Tony Clark, executive vice president of the Major League Baseball Players Association, obviously is concerned about the number of quality free agents who remain unsigned as spring training moves into March, but he stopped short of any overt saber-rattling after meeting with Orioles players as part of his annual tour of spring camps.
“What’s been challenging for all of us as players to appreciate why it is we’re seeing what we have not seen before happening,” he said during a session with Orioles reporters Wednesday morning. “So, as much as anything, trying to appreciate the rhetoric, trying to appreciate the experiences, trying to appreciate we’re seeing things that arguably haven’t happened since the late 80s is what makes this challenging.”
He didn’t use the word “collusion,” but the reference was to a two-year period from the end of the 1985 season until March 1987 when no Type A free agent signed with any team other than the one he played for the previous season. The union sued and reached a $280 million settlement that was distributed to the affected players.
This isn’t that. There have been some big-money signings over the course of the past offseason, but Clark said the number of players still unsigned from the top classification of free agents is “historical.”
Whether that will eventually lead to a broad collusion grievance remains to be determined. The union annually reviews the behavior of the offseason player market after Opening Day.
“I have no idea any more than in any other offseason,” Clark said. “We won’t have any idea whether or not that’s a consideration until we take into account all the moving pieces fit or don’t fit. We’ll just have to see."
Whether it will lead to growing acrimony between the players and owners that might spark a real labor war during the next collective bargaining period is not something Clark wanted to speculate about … yet.
“We’re 15 months in to this agreement,” he said, “and what we have seen in those 15 months is something we haven’t seen in a long time. There are four more years before we sit down to negotiations again.
“To the extent that what we’re seeing is something we haven’t seen before and to the extent that how it manifests itself suggests that there are considerations that are going to need to be taken into account moving forward. We’ll have to see how those manifests themselves come 2021. That’s about the best answer I can give you at this point.”
In the meantime, the union has filed a grievance against four teams — the Miami Marlins, Oakland Athletics, Pittsburgh Pirates and Tampa Bay Rays — that claims those teams are not spending revenue-sharing funds for their intended purpose of promoting competitive balance.
Clark would not speak specifically about that grievance, but did answer a question about why the Orioles were not included after an offseason in which their payroll declined significantly from last year’s Opening Day figure of about $164 million.
“We evaluate every offseason and every team and how they respond in that particular market as well as what their trends may have been [in past years], that type of thing,” Clark said. “Those evaluations are always ongoing, but that’s something we do with all 30 clubs.”
In other words, the union probably determined that Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette has historically operated the way he did during this past offseason and is coming off an unsuccessful 2017 season that featured a record payroll.