In lieu of arbitration, MLB wants player salaries determined by FanGraphs’ WAR algorithm

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With MLB’s CBA due to expire in the coming weeks, the league submitted a new proposal to the Players’ Union. However, those hoping to avoid a lockout should probably temper their expectations with one agent opining the proposal has “zero chance” of passing. “Albert Pujols has a better chance of leading the majors in stolen bases,” that same agent told Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic. “Since when do we let websites have such a direct influence on player salary?”

What the agent is referring to is MLB’s plan to scrap arbitration, instead instituting a universal free agency age (29 and a half), while calculating player salaries based on FanGraph’s WAR (wins above replacement) algorithm, which heavily weights statistics such as walks, strikeouts and home runs. It’s easy to see why players would balk at this concept. For starters, stars like Juan Soto and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. would be at a massive disadvantage, having to wait until 29 to reach free agency despite debuting in their teens and early 20s. Relievers would also see their worth diminished, as FanGraphs' WAR metric doesn’t portray them as favorably because they pitch fewer innings.

But most concerning of all is the shameful but very real prospect of “WAR manipulation,” intentionally subjecting players to suboptimal conditions to reduce their salary. Absurd as that may sound, as we’ve seen with clubs who make a habit of stashing players in the minors to delay paying them, penny-pinching owners are not above these type of salary gymnastics.

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Needless to say, this proposal from MLB will be laughed out of the room in relatively short order. While it’s true “if you don’t ask, the answer is always no,” insulting the union with a low-ball offer—and even that framing may be too kind for this preposterous, pie-in-the-sky proposal—isn’t a good start to negotiations as the clock ticks down to a potential work stoppage next month.

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