Comparing the pace of MLB’s offseason to the NBA’s is unfair


Winter meetings are not a modern tradition in Major League Baseball.


Nor were Winter Groanings, the annual chorus of complaints about the pace of player movement out of season. Every November, teams and fans inevitably await the biggest freestyle big-name clients to find a new home—a process that sometimes takes months, not days or weeks. Just as inevitable, grumbles arise when someone compares the process to the NBA’s annual free agent insanity. Why hasn’t he signed (insert the big free agent) yet?

The short answer is always the same: every off-season has its own pace. Sometimes the player market develops slowly, such as a low-scoring nine-inning game. Sometimes players and teams want to strike fast and end the suspense.

More than any answer, I’m intrigued by the question – mainly because I think it’s bogus.

I was recently Alerted to list Top players from 2018-22 ranked by FanGraphs WAR. The list was shared to highlight the dominance of Angels Mike Trout and Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees, who are second and third respectively, despite appearing in less than 80 percent of their teams’ games over the past five years.

The list piqued my interest for a different reason: only eight of the top 24 players have stayed with the same team for all five seasons. Good players, or at least good hitters, seem to change teams a lot these days.

So why doesn’t it seem so? Do business agreements in other leagues — specifically the NBA, the gold standard for free-agent machinations — really do more to enhance player movement than MLB does?

To try to answer, I took a quick look at whether the same roster would show the same degree of player movement in the NBA, followed by a deep look at the baseball players who actually change teams (and when).

Take the top 21 players war (baseball) f Pie (Basketball) It goes back to the beginning of 2021. In the NBA, that would have seen the entire past season and almost a month of games this season. We can argue about which players should have been in the top 21, but it’s a useful shot at the game’s elite. Why 21? There was a two-way tie for 20 in MLB.

Of the 21 best NBA players, nine have switched teams once in the past five years.

Of the top 21 MLB players, eight have switched teams once in the past five years.

Hmm. There isn’t much difference, or so it seems. If these were the top 21 players in every league right now, you could say that the best baseball players are almost as likely to move as the best basketball players. And guess what? The eight baseball players who changed their addresses did so in the off-season; There were no deals in the season between them.

There are two obvious problems with this reasoning.

For example, hundreds more players appear in MLB games each season than they do in the NBA. List sizes are larger. There is more player movement between the majors and the minors than in the NBA and J-League. As a percentage of each league’s total population, you’d expect more baseball players to change teams.

Secondly, look at Sandy Alcantara. He was one of the 21 best players in baseball in 2022 (in fact he was the 3rd best player, according to Baseball Reviewer). He’s changed teams in the past five years, but you’d be forgiven for missing out. He was still a minor league prospect in the 2017-18 season when the St. Louis Cardinals traded him (and pitcher Zack Gallen, among others — whoops!) to Miami for Marcel Ozuna.

Too many leads circulate each year, too many for the average baseball fan to follow. Some of them come out. Most of them don’t.

Is this why we demand more movement each season? Or is it something else?

One of the reasons why there isn’t more player movement in MLB is that long-term contract extensions have been in vogue lately. Ten of the 18 longest contracts in MLB history They are accessories signed with the player’s original team. Of the other eight, only three have arrived in the last five years. In other words, if you’re one of the few players signing a 10-year contract these days, chances are it’s with the team you’re already playing for.

This list doesn’t even include long-term extensions signed by Ronald Acuña, Uzi Alpes, Christian Yelich, Miguel Cabrera, Louis Robert, and Tim Anderson, to name a few. There is at least one future Hall of Famer on that list. They all still earned that extra money, denying them a recent opportunity in free agency.

Most fans are for teams re-signing their first-choice players – count me in that group – so perhaps the reason for the winter grumbling is something else.

Another recent phenomenon: allegations of poverty by small market teams who cry the poor into paying eight-figure salaries to arbitration-eligible players, then trade them away. So let’s take a look at a specific type of player move: elite players with less than six years of service time.

To get a sense of this trend, I looked at the top 20 seasons for players by hitters and pitchers who had not yet reached free agency from 2018-22. Then I looked at the same groups from 1998-2002. Why 1998? This was the first year of the 30 team era.

Sure enough, among this subset of players, there was actually less player movement 20 years ago. From 2018-22, 15 of the top 20 player seasons were by hitters who were playing at their home organization. Of the other five, two were being traded as leads; The exceptions are Yelich, Kettlemart and Mitch Heinger.

From 2018-22, only 12 were top 20 seasons for players by pitchers playing in their home organizations. Three of the remaining eight players were traded as prospects, including current Seattle Mariner Luis Castillo, who was traded four times before making it to the major leagues!

From 1998-2002, 18 of the players’ top 20 seasons by hitters were on their first team. And 14 of the players’ top 20 seasons have been by their first team hitters.

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