Even those still employed in the game can’t help but notice the consequences.Some are trivial. Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and Rangers pitcher Bartolo Colon might be the only active players who would fit in at your local PTA meeting. Behind the scenes the consequences run bigger and deeper, and they’re causing an unprecedented re-think among owners, executives and coaches – not to mention the unemployed veterans who are losing their jobs to less talented players.LEARNING ON THE JOBCraig Counsell caught himself mid-thought.“The PED era fooled us a little bit,” he said, and a smile quickly crept over his face. He clarified his comment as a broad explanation, not an admission of guilt.The Milwaukee Brewers’ manager took his final major-league at bat at age 41 in 2011. Counsell carved out a 16-year career as a role player who never hit more than nine home runs in a season. His career just happened to overlap perfectly with an era when illegal drugs helped baseball’s biggest sluggers shatter the single-season and career records for home runs. Whicker: MLB’s marooned free agents will be back when it matters PHOENIX — After three weeks and two days, a training camp for baseball’s unsigned free agents will close its doors Friday. According to the Associated Press, 41 players attended the camp in Bradenton, Fla. Only seven found employment. Other veterans such as Mike Moustakas, Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn and Andre Ethier have been training on their own while exhibition games began without them.The offseason was a time for reflection. The supply of unsigned players was exceeded only by the supply of opinions as to how the market had changed and why. Once the games began, however, this was no longer a story about supply and demand. It was a story of aesthetics.The average age of the major league hitter decreased from 29.3 in 2004 to 28.3 in 2017. The average age of pitchers fell too – not as pronounced, but following the same broad trend – from 29.2 in 2005 to 28.5 a year ago. Now, the average age is roughly in line with the 1980s and early 1990s, before the size of the league and the size of the players grew.The majority of unsigned major league free agents are in their 30s. Some might never find jobs, which would predict an even younger league in 2018. It’s widely accepted that the proliferation of older players at the turn of the century had more to do with PEDs extending players’ careers into their late 30s, less with a change in how the industry valued players’ skill sets.Since then, stiffer drug testing helped reduce steroid use and hastened players’ aging curve. Young athletes specialized in sports more often, and at earlier ages. The rules governing draft-pick compensation and free-agent eligibility encouraged some owners to rebuild their teams entirely from scratch with younger, unproven players; the success of the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs only encouraged other clubs to do the same.Meanwhile, more young athletes specialized in one sport at increasingly earlier ages. By the time they entered professional baseball, they simply had more advanced training than their parents’ generation. Before long, a younger league had replaced the old guard, with players learning more on the fly at baseball’s highest level.“When I played, by the time you got to the big leagues you better know how to play,” said Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost, who retired in 1985. “You had to be fundamentally sound, you knew what it took to win, and you had to produce. There was no developing when I got there, and if it was developing, it was players that would help you – it wasn’t really a coaching staff that helped me develop.”After reaching back-to-back World Series in 2014 and 2015, the Royals became baseball’s latest small-market team to embrace a youth movement. Yost is feeling the consequences.“You provide opportunities for them to go out and make mistakes,” he said. “Hopefully they learn from the mistakes and they get better and better.”FLOOR TO CEILINGAs he ascended the minor league ranks 20 years ago, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, the industry prescribed a general set of restrictions. Hitters would not be promoted to the majors until they had compiled 1,500 plate appearances. For pitchers, it was 200 innings.The Dodgers have no such restrictions now, he said.“There was always a floor to make sure a guy’s ready,” Roberts said, “whereas now you’re so careful about the player’s health that there’s more of a ceiling as far as usage.”There’s also more of an emphasis on minor league player development these days. In an effort to hasten players’ physical maturity, clubhouse food options are no longer limited to snacks and peanut butter sandwiches. More sophisticated data is available to minor leaguers too, which offers better feedback than a hitter’s batting average or a pitcher’s ERA.Younger players don’t just want this information, Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais said – they need it. Whenever advice is offered, he said, “today’s player won’t just take your word for it. They want real numbers behind it.”Servais’ background is instructive. He went to Seattle from Anaheim, where he oversaw the Angels’ player development department under Jerry Dipoto. Prior to that, Servais was the Texas Rangers’ director of player development from 2006-11. He never managed a game before joining the Mariners. Gabe Kapler, who left the Dodgers’ player development department over the winter to manage the Philadelphia Phillies, took a similar route.This is not a coincidence.“The tough conversations you have, it’s probably been more important to me in this job than dealing with things that go on throughout the ballgame,” Servais said. “Managing the game is such a small part of what we do. … On the inside, behind the scenes, the relationships you have to have with players – and certainly young players – if you can get them comfortable as quickly as possible, now you can really let their talents come out.”TRICKLE-UP EFFECTAll six managers interviewed for this story agreed that the amount of teaching taking place at the major league level is as high as they can remember. Often those duties fall to the coaches. The last decade has seen coaching staffs expand – partly a reaction to the growing reams of information, partly to handle all that teaching.Related Articles Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error There seems to be a trickle-up effect, too. With more data and more coaches at their disposal, and managers trained in communicating with players half their age, owners can enjoy an infrastructure geared more toward fielding a younger roster. Some believe that offers an excuse for teams to shun a more expensive veteran in his mid-30s in favor of an unproven rookie making the major league minimum.“That may be why we’re driving that age number down,” Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price said.The Mariners held a news conference to introduce Suzuki on Wednesday. At 44, he’s now the oldest player with a major league contract. Speaking through an interpreter, Suzuki told reporters that he wanted to play until he is “at least 50.” Behind the scenes, an entire industry has geared itself toward denying him that chance.