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The 2022-2026 MLB collective bargaining agreement has been active for over a year now, but the official, finalized version of it only recently became thus — once everything was translated into acceptable legalese. And, there are other reasons to discuss it at this point in time as well. For instance, MLB deputy commissioner Dan Halem sent a letter to the executive director of the Players Association, Tony Clark, stating that there would be no “information bank” kept by the league for free agents. It’s not just a letter, either, as it’s an attachment in the current CBA, which was recently made available to read online once it was all official.
There’s not much to it, either, as this is the entirety of said letter, found on page 207 of the CBA:
Tony C. Clark
Major League Baseball
12 East 49th Street
New York, New York 10017
Re: Information Bank
This is to confirm our understanding that during the term of this Agreement the Clubs will not operate an Information Bank with respect to free agents.
Daniel R. Halem
Deputy Commissioner &
Chief Legal Officer
Major League Baseball
Office of the Commissioner
If you have any familiarity with MLB’s history of collusion, the meaning of that should be pretty clear. Back in the mid-80s, collusion was achieved by agreeing to limit how long free agent contracts would be, but as time has passed, as the information teams have has become more homogeneous, as the advent of Statcast — a league venture — and MLB’s own pool of advanced statistics has been used more and more by front offices themselves, it’s been… let’s say, believable… that teams would use this homogeneity of information to keep salaries down. The evidence? Oh, how about all of the free agent activity — or lack of it — that led to the players believing MLB wasn’t honoring the spirit of the previous CBA, which led to the intense labor battle that gave the players the improved current one?
The teams didn’t have to actually communicate with each other by way of ownership meetings and phone calls to decide on collusion. There simply had to be a system in place that allowed everyone to agree on the value of… well, everyone. This is how you end up with free agents receiving not just similar, but exactly the same offers from a bunch of teams, all at once, after months of silence. As Justin Upton put it in an interview with The Athletic in 2018:
It’s gone. Teams don’t value players as people anymore. They value them as a number on a sheet of paper. Basically, they have a stat sheet, and it says, ‘This is that guy.’ He’s a robot, he’s not a person, he’s just a player. They don’t value him as a person anymore. You can have two offers from two teams and sometimes the separator is how the team is perceived in your eyes. At this point, they don’t care how they’re perceived: ‘This is our money. If you want it, you can have it.’
Put it this way: You’re not a person anymore. You’re just a player. There’s no piece of paper with, ‘Do you love me? Yes or No?’ written on it being slid your way. It’s like, ‘I’m going to prom if you’re going.’
Brad Brach told Cubs’ beat writers back in 2019 that he had received “six or seven offers” that were “all about the same.” Brach continued: “It’s kind of weird that all offers are the same that come around at the same time and everyone tells you there’s an algorithm, and you figure teams have different ones.” Execs denied it, of course — what, were they going to say, “yes, that’s right, you’ve caught us” — but it’s pretty clear that players had an idea of what was happening, and Halem having to put in writing that the league promised there’d be no central information bank only confirms that point.
Of course, saying there’s no central information bank doesn’t mean there isn’t something that’ll do the same thing for them. MLB’s proprietary stats still exist, and the teams all have them. They don’t need a central information bank if the contents of said bank and the inputs that lead everyone to agree on what the outputs mean are still around. Do the players have full access to them? Can they argue their own case? Are contract offers still very much in the way Justin Upton described them as being five years ago? Still, though, getting the league to agree to not do something counts for a win of some kind, considering their base state is usually just to deny, deflect, and/or blame.
It’s all something to watch for going forward — how teams work around the contents of this letter, if free agency starts to turn around in the long term, what kind of complaints we see owners or executives making about free agency either anonymously or publicly as this CBA gets older.
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