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If you’re wondering how seriously Major League Baseball is taking the concerns of the Players Association when it comes to stagnant free agency, we’ve got ourselves an answer. As Evan Drellich reported, the MLBPA recently rejected a proposal from MLB during their early economic negotiations. This proposal aimed to set an offseason deadline, beyond which no player would be eligible to sign a multi-year deal.
The Players Association rejected it — Drellich described it as “a non-starter” — so that’s good news. The worse news is that this is yet another instance of MLB attempting to introduce an enormous loophole into the system that will allow for their behavior — behavior that has them in early negotiations with the MLBPA two years before the current collective bargaining agreement expires — to continue unimpeded.
The last two offseasons have basically been dead. Elite free agents like Bryce Harper aren’t signing until spring training is well underway. Average players like Mike Moustakas, who have obvious uses and should be inexpensive alternatives for teams that miss out on stars, are being shown little to no interest, and eventually have to sign for far less than they’re traditionally worth. And then you have players like Gio Gonzalez being forced to sign minor-league deals just to get into spring training, despite the fact that they’re still productive — they’re just not in their 20s anymore.
MLB’s owners are obviously on board with all of this kind of behavior, as they get to minimize the cost of free agency, an avenue for player compensation they’ve despised since it was introduced in the 1970s thanks to the work of executive director Marvin Miller and the group of players who comprised the MLBPA of that day. MLB’s owners have changed since then, sure, but each generation of them has attempted to kill or circumvent free agency, and none have found the success that today’s owners have: the paper trail that existed in the 1980s when the owners got in trouble for colluding to depress salaries hasn’t been discovered yet, and that might be because of the loopholes they’ve found to just avoid free agency instead of meeting up in a smoke-filled room to discuss their latest scheme to deprive players of their worth in compensation.
MLB teams already focus on filling as many holes as possible with low-cost, pre-arbitration players, spinning off arbitration-eligible players in trades when they get too expensive in order to bring back more potential pre-arb guys, and letting free agents walk since they cost more. Creating a deadline for players to be signed to multi-year deals would only exacerbate that by creating another avenue for teams to pressure players into signing for less than they’re worth instead of holding out for more, and give them an out to leak to the media that they tried to bring Player X onboard, they really did, but their hands were tied by this deadline and the player’s greed. It would also create a market of players who have to sign one-year deals, which isn’t much of a free market, is it?
That’s precisely what MLB’s owners were hoping for with this proposal, though. And teams would absolutely wait out the players in order to secure them on one-year deals. If you have any doubt of that, please remember just this past summer, when Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel had to wait until the MLB Draft had begun and the draft pick compensation attached to their free agency was lifted before they were signed. And it’s not like the Cubs, the team that signed Kimbrel, discovered they had bullpen issues right before signing him. They waited and waited until he would cost as little as possible and then pounced, to the detriment of the first two-plus months of their season. The Cubs missed out on the postseason, by the way, which was a real risk for them as far back as the start of last offseason, when Kimbrel was available to sign days after the World Series.
At least the Cubs did something, though. The Phillies had themselves a mostly quiet summer because they reportedly feared losing to the Dodgers in the National League Division Series should Philadelphia win the NL Wild Card Game. Do you think a league filled with the kind of thinking that has infected the Cubs, Phillies, and far more teams is going to use a deadline on signing multi-year contracts in a way that spurs free agent activity, instead of fortifying and excusing the current cowardly behaviors of teams even further?
If you need more evidence that the goal is the latter, here’s MLBPA senior director of collective bargaining and legal Bruce Meyer (by way of Drellich) on the proposal: “We asked if MLB was interested in discussing other, more direct and tangible ways of incentivizing early signings and they weren’t at this time.”
Of course they weren’t. Because actually fixing the offseason and free agency wasn’t the point of this proposal, no matter how MLB might try to spin it to the union or the public.
MLB isn’t going to want to discuss the things that actually could speed up the offseason or make free agents more intriguing options again, because those things will cost them money. And while they have this money to spend, they would prefer to pocket it, or invest it into debt service, or try to turn their baseball team into a real estate company so they can make even more money they won’t spend on the actual on-field product.
The good news is that the MLBPA seems aware of all of this. Executive director Tony Clark continues to hint that some form of collusion is afoot without actually using that word or directly making that accusation. The bad news is that more of these fruitless interactions between MLB and the MLBPA increase the likelihood we’ll see a work stoppage when the current CBA expires. But if that’s what it’s going to take for MLB to finally take these discussions seriously, then so be it.
Kurt Suzuki donned a MAGA hat at the Nationals’ White House rally, while Ryan Zimmerman praised Donald Trump for “continuing to make America the greatest country to live in the world.” This is why on Monday I wrote about the need to make the players who do attend these kinds of events to explain why they’re going. And not in the giving-cover-to-them way Bob Nightengale does, either.
Jay Busbee wrote about how Suzuki didn’t stick to sports, which should put an end to the lie that “stick to sports” is about anything but the right trying to suppress everyone else’s beliefs. While true, calling the right hypocrites is never going to work, either, so “in theory” is about all we’ll get here.
Sydney Bergman, Sara Sanchez, and Mary Craig teamed up to write about Suzuki et al and this betrayal of the fans who just a few days earlier were booing the hell out of Trump at a World Series’ game.
- Scott Boras client J.D. Martinez didn’t opt out of his Red Sox contract, so that’s a) not a good sign as we head into the offseason with regards to how much activity we’re likely to see and b) makes a trade of Mookie Betts that much more likely. Remember, if Betts is dealt, it has little to do with worth.