LaRue: The increasing difficulty of acquiring star players

From John LaRue at The Hardball Times on August 2, 2018:

On the surface, baseball’s marketplace for talent seem to be shrinking in recent years. Much ado was made of last year’s round of free agency, with many prized players signing very late. Scan through transaction lists for the last few years of free agency and the trade deadline, and it seems as if there’s a finite and decreasing number of stars who change hands via the market, either through free agency, in-season trade, or offseason trade.

The perception has been that major league clubs are doing a better job of locking up their young stars, buying them out through their arbitration years and multiple years of free agency. Let’s put this theory to the test. How have most stars been acquired historically? Are there fewer stars per team per year? Is it harder to acquire stars now than in previous years?

Before going further, we need a good working definition of a star. The FanGraphs glossary page for WAR (henceforth referred to as fWAR) includes a rule of thumb chart that lists 5.0 fWAR as the upper end of the All-Star category, with anything above that a Superstar or MVP-quality player. That sounds like a great starting place. We’ll include any player with 5.0 fWAR or more in a single season.

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Originally published: August 3, 2018. Last Updated: August 3, 2018.