Why does MLB free agency take so long compared to, say, the NBA?

On the first day of the NBA’s free-agent signing period, LeBron James signed with the Lakers.

Why are we a couple of weeks into MLB’s winter meetings, and we still have no idea where Bryce Harper’s going to end up? Checking every single day, as a Nationals fan, is making me just a little bit crazy(-er).

I’m guessing some of it has to do with no salary cap. With Bryce Harper and Manny Machado we are talking $400,000,000 contracts and that is not chump change. I imagine they are extremely complicated to negotiate and finance.

Furthermore Harper is represented by Scott Boros who is a notoriously difficult negotiator.

On the flip side the players union almost boycotted some Spring Training games recently because they felt owners were colluding to not sign free agents to big money deals, the result being many free agents not being signed until spring training at salaries many were disappointed with.

In the NBA there is a salary cap and most of the top players can only earn “max” contracts of $25-30 million over 4 years. The rules are pretty strict so there’s very few parameters to negotiate. It often comes down to what team a free agent wants to play for rather than money. We saw this multiple times with LeBron James and IIRC Kevin Durant took a pay cut to play with Golden State.
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When you get into $100+ million contracts, there are dozens of ways to structure them - front-end load, back end load, signing bonus, incentives, options, annuities, and so on ad infinitum. Do you want $400 million over 10 years in 10 equal payments, progressively larger payments, more upfront, or some salary deferred until after you retire?

So Boras isn’t just trying to get the highest salary for Harper, he has a bunch of financial people behind him crunching numbers to figure out how the various proposals play out and tweaking counteroffers, while Boras is trying to get Harper to decide how he wants to balance the money/favorite city/play-for-a-winner-now equation.

On the other side, the teams are trying to figure out whether Boras is bluffing when he says he has another offer, how high the other team is willing to go, what trade-offs they have to make to afford Harper, etc.

There are five starters on an NBA team. The addition of one man improves 20% of the lineup.

There are nine starters (13, if you talk about starting pitchers, and 14 if you want a closer. The addition of one man improves at maximum 11% of the lineup and as little as 7%.

Thus, an NBA signing can immediately turn a team around. One for a baseball team will not make that much immediate improvement. Because of that, its easier for the NBA to take a risk, since the reward is more likely.

Well, nine starters in the AL, eight in the NL. And, five starting pitchers, in either league (IIRC, the four-man rotation was pretty much dead by the mid 1980s).

Football has even more and yet they seem to do things quickly. I still think the cap has more to do with it.