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Evan Longoria doesn’t like free agency

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It certainly sounds like he and other veteran players are cool with there being a strike in a couple of years.

San Diego Padres v San Francisco Giants Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Evan Longoria took to his Instagram page this afternoon to lament the current state of this year’s top free agents:

If you can’t read the embed, it’s this:

We are less then a month from the start of spring and once again some of our games biggest starts remain unsigned. Such a shame. It’s seems every day now someone is making up a new analytical tool to devalue players, especially free agents. As fans, why should “value” for your team even be a consideration? It’s not your money, it’s money that players have worked their whole lives to get to that level and be deserving of. Bottom line, fans should want the best players and product on the field for their team. And as players we need to stand strong for what we believe we are worth and continue to fight for the rights we have fought for time and time again.

The backlash in the SB Nation Slack was immediate. We online baseball writers can be pretty sensitive when it comes to attacks on analytics because it comes off as an attack on knowledge and, to a lesser extent, the basis of our livelihoods; but, in this particular case, I think there’s a nugget of truth in Longoria’s complaint. Analytics are definitely being used to constrain or reform the free agent market, just as they’re being used to reshape arbitration and extensions to players still under team control.

The more categories created to “measure” a player’s “value”, the more opportunities there are for players to come up short. And when management has all the leverage — remember, the only leverage baseball players have, either individually or collectively, is to simply not play baseball — it’s not difficult to imagine how statistical analysis of player performance can feel demeaning to the players.

And now, two All-Star 26-year olds (a rarity in free agency) are still unsigned with Spring Training less than a month away. Most fans will say it’s because the players are too greedy and they should be happy to work for minimum wage because they play a kid’s game. Most front offices will say they don’t want to tie up too much payroll or future commitments with one player. And most team owners will say they don’t want to cut into the money they’re hoarding for the upcoming global economic collapse*.

Still others like Online Baseball Writers will say that Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are still unsigned because the conventional wisdom that 26-year old players are in their physical prime is wrong. Players peak at 25 and then it’s a mild decline to 30 and then a steep decline thereafter. Isn’t it convenient that the best years of a baseball player’s life in the analytic world just so happen to be the years when the team has the most control over them?

That’s a feature of baseball’s labor system, not a bug — and that’s a shared perspective. Players have been completely fine with ceding rights and opportunities for six-plus years in order to build a runaway to a huge payday in free agency. Front offices “got smart” and realized they could extract maximum value from the labor market by being as shrewd in free agency as they are in international scouting and service time manipulation.

Look, the thinking has changed in front offices. It hasn’t changed in the players’ minds. They’re still in last century’s mindset. Baseball front offices now view 30+ year olds as huge liabilities. This is the price players pay when the Brian Sabeans of the world leave the front office ranks. Experience doesn’t make up for declining physical skills and spending money with no guarantee of success is bad business. So, here we are.

The players’ mindset needs to change. Longoria’s line “players have worked their whole lives to get to that level and be deserving of” doesn’t work anymore. Deserve’s got nothing to do with it. The teams don’t “deserve” to profit by tanking every year because they still turn a profit. The teams don’t “deserve” anything. Nobody “deserves” anything. Take what you can get when you can get it. If a player’s prime is between 21-25, then that’s when players should be in a position where they can earn the most.

Back to my point that the business of baseball can feel demeaning. Take Craig Kimbrel’s situation. 333 career saves have been rendered meaningless thanks to successful lobbying of the devaluation of that stat. The “closer” never should’ve never become a vaunted position anyway, but it did and Kimbrel got on that track. In the age of entirely specialized bullpens, a closer is no different from any other; hence, no value. Of course, the other factors of a declining K/9 and increasing BB/9 play some role, but let’s not ignore that the role he was groomed for has simply lost most of its value.

Dallas Keuchel’s crafty left act and the fact that he’s already in his thirties works against him a market that believes it can duplicate his performance through cheaper means. Congrats on your Cy Young and thanks for helping us win a World Series, but you’re not getting a six-year deal, bro.

The tables say Machado and Harper’s best days are behind them. That’s a hard pill to swallow no matter what your age, but imagine you’re 25 and told that you’ve already peaked.

Evan Longoria has signaled that the players are awake to the fact that the game has changed. It has always been a business, but now they’re two — maybe even ten — steps behind people who’ve been hired expressly to make the ability to profit extensively from owning a baseball team as efficient as humanly possible. And something has to be done.

Let’s not forget that the sabermetric revolution was based on the premise that players were being valued wrongly and, specifically, that older players were being overpaid for their performances while younger players weren’t being recognized for all the great things that they did.

With luck, the older players will recognize that they need to fall on the sword to save the younger players and the next generations of talent. I would’ve considered that a long shot just 24 hours ago, but now that players are starting to speak up a bit and with yet another week going by with the two best free agents remaining unsigned, I’m starting to change my mindset.

*- this is a dumb rule of three joke, not an intended fact.