MLB Offseason: Baseball Trends, Free Agents, and the New CBA

GRAEME GALLAGHER | SPORTS CORRESPONDENT

The 2016 Major League Baseball season was one that will be remembered for a long time, especially for one of the most significant postseasons in modern times.  Because of this, it is important to review the season and to see where the sport is headed as we already begin to peek at what is to come next year.

From a statistical perspective, the 2016 season can be labeled by homeruns, strikeouts, and defensive shifts.  Two years ago, average runs scored by a team per game was 4.07, marking the lowest amount since 1976.  However, in 2016, runs increased to 4.48, which is a 10 percent increase from two years ago.  The main cause for this can be attributed to the long ball.  Home Runs jumped 35 percent in two seasons and accounted for an average of 40 percent of runs scored in 2016.

One of the most interesting takeaways from this year is the amount of shifts used and their effectiveness.  When shifts started getting tracked in 2010, 2,463 were used.  This year, the number grew remarkably to 28,131 defensive shifts.  Clearly, managers have liked the use of shifts and for good reason.  Batters who faced a fully-shifted infield had a batting average of only .229 and it is estimated that the shift saved 359 runs over the course of the season.  It is likely that this trend will continue into next season making shifts more and more meaningful.

Another development we saw in baseball came during the postseason and this is the “Multi-inning Super Reliever.” Cleveland Indians relief pitcher Andrew Miller was the catalyst for the emergence of this idea.  Throughout the postseason, Miller entered the game in high impact situations and pitched multiple innings at a time.  He did this on short rest and still was one of the most dominant pitchers in the postseason.  Based on this, baseball front offices are starting to play with this idea of having a reliever being able to pitch multiple innings every couple of days.  Normally, relief pitchers would just come in to pitch an inning or face a couple of batters, but this idea changes the bullpen as we know it.  Front offices can now target failing starters, just like Miller, and can forge them into these new breeds of relievers.  The undenying question is whether or not this will overwork relievers.  Will throwing multiple innings every couple of days lead to more injuries? Or will it help to bring out the full potential bullpen pitchers have?

Looking into the offseason, owners will be looking at these trends for last year and also the free agent market in order to see who they can pick up to benefit their team.  On surface, this free agent market is one of the worst in recent years.  There is not a lot of depth and certainly not much starting pitching.  The majority of players fall into the outfield or can be designated hitters.  Already, we have some free agents find their new home.  Yoenis Cespedes, considered the number one free agent by many, has returned to the New York Mets and Josh Reddick, a big outfield bat, has gone to the Houston Astros.  But, many talented players still remain out there for the taking.  Outfielders Mark Trumbo, coming off his best year of his career, Edwin Encarnacion, and Jose Bautista will be on many teams’ minds for the rest of the winter and it will be interesting to see where they go.

However, all of this free agent buzz and offseason deals almost came to an abrupt end last week.  The Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) for baseball expired on Thursday and negotiations between player representatives and owners were not going to plan.  Many started to grow nervous over the possibility of a lockout if an agreement could not be made.  Fortunately, just four hours before the deadline, a new CBA for the next 5 years was reached.

The agreement did fundamentally change baseball, but had some important differences worth noting.  One of these changes was that the All-Star Game will no longer decide home field advantage in the World Series.  Before this, whichever league won the World Series (AL or NL), the team belonging to the winning league would get home field advantage.  Now, this is no longer the case and it is not known yet how home field will be decided.  It will be interesting to see if this will decrease popularity in the All-Star Game because it no longer has that implication.

Another important change to the CBA was the introduction to the 10-day disabled list.  In the past, it was 15-days and that has made decisions on putting a player on the DL very stressful.  10 days will make it more flexible for starting pitchers who now only have to miss one or two starts.  The agreement also made a change to the international bonus pools for teams.  Recently, international players coming to the MLB have been receiving a lot of money from rich teams and this hasn’t given smaller market teams a chance to get them.  The agreement sets a cap of about $5 million for international players.  This gives smaller teams a chance to get some of these new talents, but some of the old obstacles remain. For example, it is unlikely that a rising international player will sign with a struggling team such as the Padres, when they can go and play for the Red Sox or Dodgers.  In addition to this, the millions of dollars that were spent on international players and coaches that develop them will fall into the pockets of owners.

Even though the baseball season just ended last month, next year’s action is already getting started.  With a new CBA agreement, free agents still on the market, and managerial decisions to be made, the 2017 baseball season looks to as exciting as the last.

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