MLB players union claims owners threatening 'integrity' of game

With the opening of spring training camps in Florida and Arizona only a week away, the players union finally is beginning to make some noise about the free-agent freeze-out.

MLB Player Association executive director Tony Clark issued a statement Tuesday suggesting owners are threatening the “integrity” of the game by leaving so many players unsigned.

“Pitchers and catchers will report to camps in one week,” Clark wrote. “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 integrity of our game.”

More than 100 free agents remain on the market, and obviously many would not be able to start the season on time without participating in spring training. A few others free-agents, like Todd Frazier, have signed for far less than they expected when they entered the market in November.

While some have charged the owners with “collusion”, it’s a difficult argument to make since a few teams have signed prominent free agents, including the Rockies and Brewers. The Cubs signed starter Tyler Chatwood to a three-year, $38 million deal in December, but still are seeking a top-of-the-rotation starter.

The MLBPA also retweeted a tweet from Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta, who wrote he was fortunate to be playing on a team that is “competing for a World Series from day one” of the season. The Rockies signed Cubs closer Wade Davis and have revamped their bullpen.

Referring to teams that allegedly are tanking and not signing players, Iannetta wrote: “What if one competitor plays more teams that aren’t competing. Unfair advantage.”

The Nationals are one of those teams. They’re competing in the National League East with the Phillies, Braves and Marlins, all of whom are in various stages of a rebuilding plan. Since teams play more games within their own divisions, the Nationals figure to have a much easier route to the postseason than the Rockies, who will play more games against the Dodgers and Diamondbacks, both of whom made the playoffs last year, and the Giants, who acquired Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria this winter.

Agent Scott Boras on Monday said the number of so-called “tanking” teams is hurting the game.

“They decided we’re going to have the 12 teams-a-tanking, if you will, and therefore you have a noncompetitive cancer and this is completely opposite of what (then-)Commissioner (Bud) Selig in good-faith sought in bargaining," Boras said.

Boras represents several unsigned free agents, including Jake Arrieta, J.D. Martinez, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer. Last week, Brodie Van Wagenen, the co-head of CAA Sports, called for a boycott of spring training and said players were “outraged” over the lack of free agent movement.

“There is a rising tide among players for radical change,” Van Wagenen wrote. “A fight is brewing and it may begin with one, maybe two and perhaps 1,200 willing to follow. A boycott of Spring Training may be a starting point, if behavior doesn’t change.”

The MLBPA released a statement Monday saying the union has not “recommended such a course of action.”

It seems like we’re getting closer and closer to another Andre Dawson spring, the kind we presumed we never would see again.

When Dawson walked into the Cubs spring training camp in Mesa, Ariz., in 1987 and told the Cubs he would take whatever offer they thought was fair, he forced the organization to sign him.

As Dodgers executive Ned Colletti noted in his book “The Big Chair: “Everyone who had a passing interest in the bargaining process knew the owners were colluding against the players. Nobody could prove it, but the Hawk was about to make it clear to all the world.”

Dawson handed Dallas Green a blank contract, saying: “I want to be a Cub. You can fill in the rest.”

The Cubs paid Dawson $500,000, less than half of the $1.047 million he had received with the Expos. Dawson became MVP, the owners later were fined for collusion and several players who signed sub-par deals were granted “second look” free-agency.

What if Yu Darvish or Arrieta told Theo Epstein this week: “I want to be a Cub. You can fill in the rest”?

Would anyone be brave enough to follow Dawson’s lead in this day and age?

Probably not, but the clock is ticking, and at least for now, neither side is budging.

psullivan@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @PWSullivan

No thaw in sight for free-agent freeze-out »

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