Justin Verlander, Paul Goldschmidt, Buster Posey and Adam Wainwright all signed extensions for five years or more in the past week. Of them, only Wainwright had free agency to look forward to after the 2013 season. Goldschmidt and Posey are still arbitration eligible but now are locked up through most of the next decade. Verlander had signed a five-year extension back in 2010 for $80 million. On top of that, Elvis Andrus is finalizing an eight-year extension for about $120 million. These are just a few of the many that have signed extensions with their current team this past offseason. With more players being locked up before they hit the open market, are we witnessing the death of free agency?
Jonah Keri believes it is "marching towards irrelevance." Players that hit free agency are still likely going to fetch decent money but the best players aren't going to be available. It's a growing trend that players are fetching long-term extensions that keeps them on their respective teams during their prime production years. Just look at the players that will be available to throw money at after this season. Barring extensions between now and then, there will be only nine players available that are under 30. Of them, only Phil Hughes has had a season worth more than 2 fWAR since 2009, though there are some high upside players such as Josh Johnson, Matt Garza, Tim Lincecum, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann who will be just entering their 30's.
Keri suggests that the decline of quality free agents will lead to an emphasis on scouting, drafting, and player development for all teams.
Think about it. A rich team might want to trade for Price, but the Rays won't listen unless multiple elite prospects are in the deal; the Dodgers and Yankees, to name two theoretical suitors, don't have the kind of prospect depth to set up a Price trade, followed by the inevitable $150-$200 million contract extension. And while the new caps on draft and international spending amount to a naked cash grab by the owners and can hurt lower-revenue teams who know how to win, they might also make the Dodgers and Yankees think twice about going way over budget - because of the other draft picks they'd stand to lose far more than the monetary penalties. All of that means the teams that do the best job of building from within stand to benefit the most: They'll have the best prospects to offer whenever the rare Price becomes available, and the best players at whom to throw massive sums of money, to ensure they don't hit the free-agent market until they're roughly 47 years old.
Payrolls aren't going to magically shrink. Most of the players that are signing these extensions are still getting paid at or above market value. If you want to improve your team, it's becoming harder to just buy a marquee free agent who will provide decent value for years to come. Free agency normally included overpays for marginal talent. Now, we're likely going to see even more as the premier players will be locked up with their current teams.
What do you think? Is this just an exaggeration brought on by the recent extensions or is free agency really trending towards irrelevance?