Let MLB players hit free agency sooner


Matt Escamilla, Staff Reporter

The MLB payment structure has players play six full seasons before they can go into free agency. That needs to change. Over the last two off-seasons, free agency has been a bust. According to Matt Kelly of MLB.com, there are 150 free agents who remain unsigned this off-season.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, it was normal for players to hit free agency when they were 28-30 years old. David Ortiz was 27 years old when he signed with the Boston Red Sox after being released by the Minnesota Twins.

According to Baseball reference, Ortiz made about $159.5 million during his baseball career.

Alex Rodriguez was 25 when he signed with Texas for 10 years, for $252 million. He was 18 years old when he played his first game as a Mariner.

In today’s world, players start playing in the majors quicker than in the past. The top two position players in free agency this year are Bryce Harper, who’s 28 years old, and Manny Machado, who’s 26. Teams aren’t willing to give players in their 30s a long-term deal (five years or longer) anymore. Craig Kimbrel, a World Series champion and former Boston Red Sox closer, will be 31 years old in May. He reportedly wants a six year contract, meaning he will be 36 years old when the contract ends. He won’t get that long of a contract unless a team is just looking to make headlines in the media.

I would make players play three full seasons in the majors before hitting free agency. It gives players a shorter time to wait for the big payday. It helps the teams as well. If the teams know they have a Bryce Harper or Felix Hernandez they can plan and pay them accordingly. Hernandez was 19 years old when he made his MLB debut. The Mariners could have signed him to a legit MLB contract, say five years for $50 million. If the Mariners didn’t want to sign Felix to that large of a deal, they could have waited until he was 21 years old to discuss a new contract.

On the contrary, if teams only have three years until players can hit free agency, how does the three year system protect a players original team from losing him in free agency to teams like the Yankees, Dodgers or Red Sox?

In response, I would put in a franchise tag system like the NFL to stop big market teams from signing another teams player without having protections in place for the players original team.

If a player starts to move up at 22 years old and proves himself to be a legit major leaguer, then he would ideally hit free agency around 24 or 25 years old. The team he’s on can either sign him to a new contract or use the franchise tag, which would pay him top-dollar based on his position that year. I would allow a team to franchise tag a player in each of the next two years, meaning that player would still be under the original team’s control until he’s 26-27 years old.

Top talents like Bryce Harper and Felix Hernandez will always get paid, but this free agency adjustment is for the rest of the players who can’t find a job because either they’re too old or waiting for the free agent market to heat up.  The reason the NBA and NFL are so successful is that the players hit free agency younger than MLB. If MLB wants to gain viewership and stop the narrative of being a local sport, meaning fans only watch if their team is involved, then the players’ union and owners need to change the free agency system.