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So what the heck is going on, Brian? “I don’t even know how to answer the question,” Sabean said. “We’ve all got our conspiracy theories of sorts. It sounds like the Kennedy assassination.”

In the absence of a Warren (Spahn) Commission, let’s explore a few theories. MLB executives have argued that this is a natural “market correction” — that salaries had gotten out of whack and were due to regress. Labor advocates might wonder why such a correction was necessary when MLB revenues surpassed $10 billion in 2017 — setting an industry record for the 15th consecutive year. Despite this glorious cash flow, more teams than ever are slashing payroll and tanking, NBA-style, with an eye to the future.

Some have even whispered the word most offensive to the ears of team owners. The C-word: “collusion.” How, they wonder, can so many solid ballplayers be receiving so little attention from 30 individual clubs? It certainly isn’t hard to imagine the league’s pooh-bahs committing such an offense. Arbitrators found them guilty of collusion in three separate cases filed between 1986 and 1988; MLB had to pay a total of $280 million in damages.

There are, however, some fact-based reasons to steer clear of someone like, say, Arrieta, who will turn 32 in March and whose innings steadily declined over the past three seasons. Many analytics people have been arguing that investing in young, prime-of-career talent is more cost effective than relying on veterans.

“I’ve read a Buster Olney article (for ESPN), and he was talking about the way that GMs and upper management are evaluating players now is different,” new Giants third baseman Evan Longoria said. “They’re putting a different dollar figure on it, based on those analyses. I can’t really say if that’s wrong or not.”

No question, teams have saddled themselves in recent years with huge, long-term payouts to players who almost immediately demonstrated they weren’t worth it. Like the 10-year, $240 million contract the Angels gave Albert Pujols in 2012, or the four-year, $72 million the Rangers gave Prince Fielder in 2017.

Some of the biggest names still dangling on the free-agent market are older players whose best years may be behind them.

But here’s the real culprit: the current collective bargaining agreement, which states that a player isn’t eligible for free agency until he reaches six years of major-league service. That’s an improbably long apprenticeship for an athlete. Yes, baseball players tend to have longer careers than their peers in the NFL and the NBA. But because of the minor-league system, they frequently take longer to reach the bigs.

If the new model does, in fact, lead teams to devalue older players and cyclically restock their rosters with young guys, consider what that means under the current CBA. A team can control a player throughout his prime years, then, when he finally hits free agency, cast him loose and start again with a promising rookie.

It’s a wonderful system if you’re a baseball team. If you’re a player, it increases the likelihood that you’ll wind up like pitcher Lance Lynn or second baseman Neil Walker, on the wrong side of 30 and waiting for your phone to ring.

Nick Hundley, the Giants’ backup catcher, praised the MLB Players Association and assigned no blame for the six-year rule. “It’s something we’ll deal with in 2021,” he said, referring to the expiration of the current labor deal. “Contractually, we agreed. Nobody in that room was forced to agree on anything.”

Longoria came closer to being critical. “I think that it will correct itself. But I think that as a union, we definitely are kind of learning our lesson, in terms of the importance of the negotiations of the CBA,” he said.

The guys I spoke with know they are among the lucky ones. They have jobs. They’d like to believe that when the regular season draws closer and teams get itchier to fill needs, the rest of the capable free agents will find homes, too.

“I mean, they have to,” Longoria said. “Those guys are not gonna not get jobs. Nobody’s not gonna want a Yu Darvish or a Mike Moustakas or an Eric Hosmer. If you want to win, you sign those guys.”

Indeed, Darvish signed with the Cubs last Saturday. Moustakas and Hosmer, who combined for 63 home runs and 179 RBIs with the Royals last year, remain eligible for Camp Jobless.

You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

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