The World Series ended in dramatic fashion as it took the last game of the series for the San Francisco Giants to finally beat the surprisingly pesky Kansas City Royals. Baseball is officially over until April. However, the people running the front office of each team, including the General Manager (GM), President of Baseball Operations, or their assistants, do not get the luxury of sitting on their couches and relaxing until the season restarts, contrary to their players. In fact, their work is just beginning. The MLB off-season consists of calls, negotiations, and hoping that all this hard work ends in a press conference about the signing of a player who you hope is worth the money you threw at him. This is how the front office staff shows their worth to owners of the team. There are many other facets to dealing with players that are already a part of your team and ones that are looking for a home, so I’m going to add some insight and explain how a MLB team conducts their off-season.
A Qualifying Offer is a complicated, one-year contract proposal that a team offers a player that is going to be a free agent four days after the World Series. It’s one of the first legal matters that a team has to deal with; I’ll try to explain it in the simplest way I can. The Qualifying Offer is what the league Commissioner and Player’s Union believe to be the fairest way for a team to try to retain a player before other teams are able to negotiate with said player. It also gives that team some kind of compensation if that player does decide to leave in search of a bigger contract. That compensation is the highest draft pick that the new team, the one that signs the free agent player, has to give to that player’s former team. However, the top ten picks of the first round in the following season’s draft are “protected,” meaning that those teams will not lose their picks and will have to give up their highest second round pick instead. Teams are not obligated to offer a pending free agent player a QO; I’ll explain the thought process behind it in the next paragraph. Also worth noting, players that are pending free agent players that are traded during the year are not eligible for a Qualifying Offer.
Obviously, there is money involved with the Qualifying Offer for the player. The value of the offer is the average annual value of the top 125 player salaries. So for this year it is $15.3 million. It has steadily risen since the QO was adopted in the 2012 season and it’s only going to get higher, so teams are hesitant to offer any player that is leaving due to free agency. The main reason a team doesn’t offer a player a QO is because they aren’t worth that price and you don’t want to severely over-pay a player because they might accept that offer. Basically, if the original team doesn’t think a player is worth that much money, then any other team won’t think that player is worth their highest pick in the draft. From a player’s point-of-view, if you know you are a good player and the league views you as one too, there is no reason to accept a QO because you can easily find a contract that will pay more. It may not be the same average annual salaries, but a higher guaranteed dollar amount over the course of years.
Arbitration isn’t as complicated as a QO, but it’s just as important for teams. Instead of having to deal with free agents and their rising salaries, Arbitration involves the younger players, in terms of years played or “service time” in the MLB, and their low salaries. The best way for a team to make sure they have room in their budget to sign free agents is to keep their costs low with younger more inexpensive players, but after 3 years of service time, those players are entitled to salary arbitration, which is a fancy way of saying, “you can negotiate your pay.” I should first mention that after 6 years of service time, players become a free agent. Before that happens, players can negotiate with their team on the amount the player’s salaries should be. If the team and player agree then the salary is effective after the upcoming season. Also worth mentioning that teams can negotiate a contract extension which would nullify arbitration processes permanently and that player would become a free agent after their extension is over. If both parties are not able to come to an agreement, they would have to send their salary requests to an unbiased arbitration panel. Both parties then have to attend a hearing, in which the team and the player both state why they believe their requests should be set to the specified amount. After hearing both sides and analyzing the performance of the player during the past year, the panel awards the player with the salary they think is more appropriate: the player’s or the team’s. The player just wants to get paid what they think is right, where the team wants the same thing, while keeping the cost of the young player down before having to commit more dollars to that player or other players.
Trades are common occurrences within all major sports so there isn’t much more to talk about that most people don’t already know. The main difference between trades that happen between the MLB and other sports like the NFL is that baseball has a lot more to offer than the typical player-for-player or player-for-draft-pick trades that happen in football. Baseball has a “minor” league which consists of younger and older players, mainly younger, that are playing against lower level or equal competition to try to hone their skills before they make it to the big leagues. The players that show exceptional baseball skills are referred to as “prospects” and they are valuable to many teams because you can’t have enough young players that are projected to make a big impact when they make it to the big leagues. Also, as I explained in “Arbitration,” having young, impact players can keep costs down for many years and gives a team a better chance in keeping all of their good players together. Trades are designed to help both teams fill a need that they cannot do by themselves, so each GM takes a risk, which can consist of a major league player, prospects, draft picks, or a combination of all.
Signing a player from a team point-of-view involves factors like money, an open position, and sometimes draft picks, but it’s mainly about money. There is no limit on how much payroll a team can have, but that doesn’t mean that every team can spend money like it’s always available. There are teams where money isn’t an issue like the L.A. Dodgers or the N.Y. Yankees and teams where ownership only has room for twenty-percent of what the big market teams can offer. This is really where the front office shows their ability to field a team come April, and can hopefully show ownership that they can compete with every other team.
Agreeing to a contract from a player POV involves factors like money, location, and their chances of getting to the playoffs. Money is always a factor because a player isn’t going to play for less than what they think they should be paid or less than what the highest bidder if offering. However, what most people forget about is that these players still have their own “agenda.” This agenda can consist of factors, such as how close they are to their families because for about half a year, they will be traveling to different states. Family time is extremely valuable to some players and that can mean more than money, especially when family time is far and there is few between. Winning the World Series is also always in the back of the mind of every player. Any player that mentions that winning it all at least once in their life isn’t important is probably lying because there is nothing better than saying that at least once in your life, you were part of the the best of the best.