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Whenever CBA Deal Is Reached, It's Going to Get Crazy



In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, regulators devised an array of stress tests to try to keep that type of bank meltdown from ever happening again. The idea of the stress tests was to ensure that banks had enough capital to survive somewhat unexpected events. The stress test runs hypothetical scenarios and sees if a bank has the resources to survive it or if it would cause it to fail.

Whenever there is a new collective bargaining agreement between Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association, it will unleash the baseball version of a stress test, forcing front offices (and agents) to make decisions at a rate far faster than normal. And teams will have to see how they hold up.

They’ve had months to prepare during a nearly four-month lockout, but the minute that free agency resumes and transactions are unlocked, teams will have to try to cram a few months of roster moves and other transactions into a week or so.

Normally, the baseball offseason is a many months-long process where teams can deliberately work through their list of tasks. There are roster protection decisions to be made, followed by non-tender decisions. Then teams begin talking to MLB and minor league free agents, but the signing of those stretches from December to late February. Arbitration hearings are in February.

This offseason, roster protection and non-tender decisions were made in November and December like normal, and then there was a frenetic first taste of free agency before the lockout took hold.

There are rosters that are nowhere near finished. There are still a couple of hundred MLB free agents available. Few teams have Opening Day-ready rosters.

The period immediately after the lockout is lifted will be an incredible test for how well a team can multi-task. Front office officials who spoke with Baseball America believe it will separate out which teams are well organized and able to adapt quickly to how the period unfolds.

When a player hits the trade market, teams will have to be ready to make an offer—if you delay or shuffle it to the side to handle a free agent negotiation, another team might pounce.

Teams that rely on a top-down structure, where a couple of key decision-makers have to be involved in every aspect of roster construction, could find themselves making decisions too slowly for a frenetic post-lockout period when months of work will have to be crammed into a couple of weeks.

There’s a lot that has to be done.

The A’s, for example, are still expected to dismantle their roster, including trades of their star players. A bevy of free agents—including stars like Carlos Correa, Freddie Freeman, Trevor Story and Kris Bryant, as well as Japanese import Seiya Suzuki—still need landing spots.  Arbitration hearings have to be held. There may still be a Rule 5 draft.

There’s also a significant visa problem. International players who don’t have a U.S. permanent resident card (green card) must get a visa to play in the United States. They can only apply for that visa once they have an employment contract. This means current MLB free agents can’t apply for the visa until they sign a deal. And right now, those visas are expected to take up to three weeks to clear.

And that’s before we get to the normal churn of movement that happens during spring training. Even in the best years, players—especially pitchers—get hurt as they ramp back up for another season. When those injuries happen this year, it will take place in a system that’s rushing much more quickly than normal to get to Opening Day.

If the minor league season begins (April 5) before MLB spring training wraps up, it will add in several other complicating factors. Minor league roster construction has always been a jigsaw puzzle, and the new, MLB-imposed 180-player roster limit has only added to those complications.

Right now, teams are having to figure out how they will fill their upper-level minor league rosters if the lockout does continue. There are several hundred players on 40-man rosters who were slated to begin the year in Double-A or Triple-A. In some cases, teams may promote other players from lower levels to fill those spots, but other cases will require signing additional players.

Much like above with visas, this isn’t as big an issue when it comes to position players. It becomes a more significant issue regarding pitching. Any minor league pitchers signed in mid to late March are unlikely to be ready to go by April 5 or April 8, the respective Opening Days for Triple-A and the rest of the full-season minor leagues.

It’s going to be crazy, but if a new CBA is reached, it will also be an opportunity for teams that planned well during the lockout and have processes that allow them to handle many different decisions within a short period of time.

Elijah Dunham Billmitchell

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