doubting that as of now, those long term and large money deals have worked out for both the team and the player. However, some international players don’t pan out. Take Daisuke Matsuzaka for example. He signed with the Boston Red Sox on a 6-year, $52 million dollar contract (not including a $51 million dollar posting fee). After an impressive 2008 season where Matsuzaka went 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA, things went downhill quick for the former Japanese star, and has appeared in only 31 games since 2011.

Basically, there’s a huge risk stepping into the IFA market. It appears, however, that teams aren’t afraid to take that risk. Every year, there’s another new “can’t miss” foreign superstar that a handful of MLB teams will fight for. This past winter, it was Masahiro Tanaka, eventually signing with the New York Yankees. Just going back five years, you can find countless examples of teams shelling out huge posting fees and long term contracts to acquire the services of these foreign stars.

And yes, this is a great thing for the MLB, as it allows the league to spread it’s influence all across the globe. But will it begin to hurt the standard free agent market?

In the winter of 2013, players like Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Brian McCann all found their way to riches, and rightfully so. Superstars getting their money will never change because of IFA’s, but what about the “second tier” of MLB stars? Players like Nelson Cruz (109 games, 27 home runs, 76 runs batted in during 2013), Stephen Drew (131 games, 13 home runs, 67 runs batted in during 2013), and Kendrys Morales (156 games, 23 home runs, 80 runs batted in during 2013) all found themselves either as late free agency signees or are still on the market. Cruz, one of the best power hitters in the league, didn’t sign until right before Spring Training. He’s only on a one-year deal, making about $8 million on the deal. Drew and Morales haven’t even signed yet, and those are two players that could be serious help to almost any team in the league.

Now, you could say that it’s just that teams are leaning away from free agents, draft pick compensation, and anything of the like. But with the influx of International Free Agents taking over the MLB Free Agent market, could we see a drop off in veteran free agent signings?

Maybe it’s good for the league though. While baseball is already one of the most international-friendly sports in North America, the dominance of free agents coming in from all over the world and becoming instant stars could be good for the spread of baseball’s influence in other countries.

When you look at players like Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu, and Masahiro Tanaka, you realize change is coming, and it’s not from this country.