Notes: J.D. Davis, MLBPA’s ‘coup’ attempt

Loopholes and growing pains.

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My latest for Baseball Prospectus published on Thursday, and it covered the J.D. Davis/Giants saga. Davis was awarded a $6.9 million salary in arbitration for the 2024 season, and then the Giants signed free agent Matt Chapman. Davis was shopped around for a trade, placed on waivers for anyone willing to take him and the $6.9 million for ’24, and then, when no one bit on either method of acquisition, San Francisco cut him.

They did so using what was described as a loophole in the collective bargaining agreement, but as I got into for BP, that’s not an entirely accurate way to explain what went down. What the Giants did was not great, in the sense they made a move they needed to make in a way that is only technically correct if you’re willing to grant them a whole lot of leeway on the spirit of that rule. Like, to the point of it being a different rule entirely: Davis was not cut because of a sudden injury or decline in his skills, but because the team signed a better player, and only after his arbitration hearing had already come and gone.

What the Giants did was a problem, in that they, unchallenged, bent the rules in their favor to shed Davis’ salary and cost him a couple million in the process: he ended up signing with the A’s for $2.5 million guaranteed with another $1 million in incentives a potential boost to that, which, when combined with the $1.1 termination fee the Giants had to pay, is $4.6 million, i.e. less than the $6.9 million he was slated to get. The more significant issue, however, and this is the point of the piece for BP, is that changes in context allowed that rule to become a loophole that could be exploited in the first place. If teams were moving faster on free agents, Chapman signs well before Davis’ hearing. If teams were actually trying to improve their chances of winning in 2024, someone would have snagged Davis in a trade or on waivers.

They didn’t, though, and they aren’t, so, here we are. Uncharted territory that sucks. Changes will be needed in a future CBA to address this extremely laissez-faire attitude that the majority of the league now has toward competing, and I don’t mean the closing of this loophole that isn’t really supposed to be one in the first place.

Speaking of changes, the MLB Players Association might be in the midst of some of their own. A couple of things to open here: I’m planning to go into more detail next week for Baseball Prospectus on the subject, and am still collecting my thoughts a bit and letting some more information on the “coup” attempt, as Scott Boras referred to it, that attempted to remove lead negotiation and associate executive director Bruce Meyer from his position within the union, in favor of former Advocates for Minor Leaguers’ head and former MLBPA-er, Harry Marino. If you’ve followed the newsletter for a while, you certainly know both of these names, as they were both central figures in the creation of the two most recent collective bargaining agreements that the PA negotiated with the league (and in Marino’s case, the formation of a minor-league wing of the PA in the first place).

Here’s the basic thing I want you to consider until such time I expand on the idea further: the PA is evolving. That’s what should happen with unions, and it’s no surprise it’s occurring in one that, just last year, officially added well over 5,000 new members. The PA before that addition had more like 1,200 members — the 26 big leaguers on each of the 30 teams plus the members of the 40-man roster of each — so an additional 5,400 is a change that simply cannot occur without there being some internal struggles and growth as well.

Yes, there are going to be things to watch out for, like whether Meyer or even executive director Tony Clark end up leaving their positions, if Marino ends up back in the PA in some capacity or remains out of it, if, even if Marino doesn’t return, any of his recommendations or plans are put into practice since so many players backed his coming in as lead negotiator going forward, etc. And this is all healthy and normal stuff, even if Boras wants to make it sound worse than it is for the people he’s supposedly defending by screaming about a coup to the media. (Scott, my dude, I often back your opinions on labor issues, but you have to have known that wouldn’t look good when one of the issues at hand was your relationship with the very members of leadership that you were defending there.)

The union is going to grow and evolve. The shape of its membership has changed in addition to the size of it, and it’s going to take some time to figure out what they want going forward and what matters to them. Unifying the players, both big leaguers and minor leaguers, is going to take time. It’s better to sort this out now, while there’s time before either side has a new CBA to bargain, instead of figuring it out far too late. Dialectical materialism is back, baby, it’s good again.

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