Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant said Friday that players are "pretty upset" outfielder Bryce Harper and shortstop Manny Machado, the offseason's most notable free agents, remain unsigned with spring training less than a month away.
Jesse Rogers of ESPN.com provided comments about the situation from Bryant, who suggested there are "not enough teams trying to be competitive."
"It's really weird," he said. "Two of the best players in the game, and they have very little interest in them, from just what I hear. It's not good. It's something that will have to change. I know a lot of the other players are pretty upset about it."
Fellow third baseman Evan Longoria of the San Francisco Giants also weighed in on the situation with an Instagram post Friday featuring pictures of Harper, Machado, closer Craig Kimbrel and starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel:
"We are less then a month from the start of spring and once again some of our games biggest stars remain unsigned. Such a shame. It's seems every day now someone is making up a new analytical tool to devalue players, especially free agents. As fans, why should 'value' for your team even be a consideration? It's not your money, it's money that players have worked their whole lives to get to that level and be deserving of. Bottom line, fans should want the best players and product on the field for their team. And as players we need to stand strong for what we believe we are worth and continue to fight for the rights we have fought for time and time again."
Bryant and Harper are both represented by famed agent Scott Boras, and the Cubs star's comment about the lack of competitiveness is likely music to Boras' ears.
The agent has lamented the rise of tanking in recent years as numerous MLB clubs have sold off veteran assets for prospects in hopes of replicating the Houston Astros' successful rebuild.
"We have to get rid of the noncompetitive cancer," Boras told Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic last January. "We can't go to our fanbases and sell the promise of losing to win later. That is destructive to our sport because it has removed one-third of the competition."
He once again referred to losing games to improve draft position as a "cancer" during a media scrum in November.
The Astros feature one of MLB's most talented rosters but are only projected to have a $128.5 million payroll in 2019, a mere $10.6 million above the league average, per Spotrac.
Other teams have witnessed Houston's success by building through the draft. In many cases, they have accepted the short-term losses in exchange for chances to win big in the future without having to compete financially with the game's big spenders, led by the Boston Red Sox at $225 million.
In turn, a limited number of clubs can seriously compete for the likes of Harper and Machado, who are expected to receive lucrative long-term contracts as free agents.
The ultimate litmus test could come after the 2020 season when Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout, MLB's gold standard for the past seven years, could hit the open market.
If Trout doesn't create a massive bidding war amid interest from virtually every franchise, the MLB Players Association is going to have a serious problem to rectify.
Coincidentally, the current collective bargaining agreement ends following the 2021 season.