The MLBPA’s recent firing shouldn’t be controversial, and yet

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The Major League Baseball Players Association recently fired a long-term attorney, Rick Shapiro, and as Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich report, it’s causing waves both internally and externally. Per that report, Shapiro was dismissed by the MLBPA as a way of shoring up solidarity. Agents, though, are concerned that this is the influence of Scott Boras, and that there will be downsides to getting rid of someone with Shapiro’s experience.

That’s the short of it, but something like this requires more than just a quick explanation. The Players Association and MLB are currently doing some early bargaining over economic issues, more than two years prior to the expiration of the current CBA, so the MLBPA getting a look at what is working and what isn’t with regard to their strategies and strategists comes with that territory. The MLBPA has a new lead negotiator, Bruce Meyer, and Shapiro was around and working on the previous two CBAs from 2012 and 2016, both of which have been derided — by myself and others in media, and some vocal players, too. Combine the unhappiness with those CBAs with the introduction of Meyer, and this bit from the report at The Athletic…

The union fired Shapiro with the intent of creating solidarity, removing an influential figure because leadership lost trust in him, according to people with direct knowledge of the decision. Those people said Shapiro could not accept his role and became embittered toward Meyer, a veteran litigator who was hired last year by Clark to give the union greater firepower in bargaining.

…and it’s pretty easy to figure out how Shapiro got the axe. Throw in that some in the MLBPA believed Shapiro was “circumventing union leadership” and speaking with MLB outside of official negotiations at the same time it was believed he would be too conciliatory towards the owners (again), and you’ve got a list of unacceptable situations that are all tidily solved by getting rid of the person at the center of them.

That being said, there is a potential downside, one the MLBPA will need to address in some way. Shapiro was heavily involved in arbitration, which, as Rosenthal and Drellich points out, is an area that players and the union have managed to make gains on in recent years while everything else weakens. The Players Association will have to be sure to continue to push on arbitration, as it’s their most effective way of increasing player salaries given how that process is structured. As I wrote for Deadspin while explaining how to fix MLB’s broken economics:

Arbitration is vital to making baseball’s economic system work. It imposes a one-on-one negotiation between team and player, and also a solution should that negotiation break down: a third-party arbitrator who can rule that one side or the other is being ridiculous in their demands.

Arbitration, hobbled by overt league-directed collusion though it may be, can force teams to spend money they have even when don’t want to.

The conclusion to that section on arbitration was that the MLBPA needed to fight for more of it, so, while I doubt firing Shapiro means the union is going to forget about the value of arbitration, I do hope they push to make it even stronger for players post-Shapiro, instead of simply keeping it the same while focusing elsewhere instead.

With that being said, Shapiro’s firing makes a lot of sense to me. Someone was eventually going to lose their job because of the last two CBAs, and Shapiro seemed to get plenty of chances to make good despite his role in those: Rosenthal and Drellich reported that Shapiro’s resignation was repeatedly rejected by executive director Tony Clark, who wanted to keep him and his knowledge around despite their differences, and Shapiro was still around for the start of this pre-bargaining bargaining, too.

It’s not that Shapiro was solely to blame for anything from the last two CBAs, but the players whose union it is already put their faith in Clark listening to their feedback and criticisms to improve at his job, and, as mentioned, Meyer was hired to be the new lead in bargaining. If Shapiro was partly responsible for the previous uninspiring CBAs of this decade and unwilling to admit as much by changing — maybe even going so far as to speak with MLB outside of official channels and his role — then he basically painted a target on his back given Meyer’s job is new and safe and Clark already got a union-wide vote of confidence with his recent extension.

As for the Boras connection:

One agent who had a more distant relationship with Shapiro is Boras, whose practice is large enough that his group typically handles arbitration cases in-house. When Shapiro was fired, some suspected Boras’ influence.

“Basically, this is like Boras completing his takeover of the union,” one source with knowledge of the current labor dynamics said.

To that end, some agents told The Athletic they have heard from their clients that Boras has been telling his players he now controls the union.

Boras said he has not delivered that message and does not desire such control, citing a direct conflict with the differing interests of his players.

“If we’re about effectiveness in our business and our representation of our players, we’re going to be far afield from any union decisions,” Boras said.

Clark maintains contact and meets regularly with many agents, not just with Boras. The heart of the issue is whether Clark fell under Boras’ influence, or whether the two are simply aligned in the big picture. The union and Boras are adamant it is the latter: Boras was a proponent of the union hiring a top lawyer, and Meyer was someone he recommended.

You’ll have to forgive me for not being concerned if Scott Boras, the best agent out there who repeatedly explains what’s wrong with MLB’s economics, has more of a say in what’s happening with the union. Boras has plenty of awful ideas, don’t get me wrong: solutions aren’t really his thing. Identifying problems and loopholes that need closing, though, is something Boras is well-suited for, and if he’s got the ear of players on the executive board (clients Matt Harvey, Max Scherzer, and James Paxton) as well as the executive director of the MLBPA, well, maybe some good will come of it.

There’s a reason I’ve written a couple of articles specifically about things Boras has said, and it’s because he understands how broken everything is. Boras hates the draft. He recognized what the issue with the recent slate of pre-free agency contract extensions are, even giving them a proper nickname (snuff contracts). He knows draft pick compensation is a problem. Again, his solutions to these issues aren’t great, and are often far more complicated than they would ever need to be, but he’s got his finger on what has worked for players and what works for teams, and having that guy around and listening to him is sensible.

What matters is that it sounds like the MLBPA has their own house in order, and they’ve got the top agent in the game in their contacts if they decide to reach out to hear what he has to say. That puts them in a better position opposite MLB than they’ve been in awhile: what they do with this opportunity can now be the focus.

  • A former Tigers’ clubhouse attendant is suing the organization, citing racial discrimination.

  • I sure hate the idea of writing articles about a player signed to a 13-year contract not living up to it four months in, but that didn’t stop Bob Klapisch from filing on Bryce Harper. Did you know the average annual value of Harper’s deal is only the 19th-highest all-time? Roger Clemens in 2007 had a higher one, as does Jon Lester, and the largest contracts for Ryan Howard and Josh Hamilton are just a few hundred thousand behind Harper. You don’t need a referendum on Harper or free agency four months into a deal that has a lot of guaranteed money and years, but is mostly notable for how much it’s not paying him per year. At least give the dude actual time to fail to live up to the expectations.

  • I can’t read this full piece because Bloomberg Law makes you request a trial, but the NLRB has reversed a decision saying Wal-Mart was in the wrong for firing protesting workers earlier this decade. That is problematic on a larger scale, but also for our more sport-centric purposes when it comes to things like the currently unorganized minor leagues.

  • Donte’ Stallworth wrote about Megan Rapinoe, and how athlete activism will always infuriate those in power like President Trump.

  • Speaking of Rapinoe, the New York Times got a hold of her for a lengthy interview on sports and politics and politics in sports.

  • And speaking of the U.S. Women’s National Team, they told Hope Solo they’ve got this.

  • Emma Baccellieri wrote about how the Atlantic League became MLB’s laboratory for new baseball.

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