As spring training gets closer and closer, nearly 100 free agents remain unsigned, including several that were expected to land big paydays this offseason. As the weeks have worn on, player discontent has grown palpable, exhibiting itself via various statements from agents which, increasingly, have taken on an antagonistic tone with respect to Major League Baseball and its clubs. Earlier this offseason multiple agents issued statements lamenting clubs’ seeming disinterest in fielding competitive teams, as evidenced by their lack of offseason activity. Major League Baseball, its clubs and their supporters have countered that it’s a slow market because it’s a weak market, and that players have unrealistic salary expectations. Some have suggested that there is collusion afoot while others have, quite correctly in our view, noted that the current collective bargaining agreement is a poor one for players, creating disincentives for teams to sign free agents. Things have gotten downright ugly of late. Last week a prominent agent suggested that players may stage a boycott of spring training. That talk was contradicted by the Major League Baseball Players’ Association, which has been cautious in its language about the market thus far, suggesting that not everyone on the players’ side of things is in agreement about where things stand. Today, however, the union made its boldest statement yet on the matter, with its Executive Director, Tony Clark, releasing a statement saying that teams, via their unwillingness to sign players, are in a “race to the bottom” that represents “a fundamental breach of trust between a team and its fans” that “threatens the integrity of the game.” His whole statement is reproduced below. Major League Baseball responded, once again, that agents are to blame for misreading the market. Whether one agrees or disagrees with Clark’s statement — there is truth to it, though I presume a lot of fans disagree about the state of their trust with respect to the club for which they cheer — it’s worth asking what this statement accomplishes. On one level, it can be read a supportive of players who are increasingly frustrated. In this it echoes the words of Scott Boras on the matter a couple of months ago, and most of what Boras says publicly should be read as addressing the concerns of his clients. Clark has a lot of unsettled members in his union, and may be trying to communicate to them that he feels their pain. One wonders if Clark is a couple of months behind the curve on reading his membership’s anger, though. As we said, last week agents were talking about wildcat strikes. Going with what Boras was saying in November and December may not be enough to quell the dissatisfaction. On another level it can be seen as a P.R. move aimed at fans, trying to rally them to pressure teams into signing free agents. If that’s the case, I feel like Clark is misreading fans pretty badly.
Tony Clark says teams’ failure to sign free agents “threatens the very integrity of the game”
Hardball Talk | Feb 6