Why are teams reluctant to sign big name free agents?

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This offseason for the MLB has been one that has seen a big change from offseasons of the past. Usually we have quite a few big name free agents that everyone is watching and expecting to get huge deals. However, recently we have seen a change in teams striving to grow their own talent rather than buy it.

2014 was really the beginning of the change. The Kansas City Royals, who had failed to win the World Series, much less even make the playoffs since 1985, surprised everyone by making a World Series run. People started to take note of how they made it there, as a small market team that was never the buyer of the expensive free agent.

The source of their success was fairly obvious, they were winning with young, talented players, acquired through the draft or by trading away popular stars they couldn’t pay to stay. So many of their players were home grown talents including Hosmer, Moustakas, Gordon, Perez and Ventura. Then you add in the talents they picked up by trading away their previous stars, like Cain, Escobar, Davis and Shields. You put those two groups of young players together and it makes up most of their starting lineup for the 2014 World Series.

In 2014 the Royals didn’t win the World Series but they opened a lot of team’s eyes with what they were doing. Then in 2015 with that same core group of guys they went back at it again. This time, knowing they were poised to make a run, they picked up what were not huge name signings, but instead the right pieces they needed to finish the job. They knew they needed depth at starting pitcher so they picked up Johnny Cueto and Edison Volquez through free agency and making trade deadline deals. The Royals yet again made a playoff run culminating in a World Series. Now other teams had to take note.

And take note they did. Take a look at the teams who have not only won the World Series in the subsequent years but most of the teams who have made playoff runs general. The 2016 World Series Champion Cubs, who had the young stars, Bryant, Rizzo, Russell, Baez and Schwarber. In the offseason they added depth to their pitching in Arrieta and Lester. All of a sudden they are World Series champions for the first time since 1908. The 2017 World Series Champion Houston Astros look almost like a carbon copy of those Royals, having so many young home grown talents in Altuve, Correa, Bregman, Springer, Keuchel, and McCullers surrounded by a few vets that fit the roles they needed to fill.

But it’s not just the teams who have made it to the ultimate goal its all the other teams competing for that pinnacle of the sport as well. You look at the Dodgers who made it to the World Series against the Astros, The Yankees who lost to the Astros in the NLCS in 2017, the Red Sox, the Nationals, you could go on and on.

With the success of all these teams without the huge free-agent signing, many GM’s are trying to imitate the 2014/15 Royals and all the other teams who have had success following their plan. Not with signing big names for huge money and long contracts, but instead by growing their own stars. The era of the big name free-agent signing is coming to an end as the era of the farm system and young stars takes over. The turnover in the league has never been quicker meaning the likelihood of big contracts for free agents getting later into their careers is getting lower and lower.