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The free-agent bonanza leading to the MLB lockout is a good sign for baseball, but there’s work to be done

The day before its first labor stoppage in 26 years, teams handed out more than $1 billion in contracts to free agents.Matt Slocum/Associated Press

Max Scherzer was formally introduced as a member of the New York Mets on Wednesday after agreeing to a three-year, $130 million contract earlier in the week.

The press conference was conducted remotely because Scherzer was in Texas attending what proved to be largely fruitless negotiations between Major League Baseball and the Players Association for a new collective bargaining agreement.

After discussing his decision to join the Mets for a record-setting average of $43.3 million per season, Scherzer was asked for his take on the labor talks.

Max Scherzer, seen during a Wednesday press conference, is one of several stars who have gotten big new deals this offseason.Associated Press

“When you look at how the 2016 CBA agreement and how that has worked over the past five years, as players, we see major problems in it,” Scherzer said.


Scherzer, who is now guaranteed career earnings of at least $354 million, may not be the best spokesman for the players as they seek a bigger piece of baseball’s economic pie.

His timing is a little off, too. Teams have spent roughly $1.8 billion on free agents and contract extensions already this offseason, and that’s with Kris Bryant, Carlos Correa, Freddie Freeman, and Trevor Story still available and the Yankees yet to flex their muscles.

The Cubs, who were supposedly taking a step back, signed Marcus Stroman on Wednesday. It’s all happening.

Some of the most aggressive teams — the Blue Jays, Mariners, Mets, Rangers, and Tigers — didn’t make the playoffs last season. Even the rarely relevant Marlins are spending.

The Red Sox were late arrivals at the pre-lockout transaction party, but made a series of interesting moves as the deadline approached.

They made official the signings of lefthanded starters Rich Hill and James Paxton, then made a stunning trade, getting Jackie Bradley Jr. and two good prospects from the Brewers for Hunter Renfroe.

It was a creative move by Bloom. Bradley is due $9.5 million in 2022 and an $8 million buyout for 2023 unless the team picks up his $12 million option.


That $17.5 million commitment will be somewhat offset by dropping Renfroe’s projected salary of $7.6 million. The Sox essentially bought infielders Alex Binelas and David Hamilton.

Binelas is a 21-year-old corner infielder who was a third-round pick in June. Hamilton, a 24-year-old shortstop, was an eighth-round pick in 2019.

Bradley was one of the worst hitters in baseball last season, but had a .769 OPS in his last five seasons for the Red Sox. Bloom said he could envision Bradley and Kiké Hernández in the same outfield, or Hernández playing more second base than he did last season.

Ultimately, the Sox used their financial resources to add two solid prospects and versatility to the major league roster. They still need relief help but that will have to wait until after the lockout.

Those issues will be thorny.

As teams become more adept at using data to predict performance, players in their 30s are being pushed aside by younger, less-expensive replacements. Only superstar-level talents are positioned to cash in as they age.

That’s fine. But teams should reward those young players by paying them closer to what they are worth. Instead, approximately three dozen players account for half the money paid out in salaries.

Stars get the headlines. But most players have careers like 30-year-old Kevin Plawecki, who accepted a one-year, $2.25 million deal from the Red Sox on Wednesday.


Baseball’s clunky arbitration system for players with 3-6 years of service time needs to be tuned up, if not scrapped entirely. Players should have a quicker path to free agency than a six-year wait.

It’s also bad for the sport that teams have economic incentive to hold young stars in the minor leagues to restrict how quickly they can attain free agency.

New rules are needed to discourage teams like the Baltimore Orioles from tanking as they have the last three seasons. Scherzer raised the point of competitiveness during his press conference, saying it was something every player was concerned about.

They should be. Four teams lost 101 or more games last season. Tankers can’t be allowed to endlessly collect revenue sharing checks and top draft choices. But beyond the competitiveness issue, the players appear to have little interest in improving what has become an increasingly monotonous product on the field.

How will Rob Manfred navigate this offseason?Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

It could fall to commissioner Rob Manfred to implement any new on-field rules. But you’d hope the players will want to have some say in the future of their sport.

The last few days proved baseball is financially healthy and any protracted bickering would be a terrible look for the game. But a December lockout will be forgotten if an agreement is made by late January. That would give all concerned time to finish roster building ahead of spring training.

Peter Abraham can be reached at peter.abraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.