The 2019 MLB offseason has been a slog. Pitchers and catchers have reported to Spring Training and ​Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, who were supposed to fetch record-breaking deals, both remain unsigned. As a result, the free agent market has basically frozen for all players and many free agents have been either forced to take discounts or remain unsigned.


However, this is not the first time that we have seen a lack of offseason spending. Last year, teams were also unwilling to commit big money to free agents, leading some to claim that MLB owners and front offices were colluding against the players. But even after last season, this year's market is still awful in comparison, ESPECIALLY compared to 2017.

Also, if you look deeper into the numbers, considering payroll doesn't tell the entire story behind free agency, we can see that MLB teams, according to Spotrac, spent $1.39 billion on free agents in 2017 compared to $1.47 billion in 2018 and $1.07 billion in 2019.


Free Agency Spending

To get a broad sense of the money available to spend, it is necessary to look at league-wide spending. In 2018, the Boston Red Sox led the league in payroll with $227,398,860. This season, however, the Red Sox have only allocated $221,042,500 to their players...and that's AFTER winning a World Series. 


While that $6 million may not seem like a big deal, that's enough to sign a quality bullpen arm, such as ​Justin Wilson, who signed with the New York Mets for two years and $10 million. However, rather than spend the money, the Red Sox stood pat most of the offseason.


In addition, the average MLB team has $122,666,385 committed to 2019 thus far. While this number will rise slightly once the rest of the free agent field is signed, it pales in comparison to last season's figure of $139,369,994.


At this point, one could reason that team spending has decreased because last year's free agent class was deeper beyond Harper and Machado. However, we also thought teams were holding back last year to save up for this year's star-studded class, but that didn't happen either. That proves something is up.


The Arbitration System and Tanking

Teams also may want to begin saving money to have enough to lock up their arbitration-eligible players once they hit the open market.


The reason this is more of an issue now that ever before is the league has constantly gotten younger. Rather than players spending most of their early 20s in the minors like they used to, players are now developing at the big league level and setting records in the arbitration process. Kris Bryant set the arbitration record for salary for a Super 2 player last year and Mookie Betts and Nolan Arenado made $20 million or more in arbitration this year, both of which are MLB records.


So that eliminates teams with a lot of young talent from competing for Harper and Machado, but what about the rest of the league? The answer is tanking, which teams like the Marlins are doing with hopes of securing a ton of young and cheap talent in order to make a run and maximize their profits along the way. We just watched the Cubs and Astros do that en route to World Series titles, although they are paying for it now.

If MLB and MLBPA hope to resolve this issue in the future, changes must be made. We can't have two 26-year-old players that are among the best in the sport and in their primes unsigned at this juncture.