MLB: How franchise tags can fix arbitration, save baseball

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 16: MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark speaks during a press conference on youth initiatives hosted by Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association at Citi Field before a game between the New York Mets and the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 16, 2016 in the Queens borough of New York City. The Mets defeated the Pirates 6-4. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 16: MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark speaks during a press conference on youth initiatives hosted by Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association at Citi Field before a game between the New York Mets and the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 16, 2016 in the Queens borough of New York City. The Mets defeated the Pirates 6-4. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /
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Why This Works For MLB and MLBPA Alike

From the point of view of the MLBPA and union president Tony Clark, the advantages are obvious. This system would accelerate the path to free agency for the majority of their members. Well, either the path to free agency, or the significant raise in salary that this is really all about.

Because most players aren’t worth either of these two franchise tag values, teams would be heavily incentivized to either release the player into free agency or to offer early extensions. Deals like the one just offered to pitcher Sandy Alcantara, buying out multiple years of control, would become more commonplace. As would the type of deals the White Sox made with Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert, offering them tens of millions while they still enjoyed rookie status. Teams would have to bet more heavily on promise and potential, and ante up significantly more than the current system requires them to.

For MLB owners and commissioner Rob Manfred, this system still protects them from their reported nightmare scenario of losing a superstar in a bidding war after just a few years in the majors. If a player really has emerged as the next Vladimir Guerrero Jr. or Fernando Tatis Jr., then the team that drafted them can still control them for a full six years. They can also choose to do so while minimizing the financial risk presented by injury or off the field stupidity. It’s the $200 million contract that tends to be reserved for the Dodgers and Yankees of the world; far more teams can handle a one-time $20 million payment to prime Mike Trout 2.0.

With most players knowing they aren’t worth the annual value of either tag, a case could be made they’d be more likely to avoid free agency entirely, and accept a contract offer. Naturally, that offer might not come from the team they finished the previous season with. While any team hoping to contend would be tempted to pay that one year prime superstar price listed above, the middle class caliber of players on lower payroll teams might often find themselves on the move to teams with deeper pockets. Still, more players are getting paid more money sooner. That’s a win.

Now, you might have noticed there is a significant loophole here. While this system might be all well and good for the next three to five seasons, overtime those salary numbers can easily be made to drop. Which is absolutely true, and would absolutely happen. It’s also a problem easily addressed by keeping two points in mind.

For one, this sounds like a problem for Future Rob and Future Tony. Three to five years kind of sounds like the length of a new CBA to me, and at least one baseball blogger would be more than happy not to worry about the economics of MLB for the next little bit. This isn’t geopolitics- temporary peace will be just fine.

But if worry you must, consider that another hot button concern- in some ways the biggest concern- of the MLBPA is service time manipulation. MLB teams keeping their stars in the minors as long as possible, depressing service time because it’s in their financial interest. This double franchise tag system, however…kind of ensures that doing that to younger players isn’t in their best interest at all.

Because the only way to drop those high salary figures attached to the franchise tags is to to promote sooner. Those WAR based tag numbers are a mix of steep veteran salaries and rookie bargains. Take first base, where the $26 million the Cardinals are paying Paul Goldschmidt gets watered down by the league minimum being earned by Guerrero Jr. and the first year arbitration earnings of Matt Olson. Promoting younger players will ultimately be cheaper than not- something front offices have already figured out. And while that is another complaint of the MLBPA, this system still results in less waiting on riches for more players.

Next. How Pay Raise Can Pressure MLBPA. dark

Both sides win. Now if only I had the commissioner’s email address…