SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Orioles had their annual spring players union meeting before today's workout here at the Ed Smith Stadium Complex.
Following the meeting, we had a chance to catch up with new union chief Tony Clark and ask about a multitude of subjects, including the qualifying offer compensation process and performance enhancing drugs.
Clark said he has some concerns about the qualifying offer process that has allowed the Orioles to sign two free-agents tied to draft-pick compensation – right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez and designated hitter/outfielder Nelson Cruz – to club-friendly, below-market deals. Three qualifying offer players – Kendrys Morales, Ervin Santana and Stephen Drew -- remain unsigned.
"Am I concerned about players being at home?" Clark said. "Am I concerned about players not having opportunities when they should? Yes, yes. Inevitably, free agency is a market that offers guys an opportunity to see what potential is out there, what chances they may have to play on other teams, whether it'd be a one-year or a multi-year. Sometimes those offseasons work well, Sometimes they don't. In this instance, there seem to be other dynamics playing into it. That's why we're playing as much attention as we are."
Here's what Clark had to say:
On the main items that were discussed in the meeting:
What you do at every meeting is you offer literally a state of the union. Obviously, this offseason there were a number of topics that were in the forefront, whether they were instant replay or home plate collisions or the Joint Drug Agreement. You can assume safely that those were part of the discussions, but in general, it's really just the lay of the land, everything that's going on, and giving guys updates. A number of guys in this locker room have been engaged this offseason and knew a lot of what I was going to say, but it's really, really just an update of what all is going on as of late."
On the qualifying offer process:
The system is the system, and right now, it was negotiated in 2011, and we're in the second year of seeing how certain rules and adjustments have manifested themselves. It's something that we're keeping an eye on, whether it's draft pick compensation, the free agent market in general, and how it's affecting players. We always pay attention to that, and inevitably when we sit down to discuss what adjustments we need to offer at the table or to have discussion on, everything that's happened between the last bargaining agreement and the next one is what we're going to discuss, and this is one of those issues.
On whether he's concerned that players remained unsigned because of the draft pick compensation tied to qualifying offers:
Yes, it's a concern, and to be honest with you, I don't see how it's beneficial to anyone when quality ballplayers are sitting at home that can have an impact on the field and in the clubhouse for any one particular team. I don't see how that benefits anyone. When guys are capable, when guys are in their prime, when guys have something to offer and for one reason or another, they are sitting at home, that is definitely something we are going to pay attention to.
On whether it is disturbing that qualifying offer process has led to players signing under-market deals:
As you guys, I'm sure are aware, when you talk about collective bargaining history, there are always topics that are worthy of discussion at any one particular time, free agency and free agency compensation is one that has been a topic of discussion for the last 48 years and I don't suspect it's going to change any time soon. Am I concerned about players being at home? Am I concerned about players not having opportunities when they should? Yes, yes. Inevitably, free agency is a market that offers guys an opportunity to see what potential is out there, what chances they may have to play on other teams, whether it'd be a one-year or a multi-year. Sometimes those offseasons work well, Sometimes they don't. In this instance, there seem to be other dynamics playing into it. That's why we're playing as much attention as we are.
On whether players seem to be more supportive of stiffer penalties for drug offenders:
What players are most concerned about is making sure we have the best program possible that does what it is designed to do – to inevitably, at least hopefully, deter guys from cheating to begin with and then catch the guys who are. And that's why the commitment to the [joint drug agreement] is one that every offseason you have the opportunity -- should there be a reason to – to have conversations about improving the program. We did last season. It's obviously a little bit more on the radar screen this year than it was in years past. But rest assured, whether it's a player who wants a certain part of the program to change or be adjusted, inevitably everyone is in the same place with expecting the program to function as best it can going forward to make sure the guys on the field that you're playing against are or without any additional help and the fans as well can appreciate to what they're seeing.
On players' reaction to the Alex Rodriguez arbitration outcome
The appreciation we're hearing is for the process in general. And what I mean by that every player has an opportunity to go through the process, has an opportunity to state his case before an independent arbitrator and where we end up is where we end up. Unfortunately there was a lot of information that we out there in this case and others that shouldn't have been out there. That's one of the considerations we've got to make in improving the program, making sure that due process is upheld. Whether you come out on the side that what happened there was too far to the left or too far to the right, every player suggests the same thing in respect to the process. Yes, it was a tough year. It was a tough offseason. There were a lot of things that happened, but ultimately the players come down to the same side of appreciating the process that was fought for going back to the late '60s and caused the first strike along with the pension in '72, that we have a process in place that allows players to have their case heard.