For most major American sports, free agency season almost always brings about the most discussion and tension amongst fans, insiders and analysts alike. Almost every season, at least one big name player’s contract runs out and speculation about their next destination runs rampant–sometimes even months before the window actually opens up.
Some seasons are ones for the record books.
In 2010, literal years of speculation over where some of the NBA’s biggest names–including LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson and several other game changing players–finally came to a head. That summer saw the formation of Miami’s Big 3 and several other marquee players change jerseys and zip codes.
Depending on the people you’re discussing the issue with, you probably will hear two different approaches to free agency. One belief believes that free agency doesn’t start until the first major contract is signed, dictating the salary demands and contracts of similar players. The other sees free agency as an open market with little to no order.
In truth, they’re both right at times.
When looking at free agency across the major sports in America, several factors help shape the market and much of the league’s demand.
At the end of the day, all markets are want vs need. In the NBA, the game saw a massive change when the largely small ball Warriors upended the league and its big men with a largely perimeter shooting approach to win last season’s trophy. That resulted in some teams changing their free agency philosophy. With several talented bigs on the market, some teams opted for different skilled position players. Certainly bigs like Greg Monroe and Robin Lopez found new homes, but did the market change after the Warriors brought their approach to the forefront? It’s hard to argue against that. Similarly so in Major League Baseball, some offseasons may see power hitters or ace pitchers fly off the market with massive deals. In other years, some of the biggest names will be some of the last signed. As Mike Axisa of CBS Sports explains, the MLB saw several different patterns form over the last few free agent periods, debunking much of the belief that the market waits on its biggest names.
Another big man from last season’s NBA free agent class, Marc Gasol, represents why the market doesn’t always wait for the big contract ink to dry. This past offseason saw huge names like Gasol, LeBron and Manu Ginobili mostly stay put with their old teams. When looking at how the order of deals went down this past summer, it appears that most teams knew this would be the case and opted to make complementary players more the priority. While some large signings came early on–including DeMarre Carroll joining Toronto and Brandan Wright joining us in Memphis–the biggest chip of the season, LaMarcus Aldridge, took a few days to sign. Certainly some teams waited for his decision, mostly hoping Aldridge would choose their club, while others swooped in for other options.
This can also be said in the NFL and NHL. The last NFL offseason certainly saw lots of names moving around at all different times during the window. 2014’s rushing leader, DeMarco Murray, weighed his options for a while before signing with Philadelphia in the middle of March–after a flurry of rumored signings for both sides. This happens at times. In other instances a player may overestimate their market and remain on the sidelines for a while before getting an opportunity from a team in need due to injury or lagging performance from the current roster. Other times, a player may be coming off a bad reputation and will have to deal with a declined market interest.
In short, while the marquee players and contracts certainly do dictate the temperature of the market, they don’t hold the rest of the market in a freeze until they sign. Depending on the circumstance, teams and free agents may take the plunge early, or hold off to see how the market shapes up over the window.
via Keith Allison
In almost all of our daily lives, whether it be for work or personal, involves some degree of risk assessment. From our want to sleep an extra half hour before getting ready to work to buying a new home to deciding if it’s time to look for new work or keep pushing through at your current job, risk assessment is crucial to all of us.
But we tend to forget that when it involves our favorite team. I’m not here to scold or chastise anyone because I’ve certainly done the same as a sports fan myself.
It’s tough, I get it. When your team drafts a player you didn’t want, a free agent goes bust or your team stands still at the trade deadline when you feel they needed that boost at a key position you want to voice your frustration.
“How does [so and so] have their job?!”
“I could do better than them!”
“What a bum!”
These are all things you may have said or heard–especially if your team fails to meet expectations for the season. So, allow me to play devil’s advocate for a second. As a fan, you are entitled to your opinion just like everyone else. However, do you really know what a GM’s (or the applicable person in the organization) job entails? It may surprise you to find out what goes into their job when it comes to assessing and managing risk. For the sake of this article, we’ll say it’s the GM making the calls but it could be others making these decisions.
Remember, as the late Flip Saunders told Vice Sports last year, “The overriding aspect of my job is putting a product on the floor that can be perennial playoff contenders,” he says. “We’re all in this to win a championship.”
When it comes to drafting the right player, a litany of needs, wants and demands make up a team’s decision. Not everyone will be happy–possibly even within the organization. From elite drafting franchises to those with spotty track records, selecting the right rookie to build up your club is one of the riskiest times in a GMs year. Take the 2014 NBA rookie draft class. It was packed with talent and potential. So far, the youngsters have taken a little more time to flourish in the league. Thus, some critics and fans have already written the entire bunch off as busts. Could they be right? Maybe. But it could also be age, a factor a GM has to explore. Rookies coming to the NBA, for example, have to adapt to a much more grueling schedule that tires them and potentially allows more room for injuries to occur than during their college seasons. Maturity can also be a factor, as well as the player’s immediate availability in the case of foreign players. These all go into consideration just as much as the player’s skills do.
Then there’s trades. Depending on the league, you may see more movement during the offseason or midseason. Additionally, even if your team had an agenda going into the season, an injury or contract impasse could result in needing to shift the roster to anticipate for short and long-term goal restructuring. In baseball, for example, Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman is likely on the phone as early as right after the June draft. Brian will likely end up fielding and sending a multitude of emails, calls, texts and meetings during exploratory talks with other teams over our’s and their needs. From there, the GM community likely will be in constant communication to discover who is available now, who is after the nonwaiver deadline, the Winter Meetings and other pertinent information. Sometimes this will result in deals being done while others fall through.
Regardless, the GM has to analyze every element from timing to chemistry to financial flexibility. It may seem easy when inputting your fantasy trades into a trade simulator like you’ll find on ESPN.com, but the intangibles make it much harder.
Shifting focus to free agency, a GM has to analyze and compete with other GMs in a slightly different way than they do during trade seasons. Now, the open market can augment your approach in several ways. In the NBA, the rise of the “poison pill contract” causes increased anxiety for countless GMs as they determine if matching a team’s offer sheet is in the best interest of the team. If they fail to sign the player, fans could be upset and the team may have lost a huge amount of financial flexibility in the years to come. But if they do sign the offer sheet, or sign other players that fail to meet expectations, scrutiny will fall on the GM in the immediate and long-term if the player is signed to a lucrative, long-term contract.
What if your GM has a relatively quiet free agency window? What if they don’t make many moves, or add low key acquisitions? They may receive scrutiny early and often until the team actually reaps the benefits in a few seasons.
In short, fans certainly have the right to their opinion when it comes to their team’s roster moves. But just like we do in our own lives, sometimes our assessments are off. It’s tough to have patience when our teams make mistakes, but if they only happen once in a while, maybe cut them some slack just this once.