The Chicago Cubs gear and equipment is loaded up at Wrigley Field on Feb. 2, 2018, to be shipped to Arizona for spring training. (Jose M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune)
Imagine the emptiness of a spring training without baseball.
According to a prominent agent, that scenario could happen, suggesting it might be the only way for players to force owners to start spending more in free agency.
More than 100 free agents remain available a week and a half before camps open.
Brodie Van Wagenen, the co-head of Creative Artists Agency, argued in a statement Friday that players might have to boycott spring training to send a message to owners about alleged collusion.
“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.”
Van Wagenen said players are “outraged,” whether they’re free agents or not, and claimed they’re “uniting in a way not seen since 1994.” That was the year players walked out during the season and watched the postseason get canceled. They didn’t return until late in spring training in 1995 after owners used replacement players in exhibition games, a failed attempt to break the union.
Baseball hasn’t had a work stoppage since, and a new collective bargaining agreement was reached just last year. While players seem puzzled over the lack of movement in free agency, whether they’re outraged enough to stop spring training is debatable.
There have been some signings, including former Cubs closer Wade Davis to a three-year, $52 million deal with the Rockies and outfielder Lorenzo Cain to a five-year, $80 million deal with the Brewers. How would it look to fans if Davis and Cain boycotted spring training after receiving big contracts?
Van Wagenen is the agent for former White Sox third baseman Todd Frazier, one of the available free agents. At a banquet last month, Frazier was seen in a video posted on The Players’ Tribune talking about free agency with his former Rutgers coach, Fred “Moose” Hill.
“What’re they going do with you?” Hill asked Frazier.
“I don’t know,” Frazier replied, adding, “There are teams interested.”
“Oh, good,” Hill said. “Who’s interested? Did they tell you?”
Knowing they were being filmed, Frazier sheepishly told Hill: “I can’t really tell right now. We’ll talk later.”
Frazier, like many others, might have to settle for a one-year deal and try again next year, when the market will be filled with big names such as Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson.
Commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday at the owners meetings in Beverly Hills, Calif., that many factors are involved in the slow market, including “different quality of players” and the new CBA.
“Just like there have been some markets where the lid got blown off in terms of player salary growth, I think economics would suggest occasionally you’re going to have some that are going to be a little different, not quite as robust,” he said.
At the Cubs Convention, Anthony Rizzo speculated the reason might be collusion but added he didn’t know enough about the situation to say for certain. When asked about collusion theories, Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts said: “No one has brought that up until you, but there’s nothing to it. I think everyone just has finite resources. And they’re just looking at the playing field for the market, and they’re all making whatever decisions they make for their team.”
Ricketts suggested some teams were “saving their powder” for next year’s free agents. No one will know if that’s true until November.
Meanwhile, the Cubs and White Sox loaded equipment trucks Friday and sent them on their way to Arizona for the opening of camps.
Rest assured there will be baseball, with or without the unsigned players.