Pitchers and catchers report to spring training in less than a week, with position players following a week or so later. Despite the fact that baseball’s pre-season literally starts in a matter of days, many of the best free agents in the game remain unsigned and unemployed.
We’ve already seen high powered play agents speak out about the situation, throwing around the word “collusion” and one even threatened to boycott spring training. On Tuesday, the MLBPA released an official statement via Executive Director Tony Clark that called out baseball’s team owners for basically being cheap. Or purposely trying to lose in order to build up draft picks and young prospect talent. Or both.
Statement of #MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark Regarding the Integrity of the Game
— #MLBPA (@MLB_PLAYERS) February 6, 2018
Here’s the full statement:
“Pitchers and catchers will report to camps in Florida and Arizona in one week. A record number of talented free agents remain unemployed in an industry where revenues and franchise values are at record highs.
Spring training has always been associated with hope for a new season. This year a significant number of teams are engaged in a race to the bottom. This conduct is a fundamental breach of the trust between a team and its fans and threatens the very integrity of our game.”
While it’s true that some of baseball’s best players remain unsigned (Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Eric Hosmer, to name just a few), there’s no real proof that it’s a massive conspiracy by baseball owners to limit contract values. Instead, the general consensus among fans and media members is that teams have learned their lesson about offering seven-year (or longer) deals to guys who are in their early 30s. Sure, the first four years of the deal might be great, but those last two or three can be a real drag. See: Albert Pujols or Alex Rodriguez for proof.
In response, the MLB released a statement of their own:
Major League Baseball issued the following statement today in response to the comments made by MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark: pic.twitter.com/JE2AFRpEDZ
— MLB Communications (@MLB_PR) February 6, 2018
“Our Clubs are committed to putting a winning product on the field for their fans. Owners own teams for one reason: they want to win. In Baseball, it has always been true that Clubs go through cyclical, multi-year strategies directed at winning.”
“It is common at this point in the calendar to have large numbers of free agents unsigned. What is uncommon is to have some of the best free agents sitting unsigned even though they have substantial offers, some in nine figures. It is the responsibility of the players’ agents to value their clients in a constantly changing free agent market based on factors such as positional demand, advanced analytics, and the impact of the new Basic Agreement. To lay responsibility on the Clubs for the failure of some agents to accurately asses the market is unfair, unwarranted, and inflammatory.”
That’s some elegantly worded hot fire, right there. The league is essentially accusing agents of botching contract negotiations, and specifically mentions that some players have turned down $100+ million offers (presumably because their agents expected offers that were both longer term and of higher overall value — offers that haven’t emerged).
As Opening Day draws closer, surely some of these big name players will eventually settle on a contract somewhere. But it might not be the payday they originally thought they would be getting. As for the Clubs being committed to winning, that’s simply not true. Most owners just want to find a way to make money, which means not overpaying for a star player who will become an albatross of a contract in four years time.
The best part of all this passive-aggressive letter sending? It’s probably not over:
agent scott boras took issue with mlb revealing in its statement of response to the union that "some" players have "nine figure" offers. boras: "i find it interesting that free agents have nine-figure offers since the CBA mandates that teams not share that sort of information."
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) February 7, 2018