Free Agency: MLB’s Offseason Spectacle Commences for ’09

The 2008 MLB Season has come to a close: the championship has been decided, the Philadelphia Phillies had their long-awaited parade down Broad Street, their fans satisfied their need to celebrate with random acts of vandalism, and any day now we’ll be seeing commercials on TV of Cole Hamels and company saying that they’re going to Disneyland.

Opening Day 2009 isn’t for another 138 days, so that means we won’t be seeing any action from players and teams until next April, right?

Not quite. Even now, there occurs a spectacle which, in terms of its awe-inspiringness (or lack thereof), can only be paralleled by the New York Mets’ ability to choke in September: free agency.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this concept, free agency is when a player’s contract with a team expires, they put themselves on the open market to see how much money they can get from other teams — go look it up on Wikipedia (someone made a really random/stupid edit under the NBA section).

As for the fans, they can pretty much be divided into two groups. Followers of big-market teams (like New York, Los Angeles, and Boston) with way too much money are no doubt thrilled their teams are willing to throw hundreds of millions of dollars around shopping for free agents, while fans of smaller-market teams with low payrolls are less-than-thrilled to see their star players leave for a better contract from the Yankees or Red Sox. (And for those of you who are appalled by my grouping the two together, it’s true. The Red Sox are turning into the new Yankees — remember the Dice-K bidding — except not as many people hate them.)

While I, as a Seattle Mariners fan (yes, the Mariners of $100+ million payroll and 100+ losses), should fall into the first group, I consider myself a member of the latter. I just have a problem when I see players making more money than they could ever figure out how to use, or when teams spend obscene amounts of money on players, however good they are. Consider this: the MLB’s total payroll this year is higher than the Gross Domestic Product of 34 countries.

But then again, as this season so brilliantly illustrated, money doesn’t always buy success. The Mariners were in the top 10 in salary but finished last in their division, as did the Detroit Tigers. The Tampa Bay Rays, in comparison, had the second smallest payroll but won the American League pennant.

However, even though stories like the Rays this year and the Colorado Rockies last year provide hope that any team can be successful, their young-players-turned-stars will inevitably leave them in search for a bigger paycheck.

So, as I sit here, watching Scott Boras and the rest of the players’ agents turn the MLB offseason into eBay on steroids (both figuratively and literally) and the Yankees make another ridiculous offer to C.C. Sabathia, I can take comfort in knowing that no matter how much the Yankees spend, they will still be terrible — and we’ll have another reason to make fun of them.