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MLBPA chief Tony Clark says union is 'keeping an eye' on Orioles' rebuilding project

Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark said Wednesday that, while he understands teams such as the Orioles might have to “recycle or rebuild,” he remains concerned that the decision to delay fan gratification could threaten the viability of some of those franchises.

“Very concerned,” he said, “having multiple teams determine that they’re three, four, five years from competing in a climate when the spending of those entertainment dollars is being challenged because of the other options that are there.”

Clark, who spoke to reporters at the Ed Smith Sports Complex during the Orioles stop on his annual tour of the 30 major league spring training camps, worries that fans might take the attitude that, as he put it, “ ‘Well, if we’re going to be competitive in three or four years, I’ll come back in three or four years.”

Of course, he acknowledged that the Orioles already have experienced a dramatic drop in attendance that began before they entered a rebuilding period, in large part because of circumstances not directly related to their performance on the field or the quality of players on their roster.

The unrest that rocked Baltimore after Freddie Gray’s death from injuries suffered in police custody in 2015 has been cited as a major contributor to the club’s dramatic four-year decline at the turnstiles. And that revenue hit came at a time when the Orioles were boosting their payroll to all-time highs.

“We understand that that’s part of the equation for all those reasons in regard to Baltimore. … We do,” Clark said, “And as a result we will continue watching what happens here.

“We’re interested in seeing what they do moving forward. One of the things I’ve offered is, that every offseason there are teams that recycle or rebuild. We just hadn’t seen as many teams doing it seemingly at the same time as we had seen or are seeing.”

The Orioles obviously are a special case. They lost 115 games last year to set a dubious franchise record and had reached the point where the window of opportunity was closing on the veteran core of the team.

“But we will be keeping an eye on Baltimore as we do the other 29 teams as to what they do in the near term and perhaps what their plan is going to be in the longer term to see to what extent there are further discussions that may need to be had,” Clark said.

The union officials briefed the players on a variety of issues, most pressing the fate of so many veteran free agents who were still unemployed well into spring training and many that remain so.

Popular former Orioles center fielder Adam Jones, who recently signed a one-year, $3 million deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks, obviously was a prime example.

“I think a number of players should have had opportunities that they have not appeared to have had and Adam obviously is one of them,” Clark said. “We have a number of guys who undoubtedly can help teams win ballgames that are still at home. I believe it is unfortunate that Adam was on the market as long as he was and there wasn’t interest in what he brings to the ballpark both as a leader on the field and an ambassador off of it.

“So, whether it’s Adam or whether it’s other players that have recently signed or players that are sitting at home, the concern’s still the same.”

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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