The Baseline: Free agents

Story by Emily Gresbrink

I love free agents. I really do.

Free agents are those guys that come and go from team to team after their contracts expire. They’re also the ones that can cause bloodthirsty, cutthroat battles between teams.

Kidding! But … maybe not.

Free agents are ideal because they play a number of important roles on a major league team. What are those roles, you may ask? Well, let me explain:

1) They can fill in the gaps/weak spots on teams. Free agents are nice because a team can build from what they already have and then use newly-signed players to fill in the gaps. For example, let’s say a team has a few very strong starting pitchers under contract but no super-quality relief pitchers. You can simply pick up a free agent relief pitcher or two for a small contract (or a bigger one, depending on finances) and voilà! They’ve been coming out of the bullpen for years, which gives a team needed experience and depth. Free agents prevent thinning out of team positions and can provide flexible options for when players fall ill or are injured.

2) They aren’t necessarily as costly as acquiring a player already under contract. We could talk for hours about that certain overpaid New York team whose name shall not be mentioned or the extremely pricey contracts of highly-desired players in trade circuits. But what if your team needs more players (or even more backup players), and money is tight? Go shopping for a free agent. Often their contracts can be shorter and cost much less.

3) They more than likely have been well-seasoned on one or more teams for a number of years. There’s a certain criteria you have to meet in order to be a free agent, which basically guarantees that the player will be decent — well, as long as you get a type A free agent, they’ll be good. Type B players aren’t necessarily horrible either, but unranked players generally aren’t the cream of the free-agent crop.  Free agents have usually been playing for quite some time, given the service-time requirements to reach free agency. Experience is always great, but make sure you get quality players.

But the three things that stink about them?

1) They’re usually old. Age is kind of a big deal in baseball. If you’re old, it can mean more injuries and more time in the dugout rather than on the field. And honestly, that’s not economical or emotionally satisfying for the individual or the team.

2) The distribution of positions is often unequal. Let’s look at the 2013 list of free agents: I have never, ever seen so many right-handed relief pitchers in one place in my life. They could fill up an Eau Claire bar on a Saturday night. Seriously. What if your team needs a good shortstop, or good pinch-hitter? It’s like going to a store, and they’re out of your size. It just sucks and can really throw a wrench into your team’s plans. This leads to fighting … which leads to the last thing.

3) Legal snafus! Ah, bidding wars: Overbidding on a free agent can lead to a decrease in team profit (and therefore less attention to contracted players who may need it) and animosity between unions. Especially after 2011’s free agent contract overhaul, where they’ll soon stop classifying by type (but I do still classify, just to keep “quality tab,” if you will). So literally, the majors will turn into Storage Wars: Let’s fight for a bit about how this old thing is worth any money and wonder what profit we can turn from it. And for all they know, it could be a bunch of quarreling for something not worth their time.