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A look at NBA and NHL free agency should be a wake up call for MLB

The free agency periods for two other leagues have gotten under way today, and it just illustrates how MLB is failing to excite fans.

Philadelphia Phillies v Washington Nationals
Bryce Harper will be a free agent this offseason
Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Whether or not you care about the NBA or the NHL, they started their free agency today and there is a common theme among both sports. That theme is that they’ve found ways to excite fan bases of every team in the league as news and rumors fly in from everywhere in a short period of time.

It’s hard to argue the NBA doesn’t do free agency better than anyone else. Look at ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the man nicknamed Woj is considered the best in the business at breaking news stories league wide.

Look at the retweets and likes of his news as I’ve selected two very different examples. As of writing this, the Paul George news got 75k combined likes and retweets in 12 hours time, despite most of the country being asleeep for over half of that time. George is a big time player so that’s not shocking, but it goes to show how wrapped up the league’s fanbase gets when there is a premier free agent on the market.

Then there is Marco Belinelli news below it. Belinelli is a role player- not a bad thing, but he won’t win a team a championship by himself. The Belinelli news has over 22k likes and retweets in 12 hours. And this is just from one guy, not including the other national guys covering the league or from those around the teams. It’s easy to see how the NBA is doing a great job of marketing itself and it’s players.

MLB free agency has never been like this, as it is usually a more long and drawn out process. Then came last season where many big names were left unsigned until late in the offseason, some until after the start of spring training. Instead of creating excitement, that’s a way to turn fans off which I will get into a little more later.

Market players better

Our editor Eric Cole wrote about how MLB has to market players better in the last two weeks. He was right on the subject. As you see in my Wojnarowski retweets, the NBA does a great job of this. Paul George is a marquee name and that’s why his news received so much interest overnight Saturday into Sunday morning. The NBA markets him and players of his caliber very well. Belinelli as a role player isn’t a guy they market very hard, but even he gets more marketing than say the 7th inning reliever of your typical MLB contender- of course part of that being that NBA rosters and lineups are smaller than what you see in MLB.

I don’t want to go on too much more since Eric already covered this, but MLB has some very good players as well as some very interesting personalities. It’s time for them to do a better job of pushing them.

Create a spending floor

Look at teams in the league that have sucked the life out of their fan bases. The Pirates play in one of the best stadiums in the league but are struggling to draw fans. The Marlins are even worse. Then you have the Rays in a bad location. These teams are struggling to draw fans and one theme among them is that they don’t like to spend more money than they need to. I’m not asking for them to spend like the Dodgers or Yankees, but create a salary floor that every team has to reach.

In the NBA that’s worked very well. I’m a 76ers fan myself and even during the recent tanking they traded salary cap space for bad contracts so other teams could free up room. Today team’s like the Hawks are trying to do this as they tank and try to rebuild over the longterm. I’m not here to debate whether I like or hate tanking, but if teams are going to do it, at least create some excitement for those fan bases to keep them interested.

While MLB doesn’t have the same salary cap as the NBA or NHL, there is a heavy luxury tax and teams have done what they can to avoid repeating the tax whenever possible. Teams like the Rays or Pirates can not only get more involved with free agency, but take on some bad deals in exchange for assets(more on that below).

Trading of Draft picks

The league has to be careful here. The trading of draft picks sounds great, but they can’t allow a team like the Orioles to give away all of their draft picks. I pick the Orioles because of their strategy of punting on signing international players already.

Maybe with the right set of rules to limit how many picks of a certain tier (first round, 2nd-3rd, 4th-5th round, etc) can be traded away over a certain length of time- maybe forcing teams to make a first round pick every other year for example, and you can control some of what is going out.

Now a team like the Pirates can take on a bad contract to help them reach the salary floor and add an extra draft choice for it, or they could be compelled to try to sign some players. Either way there is a reason for the fans to have some excitement because the team is spending money and making moves. For a fan base that was very excited not that long ago that would be a big start.

Remove the loss of a draft pick for signing a free agent

MLB has already cut down on how many players can cost a team a draft pick for signing a Tier A free agent. I say after this past offseason it is time to cut the loss of the picks out all together. It’s clear that a team like the Braves was hesitant to move a draft pick as they weren’t yet competing. If you remove the draft pick penalty then that team no longer has the excuse for not being active in free agency.

I’m not saying that the Royals still shouldn’t get an extra pick for losing Eric Hosmer last year. They should. But don’t take draft choices away from the Padres for signing Hosmer.

In a time where teams value their draft picks and the bonus pools associated with them more than ever, you are just asking for a team to not take action.

Make sure quality players aren’t left unsigned into February

Look at the transactions this year and it’s almost embarrassing.

Lorenzo Cain, January 26

Todd Frazier, February 7

Yu Darvish, February 13

Jaime Garcia, February 15

Eric Hosmer, February 19

Tony Watson, February 19

JD Martinez, February 26

Logan Morrison, February 28

Mike Moustakas, March 11

Jake Arrieta, March 12

Carlos Gonzalez, March 12

Jonathan Lucroy, March 12

Neil Walker, March 12

Lance Lynn, March 12

Alex Cobb, March 21

Look at all of these players that didn’t sign until late. All of these guys are bigger names or guys coming off strong 2017 seasons. Most of them have been All Stars. Yet no one wanted to spend money, and all of these guys had to wait a very long time. You can even argue the biggest free agency wave didn’t hit until three weeks before the season started.

That’s the exact opposite of the NBA. The NBA is creating excitement by getting guys signed fast then marketing them all offseason, while the MLB teams chose to sit back and cause some fans to be completely turned off by the process and some of these guys to need extra time before starting their seasons.

Push back the start of free agency until after the winter meetings

One way to get a bit of a boost is push the start of free agency back a bit. Get the winter meetings in and let teams make their trades and agents talk to teams at the meetings, then start free agency. Turn the winter meetings into the true start of the offseason instead of just the unofficial start.

The NBA and NHL benefit from being able to get everything to happen at once and have news coming in from everywhere. By using the winter meetings as the official start, MLB can also create a news cycle similar to what the NBA does.

Until the MLB decides to make moves to change the way free agency occurs they will continue to lose out on the very excitement that many feel makes the NBA offseason better than anyone else’s.