Free Agency

Well it’s that time of year again. Football is over, while Hockey and Basketball playoffs are underway (leaving many a spouse feeling abandoned). Baseball is just getting started, but for many players it’s time to start thinking about free agency.

I have something of a love-hate relationship with the concept of free agency. I’m not really sure when it happened, but free agency seems to have shifted the balance of power in sports, from the owners to the players (at least for the super-elite players). I question if that is really a good thing?

In some ways, yeah, for sure. Players no longer are stuck in their contracts. They are more in control of their own destinies and aren’t “property” of the owners the way they once were. Although that seems like a positive, the sports landscape is littered with players who either on their own or through the advice of their agents, have made some TERRIBLE decisions – damaging not only their own careers but also the fates of their teams in the process.

As a fan I have seen teams that looked like they were on the verge of becoming something great fall apart due to free agency. So often teams fall apart before achieving the potential that was clearly there. Often free agency plays a big role. In a world of salary caps and outrageous salaries it seems harder than ever to keep a good team together.

In an earlier post, I talked about how in sports the team goal is usually winning. Players want to win too, but they also have their own individual goals. And success usually is best achieved when a coach is able to have the players achieve some of their individual goals in pursuit of the team goal.

When free agency looms, a player has a lot of things to consider. How happy are they on the team? How happy are they with their role on the team and the future outlook of the team? Do they thing they could achieve more on a different team? Win more? Land a larger contract (giving them more financial security)?

I think there are four main attitudes that players have when looking at free agency. There is some overlap between these, but here are the approaches that I see:

Four Attitudes in Free Agency

1 – The Journeyman
These people are just happy to be employed. Give them a role on a team, and they will do their best to fill it. They tend to be specialists, going from team to team filling a specific need, but never sticking in one place for very long. These guys tend to have short term deals.

2 – The Stat Padder
These are the hedonists of the sports world. Yeah, they wanna win. But they are just as happy to lose as long as they “get theirs”. These are the guys who have to be reminded that “there is no I in team”. These guys look at themselves and their needs first and foremost. They either don’t understand the financial side of a team, or they don’t care. They will do things like push for the maximum dollar contract, and then complain about how a team is built later if it’s not winning – when often their own contract is the biggest thing that has limited the abilities of management to put a team around them.

3 – The Lifer
Almost the opposite of the stat padder, for these guys the name on the front of the jersey is more important than the name on the back. The team, its culture and their legacy with the team is the priority. These are the guys who can often be seen accepting deals at less than market value so that the team will have additional money to sign players. These guys still want to win, and care about their own contributions to the team. But when times are rough it’s just part of the process.

4 – The Ring Chaser
This is something commonly seen near the end of a career. A player may have been a journeyman, stat padder or (less commonly) a lifer. At some point they realize the end is near and they just want a chance at a title. They don’t necessarily care what their role is – rotation player, bench warmer, towel waver, it doesn’t matter.

No Guarantees in Life
A player’s outlook going into free agency will impact their decisions, but one thing history has shown is that there are no guarantees. Sometimes players land deals, and you just know it isn’t going to work out. Other times players go to teams that look like a perfect fit, but for some reason or another it doesn’t work out. Maybe someone gets injured, or the chemisty is bad. Sometimes players find success, but not to the level they expected. And other times you get matches that don’t make sense at all, but somehow they just work.

In relationships all the same things apply. Marriage is a form of contract. It’s different from sports ones perhaps given that there is no pay and no expiry date. With no end date, people don’t become free agents in the same way. But even in the happiest of relationships I would guess people periodically take stock of their lives and question whether the path they are on is still the one that they want.
You can question things at any time, but often midlife is a time where people look at the decisions they have made and question if they made the right ones or not, and if what they want their life to look like moving forward. When that happens, the same attitudes I mentioned above apply.

Personally, I don’t understand the stat padder. In the world of relationships, I think these people are probably the “players” (in relationship terms, not sports terms. Hmmm, this is getting confusing). If your relationship is all about you, and your focus is your own happiness and doing what’s best for you, then I question what the point is. To me that’s not a relationship. I’ve always been more of a lifer. In sports terms, I see something special in the idea of being someone who plays their whole career for a single team and gets their jersey retired at the end.
It all comes down to the team though, and I suppose how you measure success. If the team is doing it’s best to win, and management is doing it’s best then that’s all you can ask for. There are many great, great players who had fabulous careers but never won a title. To me that doesn’t diminish the accomplishments they had.

In sports you also see cases where a player has been with an organization for a long time, and you get the sense that they would like to finish out their career there. But then something happens. Maybe management decides to go in a different direction. Maybe their teammates stop playing a team game and start taking a selfish approach to the sport. Lots of things can happen. In those cases, I don’t blame a player for testing the free agent waters. There may be other teams out there that are now better fits for them, both in terms of philosophy and personnel.

Everyone is in a different situation, and what it right for one person isn’t necessarily right for the other. If you are at a stage where you aren’t sure about your relationship, the only advice I can give anyone is:

Be honest with yourself, and know your worth

Ultimately you need to be happy with yourself and the decisions that you make. I believe many relationships fail unnecessarily. When that happens, it’s often because someone overvalued themselves and thier contributions to a relationship and undervalued thier partner and the things they provide.

As I said earlier though, there are no guarantees. Sometimes people make a move and it works out well for them. Other times it doesn’t. And like the sports world, the relationship landscape is littered with people who made a move, only to find themselves regretting it later. You never know what the future will bring. You can’t ever control outcomes. But as long as you can look at yourself in the mirror at the end of the day and say “I did the best with what I had”, that’s all you can ask.